The travel industry is predominantly white – very white – in terms of the abundance of white representation in travel brands, destination marketing, and paid advertising and storytelling. The newly formed Black Travel Alliance (BTA) is determined to see that change.
Formed in June and comprising Black travel content creators from across the globe, BTA was launched in the wake of social unrest after George Floyd’s publicized murder and pronouncements of Black Lives Matter support by travel brands and companies. The industry, like so many others, has a long history of racial discrimination and lack of Black representation. The goal of BTA is to bring attention to this lack of inclusion, and to compel the industry to support Black creators systemically, philanthropically and financially.
“The time was right; people are open to make actionable changes, but any change that happens within this industry has to be done with intent,” said travel blogger and BTA founding member Lauren Gay.
During its launch, BTA came out strong with its global #pullupfortravel social media campaign, when the group called for destination management organizations and travel brands to publicly report – within 72 hours – their Black Travel Scorecard, reflecting key performance indicators (KPIs) in five critical areas: employment (current number of Black people in management or on staff); conferences and tradeshows (representation on speaker panels and in workshops); paid advertising and marketing campaigns (representation in TV, radio, print, and social media and other digital channels); press (invitations to media trips and events); and philanthropy (contributions to or other support of charities and organizations serving the Black community).
The intentional deadline: June 19, 2020, or Juneteenth, the holiday that celebrates the emancipation of those who had been enslaved in the U.S.
“Seventy-two hours is plenty of time if that is data you already have. If you are a brand and if diversity, equity and inclusion are important to you, you’re probably tracking this information. We wanted a sense of urgency. If you didn’t have the metrics, it was OK, just provide your plan [to address these things]. It’s one piece of our pillars, and it is ongoing work,” said Gay.
It was a major ask, but one well overdue. According to a 2018 report from Mandala Research, Black consumers contributed roughly $63 billion to the U.S. travel and tourism economy in that year alone. Heralding that major influence and buying power, BTA is demanding the tourism industry acknowledge Black consumers and increase hiring practices and representation in all forms of marketing.
Creator of the Outdoorsy Diva Blog and Podcast and founding member of Black Travel Alliance
To date, #pullupfortravel has seen 66 brands respond, and BTA has reached out to 121 companies directly, from startups to global powerhouses like Spirit Airlines, Airbnb, Condé Nast Traveler and luggage brand Travelpro. After examining the responses, the group has come up with the following takeaways:
- Many brands reported they have not been measuring representation in advertising/marketing campaigns, but stated they would do so going forward.
- Several companies did not report KPI information, but instead publicly shared their monetary funding of causes that support organizations focused on racial justice issues, including Black Lives Matter, the NAACP and historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs).
- Many brands stated their support of and commitment to working with Black and Indigenous people of color (BIPOC), but did not share how they planned to do so.
- There was an acknowledgment from many companies of the need to improve Black representation on staffs, management teams and marketing campaigns, as they reported few to zero Black employees.
“The response rate from much smaller brands was very impressive,” said Gay, “but we were surprised by the lack of response from airlines, and we’d like to see more response from hotel accommodations also. We’ll continue to follow up and reevaluate these plans with the brands.”
Since the launch of #pullupfortravel, many brands, as well as Destination Management Organizations (DMOs) and conferences, have continued to reach out to BTA, said Martina Jones-Johnson, a BTA founding member and co-chair of its communications team.
Chrishan Wright, creator and host of the Blaxit Global Podcast and blog of the same name, immediately joined BTA when she first learned of the group. After the murders of Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Aubrey, she was in a negative space and felt under siege.
“My podcast was born out of feelings of hopelessness; I needed to redirect that energy into a creative outlet,” said Wright.
With her many years spent in corporate America and working with multimillion-dollar brands, Wright has seen firsthand the lack of inclusion.
“It was a no-brainer for me to join BTA. Having worked in marketing the last 10 years, I know that African Americans are grouped in general markets and stereotypes are perpetuated. I love that BTA focuses on education, showcases other creatives and allows us to connect,” said Wright. “I want to see more spaces for Black travelers in the airline, cruise and hotel industries. Wherever a Black dollar is spent, that industry needs to be held accountable.”
Up next for BTA is a continuation of taking brands to task, gathering more data and raising awareness.
“We plan to continue to ask for accountability and to focus on one of our three pillars, alliance, for Black content creators,” said Gay. “Part of our future efforts are centered around getting current data on Black travel. We have partnerships with some top research organizations so we can dig deeper into those insights.”
Webinars and town halls focused on upcoming trends in Black travel, along with posting “Tuesday Tips” on BTA’s Twitter account and weekly opportunities on its job board, are meant to help grow membership.
“We eventually want to offer press trips, freelance opportunities, professional development training and software to BTA members too,” added Jones-Johnson. “When opportunities arise, we want to be able to give first dibs to them.”
Ultimately, BTA expects the travel industry to put its money where its mouth is in tangible actions, and move beyond simply offering words of support or claims of being an ally.
“We want to change the industry for the better,” said Jones-Johnson, “where diversity is innate.”