Wish You Were Here
Magazine Online    The Authority On African-American Conventions, Incentives, & Leisure Travel
Issue: July/August 2018
WHY PLANNERS SHOULD ONLY BOOK DESTINATIONS THAT SUPPORT THE AFRICAN-AMERICAN MARKET SEGMENT
By: Matt Thomas

African-American travel has been increasing for decades and remains on the rise.  The world has opened-up and African-Americans are seeking unique experiences that allow us to explore our roots, see new lands, and be a part of the world.  When we attend conferences and conventions we are also looking for a tourism experience.  We want to see where and how African-Americans live in other Cities.  We want to visit museums, eat in Black-owned restaurants and shop in our neighborhood stores.  But as the hostile political environment against People of Color heightens, concerns of safety weigh heavily in our choices of where to hold conventions and take vacations.

An African-American convention can contribute as much as $25M to a local economy, yet the travel industry and convention destinations don't always appear to care.  The welcome mat is not necessarily out when Black Meeting Planners come in search of their next convention venue.  But now, African-American consumers are flexing our financial muscle and demanding more outreach, marketing, advertising and most of all respect when making our travel decisions.

The travel industry spends very little marketing to African-American's while aggressively focusing advertising and marketing budgets on predominately White travel clientele.  Much like BMW and Mercedes assumed in the '80s, many in the travel industry have taken the attitude that the African-American travelers will come whether they advertise or not.  But they, like the automotive industry in the '80s, are in for a rude awakening.

The African-American consumer market spends $1.2 Trillion a year on a variety of products.  We also spend nearly $60 Billion on travel alone.  The travel industry assumes African-Americans want the same experiences as White travelers, and our need and desire to experience African-American culture is seldom addressed. 


Two Markets - Two Attitudes

The Good - South Carolina

If you want to understand the significance of the African-American dollar you can look to South Carolina for the formula to success.  Approximately 2,100,000 African-American visitors travel to South Carolina destinations annually, representing 6.6 percent of the state's total visitation. This represents more than $20 Billion dollars of economic impact on the State with $6 Billion generated just from Charleston's hospitality to African-American tourism and conventions. The result is the support of over 7,500 jobs and a contribution of approximately $22 million to local and state taxes.  Even with these impressive numbers, which have increased steadily over the past seven years, South Carolina believes more is always better. For the past six years tourism industry officials have held an annual conference to build upon and develop new strategies to increase the number of African-American visitors. 

The African-American market is a viable and lucrative travel audience, representing nearly 63% of travel to Southern markets that embrace and celebrate African-American history and culture. It's time to leverage our spending power in cities and States that historically have not welcomed or marketed to us. 

The Bad - San Francisco California

In 2013, San Francisco Travel spent a large sum of money producing a marketing video on visiting San Francisco.  It was splashy and upbeat, but did not show even one African-American person, business, neighborhood, or attraction.  The Museum of the African Diaspora, the Fillmore Jazz District, the cultural centers, bars, restaurants, theaters; were all glaringly missing.  The San Francisco African American Chamber of Commerce (SFAACC) confronted San Francisco Travel only to be met by a shrugging of shoulders and an "it's done now" attitude.  What SF Travel failed to realize is the African-American travel market is a viable and lucrative market that will not be dismissed.  The SFAACC called for a boycott that ultimately cost San Francisco over $32 million in lost revenues before they agreed to sit down and talk.

Sadly, while it did result in some movement, mostly it was a lot of "dynamic inactivity." Empty promises, token gestures, and worthless meetings.  At the end of the day, promises were made, and some concessions were met. However, San Francisco Travel continues to refuse to advertise with African-American publications, market to Black meeting planners or promote San Francisco's African-American businesses, history, and cultural venues.

Research confirms that African-American Women are the lead in driving travel spending and deciding travel destinations.  Women are traveling solo or in groups with other women, and a sense of welcoming and safety are major factors in their decision-making.  San Francisco does not reach out to any segment of the African-American community, much to its own detriment.  It seems they have little or no concern for the financial or cultural impact on the City. 

Unlike South Carolina, there is no desire to attract African-Americans.  But history has been made in San Francisco and the time for change is now.

African American Women Leadership in San Francisco can bring about Change.

