As the travel and hospitality industry works to become anti-racist, one Here editor (and Black traveler) lays out three steps industry leaders can take on the road to diversity and inclusion.
Racism in modern society is prevalent in every industry. But the travel industry, in particular, is uniquely stunning in its lack of diversity.
Although the face of travel is predominantly white, it isn’t because Black people are disinterested or absent in the travel space. Travel Noire, formed in 2013 to amplify millennial voices of the African diaspora in travel, has garnered a community of over 587,000 fans on Instagram (meanwhile, similar but older publications like AFAR and Departures have only 257,000 followers and 147,000 followers, respectively). Posts by Black travel influencers like Lee Litumbe of @spiritedpursuit and Jessica Nabongo of @thecatchmeifyoucan reach tens of thousands of eyes each day. Nomadness Travel Tribe, founded by travel entrepreneur and public speaker Evita Robinson, has a community of more than 16,000 travelers and hosts upwards of 100 meetups each year. In 2018 alone, Black Americans spent nearly $63 billion on tourism.
So why, when the numbers reflect the Black community’s interest in seeing the world, does the business of travel still seem to ignore us?
As it stands, white travel industry professionals’ love for culture seems akin to white volunteers taking photos with Black children on mission trips. BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, & People of Color) appear as the backdrop to white stories: As safari guides in the Serengeti; as chefs serving up “ethnic” foods; as warm but visually subservient hosts in “off the beaten path” locales. As spectacles of diversity, but never as travelers themselves.
For the majority-white leaders in the travel industry—who readily claim their love of cultural enrichment, but who regularly fail to include multicultural voices—their own inherent racism will be an uncomfortable truth to confront. Many will struggle to do so. But if the mere performance of allyship is over and the time has truly come to expand the vision and voice of travel, it’s paramount that these truths be recognized and addressed.
The tools that travel and hospitality pros need to combat racism are not dissimilar to those of other industries, but they bear repeating. All facets of the travel space have ample work to do—and although the mission to become actively anti-racist is perhaps most potent on an individual basis, there are a few first steps the industry as an entity can take to make Black travelers feel heard, accepted, and genuinely welcome.
1. Press Trips Must Diversify
In the short time I’ve worked with Here, I have attended three major group press trips. On these trips, I cannot recall a single time that there have been more than a handful of BIPOC attendees; generally, I am the sole Black person in the room. Whether the white organizers of these trips have noticed my discomfort or “don’t see color,” the lack of inclusion is certainly noticed. The exceptional whiteness of these trips, in terms of both attendees and organizers, makes me feel as if I am an invader in a world not meant for me.
By inviting Black writers on press trips and employing Black organizers (as of 2018, the PR industry in the U.S. is 87.9% white), you invite diversity into the resulting stories, reports, and listicles, into the brands you represent, and into the travel industry at large. As gatekeepers to luxury travel, specifically, press trip organizers can play a role in making Black travelers feel welcome, as well as in establishing Black-owned businesses, restaurants, and stores as high-end rather than upholding the image that luxury establishments are stereotypically white.
2. Tourism Boards Must Market To Black Travelers
If you are a white traveler who still struggles to see your own privilege, consider this: Before traveling to another city or country, have you ever had to wonder whether you will feel welcome due to the color of your skin? Alternatively, have you ever wondered before a trip whether you will see another white person present at all?
In a story Here published in 2019 on traveling as a family of color, Black travel blogger and mother Monet Hambrick of @thetravelingchild mentions the absence of Black families in travel advertisements: “If you search for ‘traveler’ or ‘family travel’ in Google images, you will notice that families that look like mine are missing.” Karen Akpan of @themomtrotter expressed similar sentiments, recalling a story in which her son, Aiden, said to her, “We travel to all these places, but I’m not seeing other kids that look like me. Where are all the brown people?”
To stand in true solidarity with Black people, tourism boards must work to promote a more diverse definition of what travelers look like. (This should include all Black people: Even as images of travelers have become somewhat more inclusive in recent years, dark-skinned, disabled, and LGBTQ+ Black people still rarely appear in promotional materials.) This means including Black people in photos and video marketing—this simple act of representation lets us know that we are welcome.
3. Travel Media Must Include Black Voices—Especially in Leadership
In late 2019, I interviewed one of the founders of popular travel publication Atlas Obscura. I arranged the meeting with their PR Manager, Alexa Harrison, over email—an essentially faceless platform. Upon arrival, I discovered she was another Black woman and was immediately elated: Finally, somebody else who looked like me. The instant connection between Black people in spaces that tend to exclude us can be an incredible feeling—but the shock and surprise at meeting another Black person in the travel space reminded me that our presence is still a novelty and a rarity.
As a Black writer in a predominantly white space, closest to home among all is that travel media must become more inclusive. Editorial leadership must include Black people. We must work with Black writers, illustrators, and photographers on stories beyond only those about Blackness or exclusively during the month of February. Through tools like Diversity and Inclusion consulting firms or initiatives to address internal racial bias—whether overt or covert—our newsrooms, on all levels, must become more diverse.
This means that the businesses, services, restaurants, accommodations, and entertainment cater primarily to and reflect the experiences of white travelers, when to travel through this world as a Black person is an entirely different undertaking, especially in the luxury space.
We at Here Magazine are not exempt from this: On our small team of five, I am not only the sole Black person, but the sole BIPOC member. Our writers, artists, and photographers are predominantly white. Although diversity in the stories we tell has long been a staple of our work—and was, in fact, one of the things that drew me to apply—we still have a long way to go to actively include Black voices and faces as a part of the mainstream narrative.
Although Black travel is at an all-time high, the exclusionary tendencies of the industry persist: Black people are asked whether or not we are in the right seat as we board an airplane in first-class. We face discrimination from Airbnb hosts and hotel management. People stare when we visit places where, generally, Black people are rarely seen.
“To travel through this world as a Black person is an entirely different undertaking.“
With this in mind, the move to create an anti-racist travel and hospitality space must be more than a flash in the pan. In the coming weeks, months, and years, I hope to see major players rise to the occasion at last, rather than make the usual empty platitudes in order to satiate angry online commenters before quietly moving on, business as usual. Although inclusion and diversity in the travel industry is becoming increasingly important to all travelers—regardless of race or ethnicity—only time will tell whether a new and inclusive culture will take hold. But the time has come to question ourselves, our peers, and our motives.
This world is a diverse one—so how could the very industry that promotes the exploration of that world not be?