Magazine Online    The Authority On African-American Conventions, Incentives, & Leisure Travel
Issue: June/July 2008
Should Black Groups/Meetings Book Destinations That Don't Support The African-American Market Segment
By: Michael Bennett

The answer to that question seems obvious. But the need to consider this question is indicative of a lingering problem. No amount of saber rattling, ranting, discussing the pros and cons of working in the $40 billion African-American meetings and tourism marketplace or appealing to the increased bottom line seems to move some of these destinations to invest in the Black community. And why should they? We are already spending our dollars at these locales.

Our continued patronage of destinations that do nothing to earn the African-American dollar erodes our ability to seek the changes many of us have worked so hard to achieve. If these destinations don't support the greater African-American marketplace, why are we spending our dollars with them? Does what they have to offer outweigh the long-term goals of equality?

I would challenge those meeting planners to approach their members and ask the question - do you want us to hold our annual convention in "xyz city" when they have done nothing to earn our business? If they answer yes to that question, we have a larger problem as a community than just fighting to get the mainstream to take our business seriously.

I was moved by an article I read in the April 7, 2008 issue of (i)Advertising Age(ei), because it paralleled some of the very concerns we have in the African-American meetings and tourism marketplace. The title of the article, for those interested is "The Catch-22 Of Buying Black Media." If you will permit me, I am going to use that article as juxtaposition to what our industry faces. Many of you send out questionnaires to destinations long before considering them as a host for your annual conventions. Some of the questions are obvious - those dealing with venues, hotel space, food and beverage charges, etc. How many of you take it a step further and inquire about things like how many people of color do they have in management, references from past African-American conventions, and do you spend your dollars in our community?

Here is an excerpt from the first paragraph of the (i)Advertising Age(ei) article I referred to above that illuminates our problem in the meetings marketplace, "The Chief Marketing officer dreads opening the survey request from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People each fall. The request is always the same: detailed data on where the brand this CMO manages spends its sizeable advertising budget - including Black-owned media. And each year, the request is politely declined by the marketing chief, who cites its proprietary nature."

Ladies and gentleman, I have heard the same response when it comes to the African-American meetings marketplace from one major southern destination that we frequent often, spending millions. I've also heard the same thing from a couple of resort properties and one major hotel chain. It's a smoke screen that allows them to hide behind the veil of corporate secrecy. I would strongly urge you to get tough and ask more probing questions. Those who believe in the African-American dollar won't be offended by the tough questioning; in fact they will embrace it as an opportunity to separate themselves from the pretenders out there.

Here is a story as told to me by Robert Johns, executive director of the 6,000-member, National Dental Association (NDA). One hotel chain approached Johns about hosting their convention a few years back. They had no African-Americans in key managerial positions, but did have a few in lower-level posts. To get around what was sure to be huge problem in order to secure the business of the NDA, they hired a Black-owned company for a week to give the appearance they had African-Americans in key management positions.

Today, the NDA does ask those tough questions. Johns and his group also use the NAACP report card on hotels - for those CMO's, suppliers, hoteliers and others who toss the questionnaire in the trash citing proprietary concerns, you do that at your own peril and that certainly won't work with the NDA.

The NDA also requests staff demographics and what positions African-Americans hold in their management chain. And furthermore, Johns and the NDA want a list of suppliers to insure their dollars are being recycled within the Black community.

Johns says those lists were difficult to obtain in the past, but the more progressive suppliers now have them readily available. Explains Johns, "You can't be afraid to tell people what you want?"

Let's understand what we are talking about. I've already mentioned the African-American meetings and tourism marketplace as a $40 billion a year industry. According to the University of Georgia's Selig Center for Economic Growth, African-Americans represent 13 percent of the U.S. population with a spending power of $845 billion in 2007 and that's expected to jump to $1.1 trillion by 2012. We must, as Johns says, ask the tough questions.

Roy Jay, national director of the Association of African American Meeting Professionals (AAMPRO) has been an outspoken critic of destinations who don't support the African-American meetings market. Many destinations don't "appreciate the value of what African-Americans bring to the table…we must leverage our power to change things for the future," Jay says. But therein lies the problem. Collectively, we as African Americans seem somewhat reluctant to adopt the theme that we are all in this together.

Jay attended a conference a few years back and the hotel wouldn't even buy an ad in the program passed out to conference attendees. Talk about not giving something back.

Another sore spot for Jay that many destinations use as a selling point to lure our business has to do with perks. "Gift packs for meetings planners and free airline tickets and hotel stays while considering a particular destination or hotel is the cost of doing business, not some special perk," Jay says. Jay believes we leave way too much money on the table when it comes negotiations with destinations. We must insist on certain performance requirements in all of our contracts. Jay, like Johns believes its imperative that we ask more probing questions when considering a destination. Here are just some of the additional questions Jay wants answered. "What have you done locally to make me feel welcomed?" What Jay means is do you support the local African-American community as part of your ongoing business - not just during Black History Month or the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday. Are they a member of the local NAACP or African-American Chamber of Commerce?

Are the various support services at a particular destination diversified and understand the value of the African-American market? As Jay points out, if a particular destination or convention center goes after our business, but the rest of the community is ambivalent or somewhat hostile to our being there, despite the best efforts of the destination, why should we give them our business?