Magazine Online    The Authority On African-American Conventions, Incentives, & Leisure Travel
Issue: June/July 2009
Black American Tourists Can Make The Difference in Loss and Profit for Caribbean
By: Carol H. Williams

"Mama, can we go?"
"Daddy, would you like to go somewhere special?"
"Honey, can we go on a trip?"
"Sweetheart, why haven't we been to that resort yet?"
"Hey girl, isn't it time for us to get away?"

These words resonate in the households of millions of Black and multicultural families and couples and among friends across America. They certainly were common conversations in our home while growing up in Chicago. My siblings and I looked forward to family vacations, even if only a car trip to see family in the South.

And though we could not travel to the Caribbean back then, I've always had a passion for the islands. I'd spend hours looking through Ebony magazine, gazing at images of brown-skinned men and women in colorful swimsuits having a wonderful time on the beaches. I was fascinated when I learned that the people who lived and worked on those beautiful islands came from Africa and shared a common history and culture with me. As a teen, I dreamed of one day taking a vacation there and experiencing the pristine blue waters and picturesque beaches, eating exotic fruits and interacting with folks who looked so much like me and my family.

Now, I've been to the Caribbean dozens of times - for business, family vacations and simple destressing get-a-ways, and I still consider it my personal paradise. My family even hosted a reunion cruise to the islands, and it was the first time that many had traveled out of the country. It was an experience that my 84-year-old aunt still talks about, as do several of my cousins, young and old.

Travel is a passion for me and my extended family, but we are not alone. Black Americans and other multicultural people view travel as personal growth and enlightenment. We want to do more, see more, be more, live more. We want to become enlightened about the world around us. We crave new experiences that can enrich our lives and inspire our children. Yes, we want to have fun, but equally as important is what we take home with us from our travels - expanded knowledge, new experiences, a better understanding of our own culture and history, and that of others. We are inclined to dig deeper into our pockets so we can provide such travel experiences for our families and children.

Too many African-Americans and other multicultural travelers do not take advantage of the proximity and dollar value of Caribbean travel due to lack of awareness of what the islands have to offer - for couples, families and as a reunion or meeting destination. Maybe this is because potential travelers like us have been ignored over the years by advertising and media campaigns that primarily targeted White Americans and Europeans. That has always puzzled me.

Maybe the folks who make those decisions don't know that African-Americans spend a whopping $30 billion to $40 billion traveling each year, with much of that going for leisure travel. In recent years, the multicultural Caribbean travel market has increased by an average of 11.5% each year while the general market has increased only 1.5%; and by 2020, more than half of all travelers worldwide will be non-White.

Maybe those deciders don't know that Black Americans and other people of color enjoy incorporating a heritage experience in their travels, and they spend billions of dollars each year doing so. The Caribbean region is rich in culture and African history, and that is particularly appealing to Black Americans and the millions of Caribbean natives in the U.S.

Those execs who control the Caribbean marketing dollars should know that African-Americans are three times more likely to take group tours and vacations. According to (i)Ebony(ei) magazine, about half of African-American travel is associated with family reunions. That means there is great opportunity to leverage this propensity for group travel to the Caribbean for family reunions, church organizations, Black college alumni associations, professional organizations and social groups. The cost efficiency of group travel is very compelling to potential Caribbean tourists.

In addition, Black Americans are more likely to plan a cruise vacation than others, and cruise passengers make up a large proportion of tourism in the Caribbean. In 2006, there were twice as many cruise visitors to the Bahamas than airline passenger arrivals. Also keep in mind that thousands of Black folks spend thousands of dollars above regular cruise prices to sail with radio personality and philanthropist Tom Joyner on his Fantastic Voyage charity cruise. In fact, the May 2009 cruise was Joyner's 10th -- and the first year he did not sail in the Caribbean. His supporters forcefully voiced their discontent. Joyner assured them that his cruise will return to the Caribbean in 2010. And so will the dollars that the 3,000 Black folks on Joyner's cruise spend.

The Caribbean is an ideal get-a-way destination for multicultural travelers because it offers so many attractions that African-Americans seek when they vacation: exotic location, culture and heritage connection, and a shopping bonanza (about half of Black American travelers say shopping is a primary vacation activity). And then there is the island music as well as music festivals, the lovely beaches, opportunities for health, wellness and spa treatments, and gambling. Yes, gambling. Most African-American travel planners say their groups enjoy visiting casinos or take gaming trips.

As great as the Caribbean is, Black American travelers can't be taken for granted. They want to be invited and feel welcomed. When we vacation, we go where we don't have to worry about racism and rudeness. We travel to and spend our money where we feel wanted and will be treated well. Imagine the possibilities if more marketing campaigns were created specifically to inform, educate and enlighten African-Americans about the wonders, beauty and cultural heritage of the Caribbean? We need campaigns designed specifically to entice and invite our people to sample the food, music, dance, adventures and common history offered by our friendly neighbors who look just like us.

And though Black Americans have been affected disproportionately by the world economic turndown, we take it in stride because we have always been financially stressed and depressed. Yet that does not keep us from spending what money we have on personal treats like luxury cars, regular hair appointments and leisure travel.

Those Caribbean islands that specifically reach out to Black Americans will reap the benefit of more tourism dollars to support their economies. David Thompson, prime minister of Barbados, has said that "not enough has been done to target that [African-American] market. I think each Caribbean country has its own unique features, some which would be attractive to African-American tourists. . ."

I agree with the prime minister. Each of the islands indeed has its own flavor, its own character, its own unique history, its own special something. That's what we need to make Black Americans aware of, that there is something special for travelers in all income brackets, whether you are looking for a family-friendly, budget conscious resort, a perfect honeymoon or couples spot, or a luxurious retreat with all the comforts that money can buy.

The Caribbean has so much to offer multicultural travelers and Black Americans, and those in tourism and marketing decision-making positions must aggressively go after people they have not sought out before. You must reach out to Black Americans to invite and entice and encourage more to take advantage of the wonders of the islands. By doing so, you can make a difference in profit and loss and fatten the travel coffers of each individual country that reaches out.

Carol H. Williams is president, CEO and chief creative officer of Carol H. Williams Advertising, the largest independent ad agency in the country that is female and minority owned. She has offices in Oakland, Chicago and New York, and provides advertising and marketing services to Fortune 500 clients, including General Mills, Procter & Gamble, Hewlett Packard, The Walt Disney Company, and Nationwide Insurance. In 2008, Advertising Age reported that CHWA developed the No. 1-rated television commercial for general consumers.