Why the Travel Industry Needs to See in Color

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Photo: Stephen Zeigler/Getty Images

I was nervous.

Here it was, approaching 10 a.m., on a crisp Montreal morning. I was backstage getting pep talked by Destination International’s CEO, Don Welsh, before getting on stage to give the final morning keynote to 1,500 tourism and destination officials.

“We brought you here for a reason,” Don said to me, before taking his place backstage to approach the audience that his association had brought together for their 2017 Convention.

I present and give keynotes all the time. It’s a highlight of my career, and one of my favorite things to do. Yet this July morning was different. This was the first time I took the stage to speak directly to the audience I’d been working to get the attention of for years. These were the people I wanted to understand the influence that NOMADNESS Travel Tribe has had on diversity in the travel industry, for the last six years. I knew the stats, but more importantly, I’ve lived the experience.

In those six years, I’ve created a community of 17,000 travelers of color to date, facilitated over 25 group trips, acquired 50 regional brand ambassadors, and thrust myself out as the face of this brand, and movement. But the same travel industry that this community loves, that it has built businesses and relationships within, and kicked down doors for, has in many respects ignored us. This is the living truth for travelers of color.

So, there I was, fresh off having given my first TED Talk weeks prior, with nerves that had me pacing backstage. Not because I wouldn’t deliver. Because I wasn’t sure if the message I was delivering would be received.

$50 billion.

This number reflects the annual spending habits of African-American travelers. This figure grows when applied to the scale of an internationally inclined community such as NOMADNESS. Our community alone represents around $40 million dollars spent on travel annually. You wouldn’t know this looking at travel marketing: Travelers of color are rarely seen in ad campaigns, television commercials, and are just starting to make strides in social media marketing campaigns for brands and destinations putting diversity on the agenda.

We’ve had to rely on creating our own communities online and offline to advocate, represent, and grow our influence in the travel space. And grow we have, so, where is our representation in mainstream travel?

Last year, according to Nielson less than 3% of overall advertising showcased African-Americans. Meanwhile, we are traveling everywhere, with millenials forging ahead as the generational front runners to this movement. The lack of diversity in mainstream travel marketing has gone from disregard to financial liability, as our part of the market share is growing both in influence and in dollars spent.

Social media, however, has created opportunities for us to level the playing field. Because in this demographic, there is an alternative form of currency that means more than dollars:


Authenticity is why some of the most fruitful dives into diversity marketing in travel happen when brands and destinations partner with communities and influential travelers of color. Because it’s not about re-writing our story, it’s about allowing us to tell it, and show it, as we live it.

Just this past October, the Travel Channel launched its first ever Black-female hosted travel show, with Kellee Edwards of ‘Mysterious Islands’, as a network celebrating three decades of travel-oriented television.

VisitPhilly.com launched the ‘We Got You’ webseries, hosted by Philadelphia native and Grammy-award winning frontman of The Roots, Tarik ‘Black Thought’ Trotter this season. Using a local influencer to authentically speak to their experience in their city and show others around is an organic way to reach the Black audience that lives within and frequents Philadelphia.

Within only the past 18 months have we seen serious interest and partnerships between major brands and our community come to fruition. We’ve worked with the likes of Airbnb, and on a more localized level, the non-profit wilderness school NOLS. When NOLS’ Diversity & Inclusion Manager, Sydney Clark approached NOMADNESS this year, it was a game changer for our members who enjoy outdoors, adventure travel experiences but simply were not being marketed to.

So, we have movement. Progress is progress — but this progress is still quite new.

The truth is, it’s bigger than just travel. The world is riddled with large platforms, even forward-facing progressive platforms, that muzzle or dilute our messaging as irrelevant, or non-universal. It needs to be understood that embracing stories of color does not in turn alienate your base audience. Diversity is useless as a buzzword, but world changing when adopted and celebrated. Everyone needs to see in color, dream in color, and innovate in color.

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