It seems as though history is repeating itself once again.
The last time there was a serious recession that adversely impacted the travel/tourism/meetings industry - back in the late 1980s - destination marketing reps, even those from cities that typically enjoyed high occupancy rates, began scrambling for new markets to target in an effort to fill those empty hotel beds. Included in this group were some elitist destinations that had previously even discouraged African-Americans and other people of color from visiting their cities. But that all changed when revenue generated by visitors took a steep nosedive and businesses that relied on tourism dollars found themselves sinking deeper into the red. Guess who came to the rescue?
Smart marketers, recognizing the value of the untapped African-American travel segment, began aggressively courting what they called an "alternative niche" to stop the hemorrhaging. CVBs quickly brought ethnic marketing specialists and sales staff on board to target African-American associations and leisure travelers with gusto. The result? Destinations that had seldom if ever hosted any African-American groups landed some major Black conferences and conventions, and also increased their leisure traveler visitor numbers. Alas, the day was saved!
Marketing reps found themselves in a similar situation in the wake of the terrible attacks that took place on 9/11. Once again, as general market planners cancelled meetings and leisure traveler numbers dwindled, destination officials turned to the African-American segment to stem the tide. After all, this part of the travel industry had historically exhibited a level of resiliency far above the national average during times of adversity. Adversity was not new to African-Americans, and they had long ago learned how to adapt, cope, and even flourish during tough times. Nothing was going to dissuade this "emerging market" from moving forward with their family reunions, industry conferences or well-deserved leisure travel plans. Indeed, African-American conventioneers and vacationers did more than a little to help save our industry from utter disaster during the months and years that followed.
Fast forward to 2009 and here we go again. The buzz these days is that we are part of the "opportunity market," that segment of the travel industry made up of African-American, Latino, Asian-American, Native American and GLBT niches. No matter how you measure it, this "opportunity market" is the fastest growing segment of the travel industry, outpacing the general market tenfold or more. And the African-American portion of this market has a proven track record that should make it a prime target for destinations, hotels, convention centers, airlines and other suppliers that service the travel/tourism/meetings industry. Those that don't embrace this concept are in for a rude awakening and will surely begin to lose market share, if they haven't already.
African-American meeting planners, armed with this knowledge, are in a better position to negotiate fair and equitable terms for their conferences, meetings and conventions. They also will have the leverage to influence, by the choices they make, the policies of those destinations and venues with whom they book business. It makes no sense for Black planners or travel agents to continually direct business to any entity that does not exhibit, through their hiring, promotion, supplier contracting and advertising practices, opportunities for growth, career development and wealth creation for African-Americans and other people of color.
Solomon J. Herbert