Lisa Bonner

Girl On The Fly

Is The Travel Industry Overlooking Black Travelers?


I was sitting in the U.S. Passport Office in downtown New York having a déjà vu.

Under the florescent lights waiting for my number to be called, my mind was trying to think of a way that governments could eliminate these annoying passport booklets. “There has to be an app for this,” I thought.

My frustration lay in the fact that in a short amount of time I’d burned through yet another passport, so here I was again in the bowels of a dimly lit room in lower Manhattan trying to re-up.

I travel a lot, and I do mean TRAVEL. In 2014, I visited 14 countries, from Beirut to Sri Lanka; that number fell to 12 in 2015, but I’ve already circumnavigated the globe in 2016 courtesy of a trip to Indonesia in January. I’ve logged over 3.5 million frequent flier miles that I’ve kept track of, traveling to six continents. I’m a member of the elite 2 Million-Miler club on American Airlines, which has afforded me Platinum status for life. I keep a recurring Platinum status on Delta, and I’m striving for Diamond, but that’s another story.

Yet, despite all of that travel, I feel like an invisible traveler.

I’m an African American woman, part of a vast population of consumers that are routinely overlooked by the tourism and hospitality markets. It’s a sad irony, though. The kind that forces me to sigh, then chuckle to myself thinking, “The joke’s on you,” because we have money to spend.

What advertisers and the tourism industry fail to recognize, Nielsen does. Nielsen calls me a “trendsetter, a social maven” who’s “the head of [my] household, a leader in business and community…empowered with saving, spending and investments.” And so are my friends. Trust me, I’m not alone in this.

According to the U.S. Census, African-Americans make up 13.2% of the population and we have resources; nearly $1 trillion annually in spending power, according to Nielsen. Yet, the mainstream travel content providers and tour operators don’t cater to our community.

Mandala Research conducted an online study which found that African- Americans spend upwards of $49 billion on domestic travel annually, and twenty percent of us travel internationally at least once each year. While spending for the overall consumer is down, travel budgets among black consumers has increased. Still we remain a vastly untapped market. But we are a resourceful people, so we do what we’ve historically done; take matters into our own hands then pass the knowledge among ourselves.

From the days of the Underground Railroad, to Victor H. Greene’s publication “The Negro Traveler’s Green Book” penned in the early twentieth century, to the Jim Crow era, African-Americans have historically shared information on travel and hospitable lodging via word of mouth and some form of written media. Although the legal barriers have been eliminated, the absence of target advertising to African-Americans has left us devoid of information regarding welcoming places to visit or destinations that cater to our interests, which, by the way, aren’t so dissimilar from the rest of the population. In 2016, we’re still relying on information, for us, by us — this time fueled by the internet and social media, our 2.0 version of the “Green Book.”

Soul of AmericaTravel Noire , and Nomadness Travel Tribe  are just a few of these sites that have emerged to provide information geared toward the African-American traveler. In addition to sharing tips, they curate tours and group travel to exciting destinations and educate their consumers via conferences and newsletters. Since traveling while black is often isolating, these sites also have open forums where you can get advice on where to get your hair pressed or loc’d overseas, readers’ choices on where to shop, dine,  chill, or simply to connect with a friendly face. Just last week, my friend and I visited an black expat in Bali that we’d found on Soul Society. As we perused the clothing in her shop, we bonded over shared experiences and our best meal in Ubud; advertising in the community by word of mouth.

The tourism market isn’t alone in overlooking the African-American traveler; the leisure market leaves a lot of our money on the table as well.

Contrary to popular opinion, black people swim, ski, hike, and as you probably know, we golf. In fact, there are African-American clubs that travel and cater to these special interests. I joined National Association of Black Scuba Divers after meeting a member while I was purchasing my SCUBA gear in New York City. The national club takes an annual summit to a dive-friendly destination, and each of the city chapters take trips to various destinations throughout the year promoting diving and fellowship. Friends of mine have been in the National Brotherhood of Skiers seemingly since its inception, and look forward to their annual Ski Summit to reconnect and meet new like-minded travelers.

You name it, there’s an African American club or travel site that caters to it. The information is out there, but you just have to know where to find it.

Tiffany Smith