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The Industry Needs to Expect Black Travelers

Black Travel Expert Kellee Edwards

On MLK Day we reflect on how the travel industry can be more welcoming to African-American travelers.

According to a 2018 study by Mandala Research, African-Americans contribute $63 billion annually to travel industry.

“So, we do have disposable income,” Milton Howery III, director of public relations, with Memphis Tourism noted at 2020 travel conference, speaking about Black travelers. “It’s just that no one has paid attention to or valued” the African-American travel market.

Hosted by DeMarco Williams, managing editor, Forbes Travel the panel “How to Make Travel More Welcoming to Black Travelers” was a part of the New Travel Conference which met virtualy last June. Other panelists were Kim Jamieson, director of marketing, Columbia Metropolitan Airport; Kellee Edwards better known as Kellee Set Go!, a host on the Travel Channel; Travis Levius, a freelance contributor to CNN Travel, Lonely Planet, and Conde’ Nast Traveler; and Sarah Greaves-Gabbadon, host of JetSetSarah.

Each of these travel insiders recounted instances where they had not felt welcomed at resorts or other destinations. Levius recalled being stopped at borders for additional screening, and treated like Black people “don’t belong” in luxury locations. Howery noted, “When I pull up to valet I am ignored. I have to go up and say I’m staying here, I’m not an Uber driver.” And Greaves-Gabbadon said that if there’s a couple of Black tourists on a trip, people will always assume they are traveling together. Her go to snappy reply: “We’re not married, we’re just Black.”

Williams told of staying at luxury resort where upon returning to the men’s dressing room after a spa treatment, he found nothing on the complimentary toiletries table that was suitable for a Black man. Williams, who’s natural hair is closely cropped — held up a plastic comb as an example, noting that “wasn’t going to cut it.” “Little things like that,” he said, “can make a big impression.”   

Jamieson spoke about the need to recognize that the Black market isn’t defined by one specific age group and therefore marketing to the Black community needed to specifically target different age groups. She called ignoring certain generations, “a disgrace.” Johnson who has represented clients like South Carolina recalled the “hesitation” she receives when she arrives as “Kim from South Carolina — and they were not expecting a 6’1” Black woman.”

Expect us,” Edwards (pictured above) implored. Named to Conde' Nast Traveler’s 2019 Women Who Travel Power List, Edwards is a pilot, mountaineer, scuba diver and adventure traveler. “I would love the travel industry to expect to see us,” she said, recalling filming on location with the Travel Channel when someone stopped the crew as they were approaching the plane. The person was concerned about Edwards approaching the pilots’ side of a plane. “I will never fly into that airport again,” she says.

To those who’ve pigeon-holed Black travelers with racial stereotypes like “Black people don’t swim,” Edwards pointed out that ever since African-Americans were brought to the nation as slaves, they have lived off the land and many escaped slavery by becoming “master navigators,” traveling north at night guided by the stars. Don’t imagine today’s Black travelers are any less capable.

“Please,” Edwards beseeched the industry, “Do better!”

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