What began as a series of Zoom calls for Black and Brown travel content creators at the height of the pandemic transformed into the Black Travel Alliance (BTA) — a group working to amplify Black voices.
Bloggers Jeffrey Jenkins and Gabby Beckford hosted weekly masterminds to help keep each other inspired and share opportunities during times of uncertainty in the travel industry. When #BlackOutTuesday hit social media, many brands posted black screens of solidarity, but these creators knew they needed to do more to hold companies accountable.
With the focus placed on action over discussion and the drive for Black content creators to get the same opportunities as everyone else, the Black Travel Alliance was formed. Its founding members include Black travel bloggers, entrepreneurs, journalists, and podcasters, all of whom want to see real change in the industry. The BTA is a two-pronged organization that works to hold brands and businesses answerable for their diversity and inclusion efforts and serves as a resource for Black content creators. With 11 separate committees, the organization is tackling everything from research to partnerships.
In an interview with some of BTA’s founding members, we spoke to Martinique Lewis, author of The ABC Travel Green Book and Diversity in Travel Consultant. She stressed the importance of creating this alliance to hold the travel industry accountable for the allyship they present for Black lives online.
“These are the same companies who have not returned our phone calls, who have not returned our emails, and if they do hire us, they pay us way less than our colleagues,” Lewis says.
On June 16, 2020, BTA’s initial campaign, #PullUpForTravel, launched the group’s mission of alliance, amplification (of Black voices), and accountability. Strategically, travel brands had until Juneteenth (June 19) to go beyond their Black squares and present data. The alliance demanded that brands back up their messages of solidarity with their numbers on Black representation across employment, marketing, press, and philanthropy efforts. Some travel companies provided Black HR data while others included partnerships with Black-led organizations like the NAACP and marketing agency Black Girl Digital.
Offering free online education seminars and online support
Beyond its first campaign, the BTA has plans to keep the conversation going year-round. Every month it hosts events that serve the purpose of helping content creators or educating industry professionals. Their first webinar, “Using Your Niche To Build An Engaged Audience,” was held on August 22 and was led by Beckford. Last month, a luxury travel expert, Tomiko Harvey, shared her tips in the “How To Elevate Your Business With SEO” workshop.
Helping more Black people to succeed and get jobs in the industry
Besides providing education, the BTA is actively working to source and offer scholarships for Black creators in the future. Lewis says, “When Black content creators can’t make it to the WTM (World Travel Market) or the ITB [Convention] — all the different travel conferences — we want to be able to help somebody get there.”
In addition to financial scholarships, the organization regularly posts job opportunities to its website. As a conduit, they work to connect content creators with travel industry brands who may have once overlooked them. “If Expedia says we want to employ 20 percent of Black writers, we want to be able to say you can get that through the people at BTA”, Lewis explains. BTA exists to be a resource for Black creators to excel in this industry.
Sourcing partnerships that will benefit Black travel content creators
Due to the BTA’s many levels and functions, multiple chairpeople oversee their mode of the organization. We spoke with Xavier of Black Voyageurs about his role as Chair of Partnerships and Martina Jones-Johnson of That Couple That Travels about her communications co-chair role.
Speaking to his frustrations around not seeing enough Black folks represented in the travel industry, Xavier decided to get involved as a founding member of the alliance. As Head of Partnerships, he’s tasked with establishing connections with organizations, including travel brands, tourism boards, and lifestyle brands who should be collaborating with Black creators.
Based in London, Xavier and the team are adamant about identifying global partnerships that all Black travel content creators can benefit from. “We believe it’s a global movement that doesn’t stop at the US borders.” They strategically choose to partner with companies with international branches in other countries and smaller brands representing one country alone. With the intent to expand, the BTA currently focuses on partnerships in the US and Western Europe (the UK and France) due to the high Black populations in these countries.
In the future, ideal partnerships for the organization will look to brands who use their forthcoming content creators directory and, ultimately, provide paid opportunities and jobs for BTA members. Xavier’s team works so that the best options are available for Black people in this white-dominated industry.
Reinforcing the idea of why brands need to work with Black creators, Xavier explains, “We’re not asking for charity; we are asking for a place at the table because this is where we need to be.” He nods to the fact that, yes, Black people exist, but we also spend a lot of money, so brands need to recognize that working with Black travel creators is great for their bottom line.
Building a global bank of data on Black travelers
“There’s only so much you can do without data,” Xavier stresses. So the BTA team is also working hard to conduct the research representative of Black travelers. Other than Mandala Research, there is no other organization or firm concerned with collecting data on Black American travelers’ demographics. Black travel company, Nomadness Travel Tribe put out a survey this summer to begin diving into the research behind Black millennial travelers’ habits, but the BTA’s research will focus on collecting data on Black travelers globally.
“We have all these numbers about African Americans, but we need numbers on Black tourists globally too,” Lewis shares.
Advocating for all Black voices throughout the industry
Communications co-chair Martina Jones-Johnson spoke to the death of George Floyd and how his unjust killing shined a light on companies in the travel industry performatively advocating for Black lives. “We know 10 Black people who wanted to work with you, and you ignored their emails … so do Black lives really matter to you?” Jones-Johnson questions. She added how tiring it was to see some travel companies standing for Black people while having an all-white Instagram feed.
As the media relations and communications expert at BTA, she works closely with the membership team so that everyone, specifically Black content creators, knows who they are. Jones-Johnson’s role involves reaching out to national travel publications for interviews to get the word out about the organization. Her goal is for every Black content creator in any country to know that the BTA is advocating for them throughout the industry.
To continually amplify Black voices, there is also a Black travel content creator directory in the works. Jones-Johnson says this directory will eliminate brands’ excuse of not knowing where to find Black talent. The BTA directory will be searchable by content category, such as luxury or adventure travel.
“If Black lives really matter,” Jones-Johnson says, “then show us.”