Black Travel Alliance Board
In March of 2020, as COVID-19 was sending shock waves through the travel industry, a group of Black content creators—travel journalists, bloggers, photographers, vloggers, etc.—gathered online to support each other through the ordeal.
Then in May, yet another crisis erupted. George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police, triggering Black Lives Matter protests across the country and around the world. Suddenly, the subjects of police brutality, inequality, and systemic racism were thrust into the headlines. In response, many travel businesses rushed to show support for social justice—sometimes by posting a black square on their social media feed.
There was just one problem. The Black content creators knew from experience that these brands’ actions often didn’t match their rhetoric.
“A lot of people in the group found the travel industry response a little odd considering that they didn't seem so willing to work with a lot of Black creators in the past,” says Martina Jones-Johnson, a founding member of the Black Travel Alliance (BTA). “So the Black Travel Alliance was formed to hold the travel industry accountable. Not by calling them out, but by calling them in. And helping them to be who they say they want to be.”
Taking on the lack of Black representation in travel
Johnson and her peers set out on a mission to support Black travel content creators around the world by increasing their representation in the travel industry.
One of the BTA's earliest initiatives was the #PullupForTravel campaign in which they called on travel brands and related organizations to publicly share key performance indicators of Black representation.
“We wanted to know how many Black people worked at the company? How many Black people were in management roles at the company? We wanted to know how many Black people were sent on press trips? We wanted to know what was the percentage of Black people used in marketing? We wanted to know the number of Black people asked to speak at different conferences? And if you make charitable donations, what is the percentage that was helping or going toward Black causes?” says Johnson.
“We learned that people needed to do better. I mean, we knew going into it that there’d be some opportunity for growth. And that’s really what the results revealed.”
Why representation is important
One of the problems Johnson sees in the travel industry is bad assumptions.
“I think sometimes people who aren't Black look at Black people as a monolith. A lot of times people will have these assumptions about what black people don't do, when we are all so very different. Some people do outdoor things, some people do luxury, some people family, some people do couples. So Black people really are as diverse as they come. The truth is we do everything that there is to do in travel.”
That’s part of why Johnson, herself, chose to be involved with the BTA.
“I think representation is very important. Images that you see in the media shape perspectives. It shapes the way people see the world. And I just want there to be a more accurate and truthful representation of black people in the media.”
Don’t overlook the Black traveler
In 2019, Black travelers in the US, UK, Germany, Canada, and France spent a combined total of $159.5 billion on travel according to research by MMGY in partnership with the Black Travel Alliance. The report also found that in 2019 Black leisure travelers took an average of three overnight vacations and spent an average of 13.1 nights in paid accommodations. Moreover, a full three-quarters of those surveyed intend to take an overnight leisure trip in 2021.
Brands who take that spending power for granted are likely to find themselves out in the cold. Because Black travelers—particularly those in the US, UK, and Canada—are paying attention. They are far more likely to patronize businesses that have Black representation in their marketing and they will avoid destinations that do not promote a safe, inclusive environment for them.
Johnson says, “Don't overlook the black traveler. Understand that we do all things, we’re in all industries...don’t put us in a box. We’re not a monolith!”
What can travel brands do to show their support?
I asked Johnson how she advises brands to do if they want to be more inclusive. She said:
“Most importantly, hire Black people. If you want to understand the Black traveler the best way to do it is to get some Black people on your team. When you have a Black person at the table you are less likely to make mistakes along the way.
“You should strive to be equitable in your hiring practices and in your pay practices. Hire Black people and pay them fairly. That would be my words of advice is to hire Black people and pay them fairly.”
Has there been progress?
According to Johnson there has been some incremental progress since the Black Travel Alliance was formed. She acknowledges that progress “is something that never happens overnight.” Still, “we feel positive about the direction that things are going in.”
One of the more tangible results of that progress is Black content creators finding work through the Alliance's networking events. After all, that was the very reason the organization was formed in the first place.
About Martina Jones-Johnson
Johnson works full time in tech sales and consulting. She also runs the travel blog That Couple Who Travel with her husband Leslie Johnson. The blog is dedicated to providing inspiration and information to help couples create travel memories around the world. You can follow Martina Jones-Johnson on Instagram.