Wish You Were Here
Magazine Online    The Authority On African-American Conventions, Incentives, & Leisure Travel
Jay would like to take the NAACP hotel ratings system several steps further when considering a destination. He feels the ratings system should include vendor/supplier relations, hotels, CVBs and the greater community in general. That way we get the big picture about a destination and not just the hotel or convention center.

Back to the Advertising Age article for my next point, this from a CMO, "we'd have no problem supporting black-owned media…but a lot of the true African American owned media companies are small and very decentralized. That doesn't fit our strategy of needing to have a national reach." Think about the implications of that statement. They are saying our business isn't important enough to target with their dollars, and would rather take their chances of reaching us through their mainstream campaigns, which as we all know misses huge swaths of the African-American community.

I heard a similar response concerning the African-American meetings market from a couple of the cruise lines, a large mid-western convention and visitors bureau and a major air carrier, when I asked them specifically, what they do to attract African-American business. Some of the answers I received were quite rude despite my best efforts to convince them I wasn't trying to hammer them, but rather gain an understanding of their thought processes. Maybe we could figure this thing out together.

I posed the following question to several meeting planners; what do you do when you receive an RFP or some other request from a CVB, destination, hotelier, or supplier that obviously doesn't support the African-American meetings, travel and tourism industry?

Are you ready for their answers? Well I would give them to you, but I can't. Most of my calls were either not returned or most people were afraid to go on the record. I offered anonymity just to get answers and still no response. By this time my frustration had reached a boiling point. I went back to Jay and expressed my concerns. He gave me one more name of someone to call, but I must confess, I didn't make that call. I didn't really have a good reason other than after almost two-dozen calls I was sick of getting rejected.

But in hindsight I started to realize what was really bothering me. I grew up during the heyday of the civil rights movement. While I wasn't old enough to participate actively, I remember vividly how the African-American community pulled together. It really bothers me that we can't seem to do the same thing in the travel marketplace. We have a handful of people who will speak up and everyone else stays quiet, hoping that those who are the more vociferous and outspoken will solve the problem for the rest of us. I am here to tell you now that is not going to work. Another part of my frustration has to do with my continued efforts to write about this problem and the lack of cooperation from people who have a dog in this fight. I was tasked with writing a similar article for this publication last year and I was met with the same resistance. Our collective apathy should sicken us all. We are losing out on a wonderful opportunity to make an impact for the better.

Brenda Scott, a vice president at the Arlington, TX CVB was astounded at the lack of response I was getting. She worked overtime at her previous jobs to attract African-American business and really fought those who stood in her way. She expressed dismay at destinations that received our business with little to no effort.

I read a marketing study recently that stated 84 percent of marketers believed multicultural marketing is critical to their business needs, and 40 percent of those respondents freely admitted that they had no idea how much minority groups contributed to their companies' revenues.

Is that a problem we face in our industry? Have we made the case that our business is so important that they don't want to miss out? We bare the responsibility to make our own case. Waiting on others to make the case for us has never worked.

It's a matter of economics. If we collectively stop feeding business to destinations that haven't earned it and make our reasons known, those interested will respond positively. At a minimum they will defend themselves because no major destination wants negative publicity.

Another part of that same marketing survey stated that most members in management spent an inordinate amount of time trying to convince top executives of the value of multicultural marketing. During my conversation with Scott, she mentioned several times her own personal battles trying to convince managers in some of her previous positions of the value of the African-American meetings, travel and tourism business. We need more Brenda Scott's on the CVB side and the meeting planner side.

We have several African-American themed conventions that bring with them 10,000 or more members. The National Baptist Conference of Christian Education Convention brought 40,000 of its members, family and guests to St. Louis last year. This one event had an economic impact of nearly $40 million in just six days and used 21 hotels.

The National Baptist Convention took 30,000 of their members to Philadelphia and booked over 25,000 room nights.

If you go back it previous issues of BM&T we do an annual report of the top 25 African-American conventions. Last year these top 25 conventions generated an estimated $360 million in revenues for their host cities. But you don't have to bring thousands to wield your economic clout.

Focus our spending efforts on cities that do care such as Atlanta, Philadelphia, New Orleans, Baltimore, Washington DC and some Caribbean destinations to name a few. There are several emerging or second-tier markets that want our business as well, such as St Louis. They have African-American marketing programs in place, they've appointed people to handle our market, they work closely with Black business leaders, and they are members of African-American chambers. Elected officials of those destinations do more than pay us lip service by showing up at our events.

And finally, the current economic environment might play into our hands if we play our cards right. This recession (yes I said recession despite the fact it doesn't fit the classic definition of a recession) is very real and could affect the bottom lines of destinations on a global scale. If you'll remember, right after 9/11 many of the conventions and meetings in the general marketplace were cancelled.

Destinations and hoteliers were scrambling to recover some of that lost business by giving discounts and other incentives to meeting planners. The negotiation advantage was definitely in favor of the meeting planner, especially if you represented an African-American organization.

Destinations and hoteliers were in hot pursuit of the African-American market. Why? African Americans continued to travel, not giving into the fear that permeated the general population.

While rising gas prices, home foreclosures and job losses could affect the size of meetings and conventions over the next few years, destinations will be working hard to maintain current profits levels. What's that mean to African-American meeting planners? It means more power at the bargaining table and a better choice of destinations that truly want our business.
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