When the late Edwin Lee became the first Asian Mayor of San Francisco, inbound travel from Asian countries skyrocketed.  Now San Francisco has made history again. 

London Breed has become San Francisco's first African-American women Mayor. Supervisor Malia Cohen, an African-American women, was elected unanimously to President of the Board Supervisors. The City's Chief Administrative Officer, Naomi Kelly, is the City's first African-American woman to hold the position.  African-American women hold the top three positions of leadership, and San Francisco is poised to be a top destination for African-American visitors who want to celebrate this moment in history. 

But the desire of SF Travel to build relationships with the African-American visitor to San Francisco is clearly absent. SF Travel's failure to collaborate, and strategize with African-American businesses, and non- profits is leading them into yet another showdown with the San Francisco African American Chamber, as well as Black meeting planners around the country.

Leading by Example

It is easy to understand the correlation between respectful marketing to the African-American market and increase in African-American visitors when you examine the track record of a city such as Baltimore.  In 2005, with the opening of the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History and Culture, Visit Baltimore increased advertising in predominantly Black media by more than 66 percent. 

In addition to a strong Black media strategy, Visit Baltimore also funded "familiarization tours" for African-American meeting planners, group-tour operators and travel media representatives from throughout the country.  The success from this campaign has had a profound effect with African-American conferences and conventions to Maryland growing steadily.  In 2017, BACVA spent a major portion of its advertising budget with African-American media.

In 2017, Visit Philadelphia launched a marketing initiative aimed toward the African-American traveler, tapping into this segment with a marketing campaign, featuring documentary-style travel video series aimed at the African-American Market.  This new initiative reaches underrepresented African-American travelers, whom respond to advertising geared toward them. 

Power of the African American Dollar

It is believed that the African-American market is thirty-eight percent more likely to buy when advertisement reflects them. According to a Nielsen report, only $2.6 billion of the total $69.3 billion spent annually on advertising is spent with African-American media.  This, despite the fact African-Americans represent nearly $60 billion in annual spending on travel.

African-American meeting planners have drawn a line in the sand.  It is time to demand the industry make a conscious decision to willingly and authentically market to African-Americans.  If there is an earnest effort to connect, it will be evident in the increase in spending with Black media, and not just dribbles and drabs to placate agencies or the purchase of ads or tables at local events. They must create an all-encompassing strategy of partnership with local organizations, advertising with African-American media, and a significant investment in, and support of, local African-American businesses.  This is the only way to create experiences that would resonate with African-Americans and drive us to choose a locale as a destination. 

According to Katrina Ruff, SVP, Forums Meetings & Events, "We are in a unique position to not only control our travel spend but are positioned to influence the corporate clients we serve.  I immediately think of the old adage 'an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.'  If the planning community takes a moment during the site selection and sourcing process to consider where dollars are spent, this will go a long way towards accountability.  The bottom line is that businesses, cities, or venues do not have to advertise with, or to African-Americans, however, the consequence should be monetized.  We have control over our travel spend."  Ruff challenges Black meeting planners to make educated choices when booking business with any destination or venue. 

The bottom line is hospitality and travel bureaus need bottoms in chairs, heads in beds, and a piece of the nearly $60 Billion in annual spending by African-American travelers.  We will not just hand it over.  They must work for our business by demonstrating a desire to welcome us.

"The National Policy Alliance (NPA) and its members continue to encourage cities, counties and states to invest in those who bring viability, visibility and most of all tourism dollars to their respective areas," explains Executive Director Linda Haithcox Taylor. "We are particularly concerned with areas that have significant African-American populations AND areas that African-American populations travel. 

Taylor, who played a major role in launching and implementing the Lodging Industry Report Card in 1996 during her years with the NAACO, added, "The NPA also believes any area that either has tourism as a line item in their annual fiscal budgets, should also review where they are generating tourism revenues. The answer might surprise them."

The travel industry needs to respect the African-American market and take it far more seriously than it has until now.  If not, we will withhold our consumer spending power and demonstrate just how significant an economic impact we can have on a city or State.  When African-American meeting planners refuse to book conventions and conferences, each of which represents more than $25 million in spending, the travel industry will recognize our spending power and begin to invest in our businesses as they would with any valued customer.

Mathew Thomas serves as president of the San Francisco African American Chamber of Commerce.

Advertisement