Magazine Online    The Authority On African-American Conventions, Incentives, & Leisure Travel
Industry Briefs
Chronicling the African-American Segment of the U.S Travel In

Part I

After recently settling a multi-billion dollar racial discrimination lawsuit against Comcast, media mega mogul, Byron Allen, co hosted a webinar series on the Importance of Doing Business with Black OWNED Media. Allen was adamant about making a distinction between Black-owned media and Black-targeted media.   He further reiterated the widely publicized response he often gives when he is asked “ what do Black people want?

As a Black-owned media company representing the voice of African-Americans in the Travel/Tourism, Hospitality and Lodging  industry for more than 27 years Black Meetings & Tourism has been asked that specific question  time and time again. Our answer is exactly the same as the one given by Byron Allen. “Black people essentially want the same things that White people and ALL people want; we want equal opportunities and the right to enjoy our share of the “economic inclusion pie” at all levels.

In this industry, that translates into African-Americans being in the highest positions, from destination CEOs, hotel owners, general managers and C-suite executives, to Black-owned media receiving an equitable share of dollars allocated for marketing, advertising and promotions. It means African-Americans having full involvement in the entrepreneurial and vendor procurement process and participation in educational and leadership training programs.

Travel & Tourism, like so many of the other top revenue generating and employment opportunity industries in this country, is having to take a long hard look at where we are and where we hope to go. More and more, Travel related businesses are viewing diversity and inclusion as an opportunity, not as an obligation. From that perspective, having knowledge of how we got to where we are clearly offers insight in determining  directions for going forward.

Many Americans consider the freedom to travel as one of those inalienable rights, perhaps as sacred as life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. For African-Americans this freedom did not come without many challenges and much determination.

Theoretically, travel for Black people in this country began well over 400 years ago when Africans were forcibly brought to North American shores as enslaved “property” to be the essential labor force to build the nation’s infrastructure and its economy. The African- American experience has seen Blacks traveling in slave ships and following the freedom trail of the underground railroad, to seeking the promise of equality by migrating from southern cities to places all across the country, daring to be a part of the generation of the motoring public, relying on the historic Green Book and other popular African-American travel guides for safety during the 1930s through the 1960s. Because the doors of most hotels, restaurants and other public venues were closed to them, Black travelers established their own networks to meet their needs as they visited relatives, met in gatherings for socializing and educational purposes, and simply to explore the place that had become their homeland.

Fast forward to 1993 when Ronald Brown was the first African-American appointed as Secretary of Commerce during the Clinton White House years, a formerly “Hidden Figure, Leslie R . Doggett served as Deputy Under Secretary of Commerce for the United States Travel and Tourism Administration, making her the highest ranking African-American female federal tourism official in U.S. history. During her tenure serving in that capacity and later as Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association president and CEO, Doggett was a strong advocate for growing Travel & Tourism to strengthen the U.S. economy. She was an early proponent of developing “Cultural Tourism” to compete in the global Travel/Tourism market.   It was during that time that the United States Travel and Tourism Administration began to recognize the roles of various ethnic market segments within the Industry. The annual economic impact of the African-American component of the Travel Market was substantiated to be $15 billion.

1994 saw William S. Norman, a former naval flight officer at the U.S. Naval Academy and White House aide in the Johnson and Nixon administrations, assume a major executive role in Travel, as the president and chief executive officer of the Travel Industry Association of America (TIA). Under Norman’s leadership TIA further expanded the inclusion of “minority markets” in its research and outreach.

During the mid-late nineties, Dr. Suzanne Cook, Senior Vice President of Research at The Travel Industry Association of America, (TIA) in her study, Tourism Futures Looking Out to 2020, stated   that “more than 1 out of every 10 travelers in the U.S. is “a minority.” The 2000 edition of TIA’s Minority Traveler reported the “travel volume among African-Americans increased 16 percent over a three-year period starting in 1997. Travel among Hispanic-Americans was up 11 percent, while Asian-American travel volume increased 7 percent over the same period.” The African-American market was acknowledged as the fastest growing segment in the Travel Industry. The value of the market was validated at $30 billion.

Those years brought three significant occurrences that dramatically changed the picture of BLACK TRAVEL; the first was in 1990.  After major racially motivated civil disturbances in the city of Miami, FL, 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,” which led to a boycott that would keep Black businesses and organizations from visiting and doing business in Miami for almost three years and reportedly cost the area upwards of $50 million in lost convention business and tourism revenue.

After the dust settled, Miami city officials and the African-American community came to terms, implementing major political, social and economic improvements directly and indirectly attributable to the boycott. Among the notable results was 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.

The second major “game changer” came in 1994 with the emergence of an international niche publication, Black Meetings & Tourism (BM&T), which was, (and remains today) the exclusive trade magazine focusing on the business of Travel for and about the African-American segment of the Travel/Tourism, Hospitality and Lodging Industry. BM&T’s forthright reporting served as a platform to showcase the needs, the accomplishments and the value of this burgeoning, yet often overlooked market segment. As a media advocate spotlighting groups such as the National Coalition of Black Meeting Planners, the International Travel Agents Society, ihe National Medical Association and a plethora of others, BM&T spawned a never before cultivated   interest in African-American   professional, fraternal, civic and educational associations that regularly host local, regional and national meetings, conferences and conventions.

Another step further assuring that BLACK TRAVEL would never be viewed the same, was taken in 1996 when the NAACP launched its first Economic Reciprocity Initiative (ERI) , a sustained consumer movement measuring corporate “America’s commitment to the African-American citizenry and other people of color.” The ERI targeted major Hotel Brand/Lodging companies surveying them for their activity with Black Americans in employment, equity ownership and franchise opportunities, advertising and marketing, philanthropy (charitable giving) and vendor relationships.

Understanding that BLACK TOURISM DOLLARS spoke volumes, in 1999 the NAACP called for an economic boycott against South Carolina, demanding that the Confederate Flag be removed from state government and public grounds. It is reported that this boycott which lasted 15 years, cost the state of South Carolina many millions of dollars in Tourism revenue, including one college baseball tournament, two college football bowl games, and potentially scores of college basketball tournament games, plus entertainment events from top name performers. Not to mention hundreds of African-American events including appearances by the New York Knicks, Serena Williams and other top name “crowd pleasers” who publicly denounced the display of the Confederate Flag.

1999 was also the year that Adams Mark Hotels faced several civil, state, and federal lawsuits for racial discrimination against Black customers. It was the first hotel chain to face a United States Justice Department inquiry into racial discrimination for violations of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The suit, and subsequent 17-month boycott of the chain called by the NAACP, was settled out of court for $8 million .

In the year 2001 the Global Travel Industry experienced the most horrifically devastating downturn in its history with the tragedy of September 11th.   While all segments of the market struggled, subsequently the African-American market demonstrated strong indications of an early “Rebound.”  Polls and surveys showed that African-Americans continued to travel slightly longer distances and with greater frequency than their general market counterparts.

As the Travel Industry continued to realize the great potential in exploring the “thirst for travel that exists among minority populations in the US,” more attention was paid to further understand those market segments.  According to the 2011 African American Traveler Study, published by Mandala Research, the value of the African-American leisure market was reported to be over $48 billion.

The many developments that have evolved in the decade that followed Mandala’s initial study are the basis for PART 2 of this article, which will be featured in the next issue of Black Meetings & Tourism magazine and e-newsletter.   There you will gain more details about the various components of this market segment; WHO they are, WHERE they are traveling and WHY. All valuable information for astute Travel Industry professionals.



A Global Destination