Lord knows I can’t wait to get on a plane and seek somebody’s Caribbean island-refuge when this pandemic ends and the world reopens. Being sheltered-in on lockdown has been a residential hassle, but as an essential worker, the advancing of news relevant to all sectors of the Black community remains an ongoing work challenge. Everyone is suffering from the impact of economic fallout, Florida has endured an embarrassing unemployment debacle and this global health crisis has morphed into grievous consumption that inspires my gasp for fresh air.
But here’s the thing, I want that air to be intertwined with a faraway breeze, preferably off the coast of a sandy beach. I imagine a vacation of monumental proportions and a destination that is not highly populated. A private beach-type-place. I see in my post-pandemic future a deep tissue massage and Zen stimulation. I’m going to need a reclining chair that invites a beachside stretch and a fruity cocktail poured deep into a tall glass with a fresh pineapple wedge and ripe strawberry resting on its rim. And here’s my final image: I want to sport my most dope Ray Ban sunglasses without wearing a mandated mask. Who’s with me on that one?
To make this happen, all I need to do is reach out to my travel agent, right? My Black-owned business travel agent. The one whose start-up crossed the finished line without having to bail due to a virus that came from nowhere and turned the tourism industry upside down. That industry representation is few and far between because amid the pandemic, Black tourism entrepreneurs have, too, suffered a financial blow.
First came the shutdown orders, followed by the travel restrictions. Next thing we know, the tourism industry came to a standstill all due to COVID-19.
Major events have been either canceled or postponed, airlines have asked the federal government for help, hotels are closing, and employees are being furloughed.
“As a free-spirited nomad who’s traveled the world full time for the last 3 years, this has shaken me up a bit,” Tameika of TameikaG Fitness Inc. told Travel Noire in a May 11 report. “Overnight, I’ve had to find a place to live, indefinitely, and shift to a life of stillness.”
Neither the Great Depression nor the 9/11 terrorist attacks caused the kind of devastation the novel coronavirus has created. The virus has impacted all facets of our lives from work, leisure, sports, and travel.
Total spending on travel in the United States alone, including transportation, lodging, retail, attractions, and restaurants, is projected to plunge by $355 billion for the year. That is reportedly six times greater than the impact of 9/11, according to data from the U.S. Travel Association.
“In just 2 weeks we received over 150 cancellations losing over $75,000 in revenue. Our occupancy went from an average of 65% to 70% to a shocking 5%,” Deidre Mathis, owner of WanderStay Hotels, America’s first black-owned hostel, told Travel Noire.
The Miami Times reported May 13 that Florida had a record 36.4 million visitors during the first quarter in 2019, starting what would be a record 133.7 million travelers in the state for the year, according to state figures.
A recent survey of tourism-related businesses by Destinations Florida, which represents travel-marketing organizations, found that companies that had laid off employees over a three-week period leading up to April 15 had reduced staff by an average of 73 percent. The survey also found mid-April hotel occupancy at 13 percent, down from 84 percent at the same point a year earlier.
And while the federal government has provided more than $2 trillion in relief to battle the harmful effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, entrepreneurs have been forced to find creative ways to stay afloat.
“Like everyone else in the tourism industry this coronavirus pandemic has brought a hard financial hit,” Daniel Pappoe, founder of the travel company Coming To Ghana Movement said. “We will be launching our business online shortly in the US. We [will] sell raw, unrefined Shea Butter from The Northern Region Of Ghana and Black Soap as we don’t know how long this pandemic will last or what the long term impact will be.”
Tamieka said that while the transition hasn’t been easy, she is working on ways to support her tribe virtually through online retreats, coaching, and workshops.
“We’re currently working on launching a few new and exciting online programs,” she said. “Our 21-day downloadable program is geared towards helping people jumpstart their wellness journey as it focuses on Mindset, Nutrition, and Fitness.”
For Brian Oliver, founder of BMore See More, nonprofit empowering male students in Baltimore City through education, mentorship, and travel, he’s had to make some adjustments for his students but remains hopeful that things will pick back up in the future.”
“BMore See More was supposed to begin our Cohort 1 program this spring with high school students from Baltimore. There were trips in the making that were impacted. We are now planning to begin in the fall hopefully, if not Spring 2021,” he said.
It’s no secret that Black-owned businesses have historically faced disproportionate barriers to funding for their businesses.
Out of the $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief bill, Congress only allocated $10 million to the Minority Business Development Agency.
Travelnoire.com and News Service Florida contributed to the compilation of this report.