Experts discuss keys to reaching Black travelers

CHICAGO — Successfully tapping into the $109 billion Black travel market requires “a deeper dive into words and their meaning,” said Stephanie Jones, founder and CEO of the Cultural Heritage Alliance and the National Blacks in Travel & Tourism Collaborative.

Jones led “Understanding and Engaging Multicultural Audiences,” an educational session at last week’s ASTA Global Convention, and stressed that diversity marketing begins with acknowledging that one must offer alternative ways of communicating, in both words and imagery, to segments within a diverse population. 

And a key to reaching Black audiences, she said, requires intentional outreach and an authentic approach. Jones said she had walked the ASTA tradeshow floor, picking up collateral material, and did not see much material that featured Black imagery.

“Representation in advertising and collateral material is very important,” she said. “It tells a Black person, ‘Are you important to us?’ Black people want to travel to places where they feel safe and spend money where they feel welcomed and appreciated.”

Black travelers often turn to Black bloggers and influencers for that information. “They’re traveling and they’re telling whether it’s safe for us,” she said. “These referrals are important.”

Likewise, negative comments about travel products are also influential. “There was a tour in Charleston that was so bad it had 300 comments under it,” warning others away. “That’s the power of the Black travel community,” she said.

On the other hand, Black people will tend to support brands and companies that support and embrace the Black Lives Matter movement and which fight for social, economic and racial equity. “It’s important to us who we spend money with and what they support.” 

Nadia Henry of Travel with Sparkle in West Orange, N.J., was in the audience, and pointed out that travel advisors themselves can become influencers. During the pandemic, she focused on broadening her reach in social media and went from 2,000 followers to 18,000 in just a few months.

Focus on building relationships with moms and millennials, Jones said, because they’re the ones doing the actual bookings. And don’t make the common mistake of assuming that Black travelers always travel on a budget. “We have money to spend and we will spend it to have a wonderful travel experience. We may want to go to a hole-in-the-wall soul food restaurant. But that’s not just Black travelers. That’s cultural travelers from around the world.”

And travelers who focus on culture spend more than those who don’t, she said, and not just by a little. When it comes to Black travelers, cultural travelers spend a third more than those who aren’t focused on cultural experiences. “Food is the leading spend category,” she said. “And shopping is another leading spend category. We love to eat, we love to shop, and we don’t mind spending money for quality.”

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