African American travel represents a $63 billion opportunity for destinations, according to the 2018 Mandala Research.
However, for far too long this conversation has been about opportunity and potential—without action, and often singularly focussed on the US market which, large as it may be, is not wholly representative of the geographically-distributed Diaspora.
And herein lies one of the central messages highlighted in Africa Travel Week’s virtual masterclass, Better understand and reach the African Diaspora traveller. The African Diaspora is not a monolith. It encompasses people from all over the world, with diverse backgrounds, and a vast spectrum of preferences and interests.
Naledi K. Khabo, CEO of Africa Tourism Association and moderator of this masterclass session, says of the African Diaspora, “We are all things. We enjoy cultural activities; we are luxury travellers; we are adventure travellers; we have accessibility needs; we are members of the LGBTQ+ community; we are baby boomers; we are millennials; and the list goes on and on.”
This emphasis on diversity amongst the African Diaspora was both echoed, as well as represented by the panel of five leading experts who joined Khabo to discuss practical ways to make travel experiences more inclusive for the African Diaspora.
Ensure representative voices and visuals
It is absolutely essential to review the visuals and content used reach the African Diaspora traveller—and then ask the tough questions as to why current marketing may not be resonating.
Mainstream media and traditional travel marketing on television and in magazines have historically underrepresented black voices and interests. Consider also that only 6% of the over 66 000 travel advisors in the US are Black, according to DataUSA.
Travel marketing originating from Black voices, writers, and advisors is so important because the travel experience is inextricably linked to the identity and perspective of the traveller. Whether they’re male or female, able-bodied or differently-abled, extrovert or introvert, and indeed, Black or any other race—you are going to experience a destination differently.
Paula Franklin, Co-founder of Franklin Bailey, says that more travel writing needs to address the fact that not everyone shares the same travel experience. She gives one such example from travel writer Sebastian Modak, who is Indian and Colombian. “He writes a lot about how his perspective is just different. For instance, when you read about Morocco, the market is hectic and you’re going to get badgered by the shop owners. But if you look like us, it’s not the same experience,” she says of Modak’s insights.
In another example, Franklin points to marketing materials which can often be visually alienating towards the African Diaspora. “Especially in the African safari space, if we could just move away from Black waiter, older white couple [image].” She acknowledges that while this may be the reality in some places, tourism needs to allow different perspectives to tell the story of a destination. And visuals are key. “Throw some colour into your marketing material. Advertise in a few Black-owned media companies. Pay a few Black influencers.” She says that it doesn’t actually need to take a lot of effort, just a more considered approach.
Connect through the right channels
Marketers must also look at the channels through which they intend to reach the African Diaspora traveller. Again, it comes down to a lack of Black voices in traditional travel marketing and media—meaning Black travellers have turned their attention elsewhere. And it has largely been captivated by the world of social media.
Here, on platforms like Instagram, Facebook and even Twitter, it’s easier to find images and content that reflect what Black travellers want to see. But, of course, there is differentiation across these platforms as well. Instagram and its cohort of influencers trend younger, while Facebook and its group magnetism attract an older crowd.
Ernest White II, an influencer and content producer, points out that Baby Boomers in particular use Facebook to amplify their engagement with groups they’ve already formed deep connections to in ‘real life’, e.g. church congregations, university alumni associations. Word-of-mouth travel recommendations found in these groups are often deemed reliable and pre-vetted by travellers who share not only interests but also perspectives and importantly, concerns around how they’ll be welcomed when visiting a new destination.
But having a presence on social media doesn’t absolve traditional media of its responsibility to be more inclusive of people of colour and other marginalised voices, including LGBTQ+ and differently abled.
White is also the producer and host of the show Fly Brother with Ernest White II, a travel docu-series about friendship and connection around the world. What makes it special, besides White’s charismatic style of storytelling and 100-watt smile, is that this is a show hosted by a Black, gay man, aired on public television (Public Broadcasting Station in the US).
