Mr Flexible Space
Magazine Online    The Authority On African-American Conventions, Incentives, & Leisure Travel
Issue: January/February 2019
ARE YOU BEHIND THE CURVE IN YOUR EFFORTS TO TARGET THE AFRICAN-AMERICAN TRAVEL MARKET?

BY GLORIA & SOLOMON HERBERT

WAKE UP and welcome to the year 2019 where Diversity and Inclusion are no longer the exception, but are in fact the RULE.  As long time advocates for representation of Women, LGBT persons, people of color and all ethnic groups, at BM&T we applaud the "Me Too" movement and the growing demands of all groups to have a "seat at The Equal Opportunity table." Progressive leaders in our industry are now understanding the importance of recognizing the varied and unique markets that make up our traveling public. The next time you get on a plane look around at the different faces you see.

Looking at the U.S population it just seems to make sense to be inclusive and diverse in your outreach and appeal. Of course, because Travel is a business and the bottom line of business is based on ROI, the numbers matter.  Among the major ethnic markets, the African-American segment, which BM&T serves, actually has a well-established record of economic impact and consistent growth in this industry. In 2001 the African-American market was identified by the USTA (United States Travel Association), formerly the TIA (Travel Industry of America) as the number ONE fastest growing segment in the travel industry.

Even after September 11, 2001, African-Americans continued to travel slightly longer distances and with greater frequency than their general market counterparts.  An often-cited travel pattern of African-American travelers is that they are 3 times more likely to travel in groups. Historically, Black people have tended to travel in groups for camaraderie and to some extent for protection. Now with the increased popularity of Black travel clubs and networks, African-American "baby boomers," with more time and money, are exploring the world in a way they were never able to before and to Millennials of color, Travel is being considered somewhat of a "rite of passage."

Another African-American travel pattern with some historic roots is that the recommendation(s) of friends or family members is often given strong consideration as decisions are made in choosing travel experiences. A word to the wise marketer, they not only go where they are invited, welcomed and valued, they SPREAD THE WORD.

According to the 2018 African American Traveler Study*, produced.by Mandala Research, "the importance of African-American culture and history also plays a role in destination choice for these travelers. Sixty-four percent of cultural African-American travelers say the availability of African-American cultural and heritage attractions is very important to their choice of destination for their leisure travel." 

So what do today's numbers look like for this market? In their recently published second study documenting the impact of African American LEISURE travelers, Mandala Research reported the contribution of this market segment to the United States travel and tourism economy was $63 billion in 2018. BM&T is currently working with Mandela Research (and encouraging your company to join us) to conduct a comparable study to substantial the revenue generated from African-American business travel; Meetings, conferences and conventions. Presently the generally accepted figure for this component of African-American Travel is $9 billion, which would put a $72 billion total value for this ethnic market alone.

A noteworthy point made in Mandala's report is "the universal draw of the African-American experience." This study documents that "among domestic and international travelers the African-American story in America is one that resonates with cultural travelers of all types - the general market traveler, the international visitor - because the story of African-Americans is the story of America. African-Americans have contributed to the evolution of almost every facet of our culture - music, food, dance, art, literature, academics and social change movements. Attractions such as the Civil Rights Trail, Mississippi Blues trail, historic Overtown in Miami, and tours of Harlem gospel choirs, all of which are attended heavily by visitors from Germany, China and Japan, among others, well demonstrate this fact."

As astute travel industry professionals, for reasons that are quite clear, BEHIND the curve on this issue is NOT where you want to be or to remain. If ever there were a time to get from behind the curve in your efforts to target the burgeoning African-American market, NOW is that time. Specifically what are some BM&T suggestions for doing that? In this industry we've all heard of best practices, so let's start there.  After over 25 years of covering this niche market, BM&T has some compelling stories. Thankfully, many of them are success stories.

            One of our often cited examples of a destination that is consistently rewarded for embracing the African-American niche market, is that of MIAMI, FL.  While the circumstances that eventually resulted in their success may not resonant with all of their industry counterparts, more than likely there are some beneficial lessons that have value on different levels for the majority.

H.T. Smith

The year was 1990 after three major racially motivated riots in Miami, human rights icon Nelson Mandela was invited to receive a proclamation and the key to the city.  Because Mandela acknowledged Fidel Castro for supporting him during his 30 years of imprisonment, the Miami city leaders rescinded the official welcome. This triggered what prominent Miami African-American attorney, H.T. Smith refers to as "the quiet riot." This led to a boycott that would keep Black businesses and organizations from Miami for almost three years and reportedly cost the area upwards of 50 million dollars in lost convention business and tourism revenue.

After the dust settled, Miami city officials and African-American community came to terms implementing major political, social and economic Improvements directly and indirectly attributable to the boycott. Among the notable changes related to the Travel industry were; the creation of the Visitor Industry Council to expand African-American participation in the county's tourism industry, scholarships for Black students to attend Florida International University's hospitality program, and the establishment of a Black-owned, convention-quality hotel in the Miami Beach area - the Royal Palm Crowne Plaza, with majority African-American owner, R. Donahue Peebles.

William Talbert

During the 20+ years since that time, under the leadership of current Greater Miami President & CEO, William Talbert, Miami has continued to spiral upwards in setting some of the industry's best practices for inclusion and diversity.  In addition to the development and promotion of ethnic neighborhoods including, Little Havana, Little Haiti and Historic OverTown, Miami also brought in African-American executive Connie Kinnard as Vice President of Multicultural Tourism.

Certainly high on the list of Best Practices in reaching this (and any) market, is to Go Where They Are. BM&T has long encouraged and assisted our clients to support their advertising campaigns by having a relevant connection on some level with key Africa African-American Travel Industry groups.  Among those to consider are:

  • Travel Professionals of Color (TPOC)
  • Congressional Black Caucus Foundation (CBCF) Legislative Conference
  • National Coalition of Black Meeting Professionals  (NCBMP)
  • National Association of Black Hotel Owners, Operators & Developers (NABHOOD)
  • International Multicultural & Heritage Tourism Summit & Trade Show (IMHTS)
  • Black Meeting and Event Professionals (BMEP)

Additionally, BM&T encourages major national and international travel related organizations such as PCMA, IMEX, DMI, MPI and others to broaden their circle of opportunity for representation of all pertinent markets, which we feel helps strengthen and economically empower our industry.

Although it may seem to go without saying, another immensely important best FIRST STEP practice is to be sure that your marketing messages and images reflect the market you wish to reach. This was a suggestion offered by BM&T many years ago that prompted an executive at a major Cruise Line to inform us that he was directing his company to completely re-design their collateral materials to prominently feature images of people of color as cruise passengers, not just as servers.

To more effectively reach the African-American market, we have also urged industry movers and shakers to seek out and utilize Black-owned PR and advertising agencies, as well as reach out to this lucrative niche by advertising with Black media companies.

Toward this end and to more effectively reach the African-American market, we have also urged industry movers and shakers to seek out and utilize Black-owned PR and advertising agencies, as well as reach out to this lucrative niche by advertising with Black media companies.

These, of course, are just a few of many possibilities to explore in positioning your company to get ahead of the curve and to join your progressive colleagues who are enjoying the many well established benefits that diversity and inclusion bring. For 25+ years, it has been BM&T's privilege to serve as a resource for assisting Travel companies in building and cultivating the continually evolving African-American market. Remember, "If you build it, they will come," but only if they know about it.

*Copies of the 2018 African American Traveler Study can be purchased at

www/mandalaresearch.com/reports

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