Magazine Online    The Authority On African-American Conventions, Incentives, & Leisure Travel
Issue: September/October 2013
It's Been A Long Hard Road, But We're Still Making Progress
By: Michael Bennett
The year was 1993.  President Bill Clinton was sworn into office for his first term.  Top movies of that year include Jurassic Park, and two Denzel Washington films, Philadelphia and The Pelican Brief.  Janet Jackson's "That's the Way Love Goes" and Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You" were at the top of the music charts.  Movie ticket prices averaged $4.14 and gas was $1.16 a gallon.   Wow, that seems like eons ago.

That same year marked the debut of Black Meetings and Tourism and oh, what a marvelous journey it's been.  Over the next few issues we will celebrate our 20 th anniversary with a look back to our humble beginnings and those of our industry partners, some, whose arrival on the scene predates BM&T. 

Most of us know the story of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Medgar Evers, Malcolm X or the heroic Congressman John Lewis, Freedom Rider Hank Thomas (himself a hotel owner) or Rosa Parks.  For these are the stories chronicled in our history books.

Yet there were many others who blazed a trail long after the lights dimmed on the Civil Rights Movement.  It can be argued, and appropriately so that the Civil Rights Movement never dimmed, but moved into a different phase.  For BM&T it was the pursuit of inclusion and economic opportunity.

Readers of BM&T are familiar with the National Coalition of Black Meeting Planners (NCBMP).  It might be the oldest African-American organization in travel, tourism and hospitality, if you exclude the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, started by A. Phillip Randolph back in 1925, and the now defunct International Travel Agents Society (ITAS) launched in the '50s by Henderson Travels' Freddye and Jake Henderson.  

The NCBMP was founded in 1983 by Kermit Hall, who would become the first chairman; Howard F. Mills, Sr., president; Oliver Childs, vice president; Lillie Van Landingham, vice president; Sylvia Thomas, secretary; and George Turner, treasurer.

The NCBMP was established as a non-profit dedicated primarily to the training needs of African-American association executives, meeting planners and hospitality professionals. One of NCBMP's primary goals was to leverage the economic wealth of the African-American meeting and convention business to advocate for more opportunities within the industry. During those early years, the NCBMP held their meetings at the National Urban League offices in New York City.

Known to its members and the industry as "The Coalition," the first conference was held at the JW Marriott in Washington DC and was attended by Forty-two people. The hotel's general manager, John M. Dixon was the only Black GM at the time.  Dixon went on to become a college professor at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore.

At the time of The Coalition founding, there was one Black-owned hotel in the United States (two if you included the Howard Inn at Howard University) a Best Western Benchmark property in Memphis, which coincidentally opened the same year the NCBMP was founded.

Charles Wright, an African-American executive at the now defunct Eastern Airlines provided tickets for the board members and others to attend that first gathering.  Wright later became the international bureau chief for the Florida Division of Tourism at the Department of Commerce.  He also served as president and CEO of the Tallahassee Convention and Visitors Bureau.

When the Coalition was founded, there were no African-American CVB chiefs, in fact there were just 15 Blacks employed in any capacity across all 500 CVBs, and two of them were at the Atlanta CVB.

All of that changed in 1990 when Melvin Tennant was named president and CEO of the Oakland Convention and Visitors Bureau.  Tennant says, "It was a challenging and very rewarding experience‚Ķnot because I was African-American, I was only 30 at the time and I had no gray hair."

The Oakland CVB was a very multi-cultural organization when Tennant took over.  Working in the shadow of San Francisco, Tennant said he had the opportunity to grow with the position.  Tennant was particularly proud of Oakland as the only major city in California that did not riot following the Rodney King verdict.

In 1995, Brenda Scott Savage became the first African-American female to head a CVB when she took the reigns of the Mobile CVB.

Solomon J. Herbert officially launched Black Meetings and Tourism in 1993. Somewhere around 1984/1985 Herbert was assigned to cover the second and third meetings of the NCBMP.  "I remember so well at the end of the conference all of the participants sat around in a circle to have a wrap up session," says Herbert.  "Mills and I became fast friends and at his request I served as the NCBMP's unofficial publicist and photographer."

It was Mills who encourage Herbert to start BM&T, "because he felt the industry was not acknowledging the contributions African-Americans were making to the meetings/hospitality/tourism arena.

It wasn't an easy decision, but Herbert reluctantly agreed to launch a magazine. His apprehension was borne out of economics because the country was in a deep recession at the time.  But as luck would have it, a bad situation pushed Herbert to make the decision that would change the course of his life. 

Herbert was covering the Arizona travel and tourism boycott for another trade publication.  The boycott was called for because of then Governor Evan Mecham's refusal to honor the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., holiday. 

