Speak up when you see or hear of discrimination against people of color while traveling.
When we think about travel, we imagine a worry-free time without interrupting the “real world.” Unfortunately, this level of unadulterated escapism does not ring true for Black travelers.
A quick Google search of the terms ‘traveler’ or ‘solo female traveler’ and pages of young white women against picturesque backdrops of the turquoise ocean with pink sand or famous landmarks like the Taj Mahal appears. Absent are the faces of Black travelers who are most certainly traveling to destinations both near and far. Over the last decade, with the help of social media, the Black travel movement (a movement that encourages Black people – particularly Black millennials – to travel both domestically and abroad to build community while also immersing in other cultures) has grown to unprecedented numbers.
The travel industry, one of the most profitable, fastest-growing industries globally, is worth $8.9 trillion (World Travel and Tourism Council). In 2018, Black travelers spent $63 billion on global tourism, an enormous leap from $48 billion in 2010 (Mandala Research). Additionally, in 2001, the United States Travel Association (USTA) identified African Americans as the fastest-growing segment in the travel industry. With these numbers, it’s clear that Black travelers are ready, willing, and able to spend their money on experiences in their chosen destinations, yet we are treated like we don’t belong.
Over the last few years, more and more Black travelers have been vocal about the anti-Black racism they’ve experienced while traveling in various parts of the world. Black professionals who often fly first-class are notoriously assumed to be in the “wrong line” when they’re on the priority line solely based on their skin color (LEVEL).
Black women have to research their destination and whether or not they will be safe from racialized and gender-based violence. White supremacy has made it so that the sexualization of Black women is worldwide, causing many Black women to experience unwanted advances abroad from men who assume they are prostitutes. Ugandan-American Jessica Nabongo, the first Black woman documented to travel the world, shares her experience with safety as a Black woman:
“…[women] of color are in more danger because a lot of people think we are prostitutes… My fear is always that if something happens to me in a European city, no one will care. I could be running down the street screaming in Italy, and onlookers won’t care because I’m Black. I think this is true no matter where in the world we are.”
For years, Airbnb branded itself as a way for travelers to stay at or with locals in new places; however, said locals have discriminated against Black travelers on several occasions (Fast Company). Whether it was kicking them out without reason or not responding to their inquiries on their accommodations availability (Fortune).
Also worth noting, 15% of Black travelers stated racial profiling played a role in their destination travel decisions (Mandala Research).
In the travel industry, people of color have played a supporting role in the tourism space. In contrast, white travelers have been the lead actors, not only as travelers but also in leadership positions at marketing agencies and press trips, travel media outlets, and tourism boards. Black people, wherever they are in the world, have been painted as the “gracious host,” “the safari guide,” and “the individuals who need ‘saving’ from white volunteers” but are rarely represented as “the adventurers in far-off lands.”
This lack of representation plays a significant role in the anti-Black racism Black travelers face on the road. For example, if locals from a country have limited real-world experience with Black people, they can only rely on what they’ve seen in the media. This misconception is likely to affect Black travelers negatively. A solution to this is simple: real diversity and inclusive initiatives rooted in anti-racism with a commitment to amplifying Black travelers.
Racism in the travel industry stretches beyond the average Black traveler but impacts the entire industry. Black travel agents make up a mere 6% of agents, while white travel agents make up 72% of the space (Data USA). Luxury travel is primarily represented by white travelers, erasing the Black travelers, journalists, and creators who create luxury travel content. In the PR industry, white professionals make up 87.9% of the space, while Black professionals make up 8.3%, Latinos 5.7%, and Asians a measly 2.7% (Harvard Business Review). With the absence of diverse voices, the stories, reporting, and content created from these trips lack the nuance that Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) can provide.
And this is particularly tense for the Asian community experiencing increased levels of anti-Asian racism because of COVID-19. The attacks earlier this year coincided with the Lunar New Year, which is one of the busiest travel times both across Asia and for the Asian community in the U.S. In an article for National Geographic, several travelers shared their hesitations on traveling in the future. But even before the pandemic, Asian people have been notably absent from executive positions and marketing campaigns (Washington Post).
Tourism boards must create marketing campaigns that reflect the diversity of the world, not the status quo. People of all kinds should be represented and celebrated in advertisements, not just light-skinned, slim, able-bodied, cis-gendered people. Diverse advertising in the travel industry has a two-fold result: it allows non-white travelers to feel welcome while showing locals that we, too, travel and deserve respect. Recent research shows travelers who identify as ethnic minorities (64%) and LGBTQ+ (67%) say the companies they book their travels with must be committed to inclusion and diversity practices (Accenture).
Like most industries, the travel industry is undergoing a reckoning. Black travelers and industry professionals demand real representation in the industry from the highest levels in leadership to the entry-level positions. Anti-racist policies must be adopted in the travel industry on a global scale to ensure Black travelers and Black locals are treated with the utmost care and respect post-COVID-19.
In 2018, Black travelers spent $63 billion on global tourism and are currently the fastest-growing segment in the travel industry.
Over the last few years, more and more Black travelers have been vocal about the anti-Black racism they’ve experienced while traveling in various parts of the world. It’s not uncommon that Black women are presumed to be prostitutes solely because of skin color.
People of color deserve to be seen, heard and respected in the travel industry, including marketing, executive leadership, and business ownership.