“Engaging with visual storytellers who are working with public television or mainstream television—that’s another way to really blast the message out there to a market who may not necessarily be on social media,” says White. And for a prospective traveller to see a personality with whom they identify on television, sharing travel experiences, is powerful.
Crucially, 2020 has been a year of reckoning for much of the African Diaspora—in the US especially but also stretching far beyond the states with growing global awareness of the Black Lives Matter movement. And Franklin believes that media and travel will likewise need to come to grips with this long-time-coming shift.
“I find it just fascinating how this ripple effect is hitting every industry. I think a lot of the mainstream media has been forced to realise that they’re not being inclusive in their coverage and who’s writing it. So, you’re seeing a lot more stories by Black writers in travel magazines,” says Franklin, whose company specialises in brand development and communications in travel, conservation and culture in sub-Saharan Africa.
Managing and expanding expectations
Resonating with the African Diaspora traveller with visual representation and storytelling is about more than just marketing though. This is because the first images or accounts of a destination to which a prospective traveller is introduced, already begin to shape their expectations about the place, its culture, people, and how they will be welcomed there.
Here is where the travel experience actually begins, and the problem lies in the fact that these first introductions may not be representative of how a Black traveller would experience the destination.
Having the right resources and outlets to help manage expectations prior to travel is crucial. This also serves to expand expectations and break down stereotypes about African destinations.
David Elikwu, Founder of Democratic Republic of Coffee and Baba’s Flight Club, says that travellers are often set in their views of what travel in Africa means. “If you only internalise what you’ve been told about a particular African country, you can miss out on a lot,” says Elikwu. He believes there is important work to do in showing the immense diversity that the continent has to offer in terms of experiences, and it begins with building a local network on the ground in these destinations.
Likewise, Franklin, who is a mother of two, emphasises that especially for families travelling, it is important to explain to children beforehand what to expect. She prepares her own daughters with context around the history, culture and people in a destination before they travel. But she also has to be prepared for the inevitable questions as her daughters get older around why they’re the only Black family at a hotel or on a tour.
Travel with intentionality
While it’s impossible to generalise the African Diaspora traveller, Franklin calls out one shared desire, that is both obvious and sadly sometimes overlooked.
“The only commonality is that we don’t want to feel uncomfortable when we travel—as long as there is a reassurance that when you go to that property, you’re not going to feel strange. Apart from that, the interests are just as vast as any other traveller group.”
So, how do you design a travel experience that not only makes Black travellers feel comfortable, but truly welcomed? You do so with intention.
When planning tours to Africa for US travellers, Lorna K. Johnson, Principal at Global Linkages, Inc., weaves this thread of intention through the entire itinerary, seeking out Black-owned and operated businesses. She admits it’s not always easy—as a tour broker or DMC, you have to ask the right questions and do more research in some countries. But this, again, can help to challenge travellers’ expectations in a positive way, like when they bring tours to South Africa’s few black-owned wineries, of which many people are unaware.
Mimi Mmabatho Selemela, Curator and Director at MM CONNECT and designer of the Johannesburg Experience for Travel Noire, affirms that working with Black-owned businesses throughout the value chain does matter to some clients and being intentional with travel spend can make a big difference in the long run.
While supporting Black-owned businesses is one way that the African Diaspora can travel with intentionality, it really comes down to delivering on that fundamental aspect of travel—connection. This will mean different things for different people, but the travel industry can take steps towards making the African Diaspora traveller feel more connected to Africa, its destinations, people and experiences.
ATW’s Meetings & Masterclasses, which coincide with Tourism Month in South Africa, aims to bring travel operators, lodge owners, media and travel marketers together in an effort to keep the industry engaged and connected during the build-up to Africa Travel Week, which takes place at the Cape Town International Convention Centre (CTICC) from 07 – 09 April 2021.
To take part in one of the upcoming Meetings & Masterclasses during September or October click here.