If you’re a frequent user of Instagram and happen to follow travel influencers or hashtags, then you can’t miss the increasing number of posts from people traveling the world – many of whom are black and brown. Some people are discovering travel for the first time, several are traveling as a part of a travel club like the NOMADNESS Travel Tribe, but I’m most amazed at how many are monetizing their travel as a career. Personally, aside from the occasional family reunion road trip to the south, I didn’t travel much as a young girl. I experienced my first plane ride when I was a college senior and traveled to the UK with my business cohort for a study abroad program. Instantly my worldview changed as I was exposed to a different culture and people.

Of course, the travel experience for African Americans has not been without its challenges. While I knew that traveling abroad was a great opportunity, like many students – particularly students of color – I had to overcome the financial barriers that come with overseas travel. Not to mention, historically travel wasn’t always safe for African Americans, especially domestically. In the early 1930s, people of color had to rely on the use of The Negro Motorist Green Book, an annual guidebook for African American road trippers. It was originated and published by African American, New York City mailman Victor Hugo Green from 1936 to 1966. He developed the guide during the era of Jim Crow laws, when open and often legally prescribed discrimination against African Americans, especially, and other non-whites was widespread.1

The economic value of African American travelers has increased in 2018 to $63 billion from $48 billion in 2010. African American “cultural” travelers are the highest spenders, with an average per trip spend of $2,078 versus $1,345 for all African American travelers.
- Sited Source: 2018 African American Traveler Study, issued by Mandala Research

Fast forward eighteen years: No one could have convinced this kid from Flint, Michigan (who had a narrow view of the world and the people in it) that she would travel to 17 countries before the age of 30. I could not have imagined that travel among African Americans would exponentially increase, spurring the visionary Evita Robinson to create a community of over 20,000 nomad travelers. I would never have dreamed that people of color would get paid or sponsored to travel the world, take photos and blog about it or, more importantly, that black people would one day contribute to the tourism economy at a tune of $63 billion.

Yet it’s true. According to the Mandala research2:

  • The economic value of African American travelers has increased in 2018 to $63 billion from $48 billion in 2010. African American “cultural” travelers are the highest spenders, with an average per trip spend of $2,078 versus $1,345 for all African American travelers.
  • More than half reported that their most recent leisure destination was between 100-500 miles from home with Florida, New York City/New York, and Atlanta being top U.S. destinations and Caribbean/Bahamas (38%) and Mexico (26%) mentioned as leading international destinations.
  • Food and shopping are leading spend categories with nearly half of travelers spending on local and/or regional cuisine on their most recent leisure trip. Shopping continues to be a popular activity for vacationers, most often at malls (41%) and outlet malls (34%), but also downtown (28%).

On October 12, I attended the State of Black Tourism Forum in Washington, D.C., an event hosted annually by National Coalition of Black Meeting Professionals. The panel consisted of industry experts from the NAACP and Nielsen, as well as a national religious meeting planner. They discussed the buying power of African Americans and the often-missed opportunities and dollars that destination marketing organizations and brands leave on the table by not effectively marketing to the group or valuing their economic contributions.

Nielsen recently published a consumer research report that offers insights into the buying trends and perspectives of African Americans called It’s In The Bag. On the flip side, they also spoke about the tragic marketing tactics that brands employ when marketing to black and brown consumers, dropping a few names on who’s doing it right and, well, who has missed the mark.

The NAACP also presented their updated Opportunity and Diversity Report Card [AL1] that they conducted on the Hotel and Resort Industry. The report calls attention to the racial inclusion and diversity practices of the lodging industry as they pertain to the workforce, governing body, property ownership/management, employee transition, and suppliers. The report, compiled from EEOC data and the responses to a survey instrument developed by the NAACP, assesses the performance of the four largest U.S. companies in the industry – Hilton, Hyatt, Marriott and Wyndham – recognizing that they possess the most potential to influence industry trends, policies and practices. The report also provides information to the public on career opportunities and realities in the hotel and resort industry. Comparing the performance of the 2019 report card to that of 2012, NAACP notes where improvements have been made and where challenges persist.3

Food and shopping are leading spend categories with nearly half of travelers spending on local and/or regional cuisine on their most recent leisure trip. Shopping continues to be a popular activity for vacationers, most often at malls (41%) and outlet malls (34%), but also downtown (28%).
- Sited Source: 2018 African American Traveler Study, issued by Mandala Research

Experience Grand Rapids embraces the changing [AL2] demographics of Grand Rapids and the opportunities this brings. As the community focuses on creating more inclusive and equitable spaces for African American and other communities of color, we are taking on initiatives to do the same.

Our travel research tells us that 4% of leisure travelers visiting Grand Rapids are African American. That’s half of the U.S. norm of 8% and less than one quarter [AL3] of the percentage of Grand Rapids residents who are African American.

So, over the past two years, Experience Grand Rapids has created priorities and plans that will help us drive change. Our aim is to continue to grow our reach, particularly among African Americans, provide better diverse representation in our group sales and leisure marketing assets, attract more diverse meeting and convention groups and foster deeper connections with the community that we proudly represent.

In the words and wisdom of Martin Luther King, Jr., “You don't have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.” And that’s what Experience Grand Rapids has done and remains committed to doing.

Additional Resources