Tastemakers Africa, Nomadness Travel Tribe and Travel Noire have one unique thing in common.
They are all part of the “Black Travel” movement — a growing band of travel agents and social networks that celebrate and promote travel by people of color.
“There has always been a stereotype that people of color don’t travel — or if they do, that they’ll go to the Caribbean or Miami,” says Evita Robinson, CEO and creator of travel community Nomadness Travel Tribe.
“But it wasn’t that people of color weren’t traveling, it was that mass media wasn’t documenting it.”
African-Americans, for example, are traveling now more than ever.
From 3 percentage points in 2013, intent to travel among African-Americans increased to 6 points in 2014, to 19 points in 2015 and up another 18 points this year, says Steve Cohen, vice president of Insights at travel and hospitality marketing firm MMGY Global.
How is black travel different?
With its tagline “for the savvy Black Traveler”, Travel Noire knows exactly who its audience is.
The popularity of such sites is derived precisely from tapping into an under-served market of people who claim there is something inherently different about the way people of color travel, and who want to connect with this group.
Nomadness Travel Tribe, for example, has 13,000 members who keep in contact via a private Facebook group.
“People of color engage with local people more, and travel in groups more often,” says Cherae Robinson, who started Tastemakers Africa last year.
Cherae Robinson says 93% of her customers — who book trips and experiences in Africa through the Tastemakers site and mobile app — are people of color.
“The way we spend money is different,” she adds. “What we’re seeing at Tastemakers Africa is a higher spend on accommodation but a lower spend on the actual experiences themselves.”
Evita Robinson adds: “There is a sense of awareness that’s heightened when [people of color] travel. How we may be perceived is different [from how other people are perceived].
She notes that many foreigners’ first experience of people of color is on TV, where black characters can be stereotyped as being aggressive.
“I look at it as a teachable moment — when I was teaching English in Japan I knew for a fact that I was the first person of color they had ever seen.
“There is a sense of responsibility we walk with — wanting to represent. I’m more conscious of my behavior when I travel.”
Is the black travel movement discriminatory?
Despite all this, Evita Robinson says she “never wanted to create a black travel group”.
“I just wanted to find a group of people who I could relate to. Not just vacationers, but people who really put travel first. My personal network couldn’t relate to what I was feeling as they weren’t avid travelers.”
Cherae Robinson has been asked whether Tastemakers Africa is just for black people, but she has never marketed it as such.
“For black people who are building brands, there is an interesting line we have to walk. We choose a lot of images with black faces, we show those faces because we believe in intercontinental travel.
“There are plenty of brands which I support that never show a black face in their ads, but I don’t feel like I can’t participate in [what they advertise].
“I had a conversation with someone about this recently, and said: ‘If seeing a white face doesn’t indicate to me that a brand is not a for me, why does seeing a black face indicate to you that it’s not for you?'”
How mainstream brands missed a trick
The success of these businesses points to a gap in the market.
“When you speak to the tourism boards on the African continent, they will tell you that their market is middle aged, retired Europeans, so the industry is built around them,” explains Cherae Robinson.
“They are looking for things like safari.
“We’ve tapped into a wave of Africans wanting to see different representation of themselves, and people from elsewhere who want authentic experiences.”
“People are curious — African music is beginning to permeate pop culture. We’re the link between being curious and actually going there and experiencing it yourself.”
As Black Travel social networks and travel agencies grow their engagement, commercial partners are beginning to emerge.
“It’s still not as easy for us to get sponsorship — but brands are just starting to realize that we’re not going anywhere. We’ve shown sustainability that the industry just wasn’t prepared for,” says Robinson.
“Just this year, brands are starting to reply to our emails a bit faster.”