By Greer Jackson, Howard University News Service
An MMGY Global study released last year found that Black leisure travelers in the United States spent $109.4 billion on travel in 2019. Between 2010 and 2018, the economic value of the Black travel movement grew to $68 billion. Despite these numbers, the influence of Black travelers on the industry is still underappreciated.
This was one of the points of discussion during a panel hosted by Blackprint, an employee resource group at the Meredith Corporation, in collaboration with Travel + Leisure magazine. The event was the second installment of a series on the Black experience in travel, as part of Meredith’s Black History Month celebration.
“We’re considered aspirational even though we spend billions. We’re still considered the market that doesn’t have it, and so you don’t see us in the advertising; you don’t see us in the stories,” said Danielle Pointdujour, a travel writer, editor and Howard alumna. Pointdujour is known for her travel brand Hotel Whisperer, and has written for publications like Essence and Travel Noire.
She explained that she uses her platform to advocate for representation, especially in niche areas like luxury travel.
“I love sharing Black people in luxurious spaces. We don’t see ourselves represented in those areas a lot. I love showing us spending money, living life, and that’s mostly why people follow me- because they have those aspirations also,” she said.
The experience of feeling sidelined by the travel industry is one shared by Rondel Holder, founder and Chief Creative of Soul Society, which is a platform dedicated to Black travel culture.
“When Black people travel, it’s not necessarily the exact experience that a white person would have traveling,” he said, adding that many of the reviews he would read before a trip didn’t cater to the Black experience.
“They wouldn’t let me know if I would be comfortable. If I went there, would I like the food? Would I like the music at this place? Representation is super important, so that I could see people like myself in places, and so that I could see myself in places,” he continued.
The panelists also discussed tips for building a travel community or business, something they have all done. Cassy Isabella, founder of Black travel group The Roaming Republic, shared that for her, it’s all about leading by example.
“What made people want to travel with me was that they saw me doing it first of all. Show people how it’s done and why they want to trust you,” she said.
Each panelist also agreed that there needs to be an appreciation for the multidimensionality of travel within these spaces. Skylar Marshai, a frequent flyer, storyteller and social media strategist at Buzzfeed, touched on this, expounding on Holder’s point that there are many different ways to experience a destination.
“I follow Black travelers who turn up when they travel, who are hiking when they travel, who are going to see the sights, who stay locally, who stay in the ritzy hotels, because we want to see every perspective.There are so many perspectives that don’t have a Black face in front of them, so I think it’s really important for people to see that,” she said.
As more and more travel groups and organizations are formed, the perception that Black people aren’t a force to be reckoned with in the travel space is shifting. Just last year, the Black Travel Alliance launched their #PullUpForTravel campaign, urging travel brands to represent the Black community in more substantial ways. The campaign measured brands and organizations on a scorecard of five metrics: employment, conferences and tradeshows, paid advertising and marketing campaigns, press and philanthropy.
“I had no idea that this space would even get this big where we would have these types of conversations where we’d be able to be seen in Travel + Leisure,” Holder said.
Still, there is much left to be done. The panelists believe that the industry needs to recognize and appreciate what Black travelers bring to the table.
“It’s one thing to allow us into the room but also allowing us the space to tell the stories that we know will resonate, especially if it’s a story around the Black experience… Black creators are able to get a different level of storytelling; a certain nuance that another person of another race won’t be able to get from that destination,” Holder said.
“It sounds really simple, but treat us the same way you would other content creators,” added Isabella. “Respect our buying power. Pay us the same, treat us the same and respect us the same.”