Many of you might remember that President Reagan signed the King holiday into law at the federal level several years earlier.  But Arizona was among the last holdouts.  The boycott proved widely successful, especially after the National Football League pulled the 1992 Super Bowl from Phoenix and moved it to Pasadena.

As part of his coverage, Herbert interviewed the president and CEO of the local CVB.  The CVB president admitted the boycott was hurting the travel and tourism market in Arizona and hoped for a quick resolution.  As any good journalist would, Herbert included some quotes in his story, only to have his publisher remove the comments claiming the boycott was old news and no one wanted to read that story.

"That was the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back," says Herbert.  He realized it was time for us to tell our story and not rely on others.

In 1990, Herbert and his business partner launched The Black Convention.  It wasn't long before Herbert decided he needed to strike out on his.  Just three years later Black Meetings and Tourism was born.  A year after that Herbert was joined by his wife, associate/publisher and editor Gloria M. Herbert, and as they say in show business, the rest is history.

Early in the evolution of The Black Convention, former Atlanta mayor and Civil Rights icon Andrew Young provided a huge boost to Black-owned businesses throughout our industry.   Young became aware that the Atlanta CVB was not spending any money with African-Americans or the African-American market.  Young gave the CVB an ultimatum - they had to clean up their act and correct the imbalance, or lose their bed tax revenue.

The Atlanta CVB quickly got with the program.  Today, Atlanta is one of the most diverse organizations in our industry.  Young provided a template for other cities and elected officials to correct this stubborn lack of parity across all sectors of travel, tourism and hospitality.

A few years later the National Association of Black Hotel Owners, Operators and Developers (NABHOOD) was formed.  NABHOOD, which recently held their 17 th annual summit in Miami, is one of the most successful organizations in our industry.  At the time of its founding one could count the number of Black-owned hotels on one hand; today there are more than 500.

Back in 1998, current NABHOOD president Andy Ingraham and Solomon Herbert brought together a group of tourism professionals with the idea of forming an association to increase Black hotel ownership.   The group further decided the industry did not have a good record of inclusion in top executive positions nor was their business being done with minority vendors.  After much discussion, NABHOOD was incorporated in 2001.

NABHOOD held their first board meeting at former Baltimore/Indianapolis Colts defensive end Donnell Thompson's Sleep Inn, in Peachtree City outside of Atlanta.   Thompson was the group's first chairman and Ingraham became president.

Ingraham immediately formed a strategic alliance with the Asian American Hotel Owners Association (AAHOA) and created a NABHOOD board seat for their chairman.  This has proven to be one of the more successful alliances in industry history.

NABHOOD, under Ingraham's leadership continues to blaze a trail, as all the major hotel brands have become NABHOOD partners.  Ingraham frequently presents to political leaders both at home and abroad as he pushes NABHOOD to greater and greater heights.

In the coming issues we will interview industry pioneers; pioneers such as Gaynelle Henderson-Bailey whose parent's founded the first Black-owned travel agency in Atlanta in 1955.  Henderson-Bailey opened the Maryland offices of Henderson Travel Services in 1984.

Charlotte Haymore and Betty Jones, co-founders of Travel Professionals of Color.  Now in their 11 th year, this organization has quickly become a leader in African-American travel and tourism.

Norma Pratt, president and CEO of Rodgers Travel operates one of the largest travel agencies in the United States.  Rodgers Travel, originally co-owned by her father, is over 60 years old and is a multi-million dollar operation.

And finally, as BM&T celebrates their first 20 years, I would be remiss in my reporting if I didn't acknowledge the contributions the Herbert's have made to our industry.  While the Herbert's shun the spotlight and remain humble as regards to their impact on our industry, I don't feel so constrained. 

Lack of diversity was, and continues to be an issue in travel/tourism and hospitality.  By focusing attention on diversity BM&T has improved the plight of many Black professionals who truly love an industry that hasn't always been so welcoming.

BM&T has, and continues to be a catalyst for advancement and change.  The Herbert's sit on the board of advisors or directors of almost every organization listed in this story and several others.  They have worked closely with industry leaders, governments and the NAACP to foster a better understanding of issues facing Black travel and tourism professionals and provide possible solutions.

Many of us in this industry, this writer included, would not be where we are today without Solomon and Gloria Herbert.  Their steadfast devotion to the industry as a whole, and the African-American community specifically should never be underestimated. 

Launching and running a successful business even in good times is difficult, but the Herbert's have shown class, grace and dignity despite all the economic ups and downs we as an industry have endured over the past 20 years.  Congratulations to BM&T and may your next 20 years bring you the joy, happiness and prosperity you so richly deserve.

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