Magazine Online    The Authority On African-American Conventions, Incentives, & Leisure Travel
Issue: January/February 2014
What You Dont Know Is Costing You!
By: Michael Bennett

We are arguably the most misunderstood market in travel and tourism.  Destinations either don't court African-Americans, or tempt us with trite and trivial promotions not understanding our wants, desires, history and full economic clout. 

What is it that makes the African-American market so difficult for so many in our industry to understand?  And why, oh why do you continue to treat us as if we're all the same - a monolithic group of low-income tourists?

America's systemic cultural and racial divide along with lopsided media coverage has left many with the impression that African-Americans are poor, uneducated, driven by crime and lack the will to succeed.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

African-Americans are lawyers, doctors, politicians, business owners, educators, devoted to family, adventurous, sports-minded, thrill seekers, romantic, college-educated affluent and yes, even President of the United States. 

For some reason, many have bought into the narrative that the President and his family are an enigma because they are smart and educated, like African-Americans can't all be smart, educated and affluent.  

It's truly sad for those in our industry who still subscribe to this jaded view of African-American life, for it is you and your destinations that are losing out on millions of dollars in lost revenue holding onto dated paradigms.

For the uninitiated, here's a little history lesson that may help.  For decades, and well after the Civil Rights Movement, African-Americans were not welcomed in many of the top resorts, attractions and golf courses.   This wasn't just a southern phenomena, it was true across the country.

As late as the 1960s, there were towns throughout America that enforced what became known as "sundown laws."  The law basically stated any nonwhites caught in their jurisdiction after sundown were subject to arrest or worse.  An estimated 10,000 towns had these laws on the books from the Deep South to Levittown, N.Y. and Glendale, CA.

It was just 24 short years ago as the sun was setting on the 20th Century that Augusta National, site of one of golf's major tournaments, The Master, admitted its first Black member.  That might seem like it was eons ago to some, but not to those of the baby boomer generation and the Civil Rights Era.

I went on my first cruise to the Caribbean in 1987.  The ship had approximately 2,500 passengers onboard, three of whom were African-American.

Upon our return the only passengers who had their luggage inspected by customs and immigration were; you guessed it the three African-Americans.  It was a total embarrassment to have our luggage rummaged through on a conveyor belt in front of the other disembarking passengers.  Me, a United States military veteran had to suffer this indignity for a country I proudly served.

My story is more common for the African-American traveler today than you might think.   As a group we still have issues with hotels, restaurants and department stores.  You might remember what happen at Barneys in New York late last year. 

On March 6, 2010, two African-American women were denied access to a hotel room at a Comfort Suites Hotel in Columbus, OH after they paid for the room. The desk manager observed several African-American men entering the room.  The manager claimed they had a "no-party" policy prohibiting more than five people in a room. 

When police arrived, they observed a party of Whites in the room next door with more than five people.  Eventually the desk manager admitted there was no such "no party" policy in place.  That discrimination case is winding its way through the courts.

Here's a couple of takeaways from the systemic exclusion of African-Americans in travel and tourism prior to the Civil Rights Movement that still affect some of our travel habits to this day.

Black folks traveled in groups to avoid being the "only one" when they arrived at a hotel, resort or cruise - in short; we took our comfort zone with us.  While this might seem like nonsense to some, it was for many, and still is for some a very real fear, no matter how far we've come as a nation.

Having been denied the "good life" for so many generations, African-Americans are making up for lost time by patronizing the best hotels, drinking top-of-the-line liquor, wearing the most expensive and latest fashion and often spending way beyond their means.  That should be good news for a hotel, resort or fashion retailer.

Before anyone writes Black Meetings and Tourism and levels charges of stereotyping, these are general realities and observations.  They don't apply to all African-Americans, but there's certainly enough commonality here that destinations should reach out to the Black community through more targeted marketing and advertising.

African-Americans have money and are willing to spend.  Tens of thousands of us make over $100,000 annually who are not athletes and entertainers.

There is certainly nothing wrong with African-Americans traveling in groups, even if it scares some, and even less wrong with enjoying the fruits of our labor.

By succumbing to old worn out stereotypes of the Black community perpetrated by those who know nothing about the Black community, here is what you're missing out on.

Did you know that the National Brotherhood of Skiers (NBS) holds the largest ski conference in America?  Last year NBS celebrated their 40-year anniversary summit in Snowmass, CO. 

The summit was attend by over 1,000 members and an estimated three times that amount in family and friends, pumping more than $500,000 into the Snowmass economy.

The NBS has clubs from California to New York with regional summits held throughout the year.  The NBS has over 3,000 members and are hitting the slopes in such international destinations as St. Moritz, France and Innsbruck, Austria.

Did you know that the National Association of Black Scuba Divers holds one of the largest, if not the largest dive conferences in the world?  Their 2013 summit was held in Roatan, Honduras.  They have over 2,000 members spread out across the country and internationally.

Did you know the Essence Festival held in New Orleans during the July 4th holiday generates more than $100 million in revenue for the city at a time of year that was considered a slow period prior to Essence?  More than 540,000 people attended the 2013 event.  Prince, Lionel Richie, Mary J, Blige and Jill Scott are just some of the headliners for 2014.

Did you know that the Historically Black College Football Classics are some of the largest revenue generators for their host cities?  These classics are held in places like Atlanta, New Orleans, Washington DC and Hampton, VA.  These classics can last several days generating millions in revenues for hotels, retail outlets and restaurants.

Did you know that the Delta Sigma Theta sorority had what has been widely reported as the largest meal function ever in Las Vegas with 25,000 attendees?  Oh, that's not all; from Philadelphia to Las Vegas the Deltas are usually treated to a private shopping spree at a major high-end department store.  Store shelves are typically left bare by the time the Deltas are through.

The highly-educated and affluent members of this sorority hold a biannual conference where their economic impact for just a few days is well in excess of $1 million per event.

Here are a few other things for your consideration.  African-Americans rent cars at a higher rate than the general population.  Eighty-percent of all family reunions held in the United States are African-American. 

African-American specialty cruises, such as Blue World Travel's Festival at Sea,  sell out entire cruise ships.  The 2014 festival starting July 27 has been sold out for months.

The point to all of this is simple.  Targeting African-American consumers is just good business.  Robert Brown, former advertising executive with Carol H. Williams Advertising says, "that practically all revenue generated by increasing outreach to African-Americans goes straight to the bottom line," in terms of increased profits.

African-Americans are a growth market according to  The Black population grew 1.3 percent in the past 12 months to 46 million.  "That might not sound like much, but that's 13 times faster than non-Hispanic White population."

Between 2011 and 2012 Black spending grew faster than any other segment of the population.  The $131 billion in discretionary income controlled by African-Americans is greater than the $122 billion controlled by Asians and $81 billion controlled by Hispanics.

Most African-Americans aged 25 and older have college experience and 22 percent have at least a Bachelor's degree.

By now you get the point. Destinations and businesses not targeting African-American consumers are going to lose and lose big.   With America's changing demographics its business suicide to feign ignorance or act like the African-American market doesn't exist.

And finally, it is not sufficient to target African-Americans through general market advertising campaigns.  Go after us directly, the results might surprise you.
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