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Industry Briefs
HAPPY 20TH ANNIVERSARY TRAVEL PROFESSIONALS OF COLOR

Betty Jones

It's hard to believe TPOC has been in existence for 20 years. I vividly remember Charlotte Haymore approaching me with an idea to create a travel conference or learning experience designed specifically to meet the needs of people of color. She came with her frustrations that other industry conferences, though well equipped with information and the tools necessary to start and maintain a successful travel business, were not satisfying all of her needs. There were no answers for questions routinely asked among travel agents and suppliers who were dealing with Black, Brown, and Yellow ethnic groups. They were clearly not present at the table; therefore, no one provided the information these businesses needed to deal with the clients they were servicing daily.

I wholeheartedly agreed. I Googled "travel agents" to discover not one face of color stared back at me. I was not surprised, but I knew that if our businesses were to survive the changing times of future travel around the globe, something had to be done. We put our heads together and began to research travel trends in this country and abroad. Though travel of African Americans, Hispanics and Asians was on an exceptionally good uphill serge, very little information was available to make travel professionals confident or knowledgeable on how to approach suppliers with the needs of these groups. Suppliers who would graciously receive or comfortably accommodate them. The industry also needed to be aware that professionals of color were actually a viable part of the travel community.

After many nights of rumbling through online and published materials, and a year of meticulous  planning, Travel Professionals of Color, LLC was born. Pooling our resources and draining our bank accounts, we prepared to hold our very first conference in our home state of Denver, Colorado.

Social media was not as advanced as we find it today, so getting the word out was a bit more tedious and far more expensive. With little response to our call for attendees, we were disappointed but still had to produce a conference for the small number of travel industry professionals who had paid registration fees, booked hotel accommodations, not to mention travel expenses that were made far in advance.

With a sick feeling deep in the pit of our stomachs, the conference opened in May of 2002. We moved chairs apart to visually fill the oversized rooms. Fewer places were set at gigantic dining tables designed to seat ten. Even with the heartfelt participation of a few of our relatives and close friends, we had a total of 53 in attendance with only 21 registered participants. Somehow, the conference was a hit! The legitimate travel enthusiast in attendance were actually taking notes and conference materials back to their various homes and businesses.

Though we only intended to test the waters with this initial conference, we were too glad that the ordeal was over to realize that we were being encouraged to do this again next year. We were even asked, "Where do we sign up for membership?"

With Charlotte as president and I taking on the task of Vice President of Membership, we began to gather our supportive contacts and industry friends and created a hard-working board of directors and a much-needed advisory board. With the help and dedication of so many wonderful individuals (you know who you are) we soon became a nonprofit association. Our growth over the next few years was very encouraging and we began to move the conference around the country. We held our first out of state conference in Las Vegas in 2005 with 250 members and an overall attendance of 309.

As we grew, additional new arms of the association were initiated. We launched the TPOC Miracle Globe, a non-profit, who's primary objectives are philanthropy and social well-being. Recipients are chosen from a well deserving group in communities we visit. Our Heritage & History Program, (though revised over the years) made us among the first to aggressively bring heritage focused travel to the forefront.

In 2012, Charlotte moved on to other adventures and after a few years I ended up holding the reigns as president of the association. Today, I thank Charlotte for reaching out to me to partner with her as we set out to make her dream a reality. I am blessed and extremely thankful to have so many wonderful people by my side to keep the association moving forward and still growing.

I am excited that we are preparing to celebrate our 20th Anniversary Conference on May 12, 2022 in the beautiful and historic city of Savannah, Georgia, home of our new headquarters since 2018. We look forward to a great meeting and the opportunity to explore the heritage and history of the Gullah culture that still thrives along the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor. We plan to explore Hilton Head and Beaufort, South Carolina and in TPOC style, we are also planning a fun and exciting post conference just up the coast in historic Charleston.

We are looking forward to everyone meeting of for this incredibly special celebration. If you miss it, you will miss a conference that we will be hard pressed to equal.

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