The Black Travel Alliance (BTA) was formed last Spring to advocate for increased diversity and inclusion in the travel industry. Formed of Black travel content creators from across the globe, including travel authors, bloggers, broadcasters, journalists and photographers, they are looking to hold destinations and travel brands accountable on the issue of diversity in travel marketing. The three pillars of the community are alliance, amplification, and accountability.
In this interview, award-winning blogger and marketing specialist and chair of the BTA’s research committee, Ursula Petula Barzey, tells Rebecca Waller how the BTA came about and what urgently needs to change in order for travel industry to become more reflective of society at large. Ursula shares the key findings of the BTA’s #PullUpForTravel campaign and the alliance’s plans to conduct a global Black traveller study.
REBECCA: How did the Black Travel Alliance come about and was the alliance already on the cards before George Floyd’s murder?
URSULA: Most of the Black Travel Alliance board members initially met one another at travel industry conferences over the years or connected via various Facebook groups for travel bloggers. Since March 2020, most of us have participated in a weekly Brown Bloggers Mastermind group set up by Jeffrey Jenkins. He runs Chubby Diaries, an online community for plus-size travelers. We highlight our wins during the weekly mastermind group sessions and then bring up a project or challenge that we want help or feedback on.
After the social unrest from George Floyd’s publicized murder on 25th May, we discussed on the mastermind call what we should do, especially after seeing brands across all sectors, including travel, professing their support for the Black Live Matter movement. Realizing there was a disconnect and wanting to engage in more than social media activism, we decided to form the Black Travel Alliance to advocate for increased diversity and inclusion in the travel industry.
REBECCA: What needs to change in the travel industry in order for it to become more representative?
URSULA: The first thing that needs to change is for more people within the travel industry to accept that there is a problem with diversity and inclusion. Yes, even with all the activism and media coverage in the last seven months, many think that there isn’t a problem in the travel sector. This was highlighted in a recent Travel Weekly survey of 423 industry professionals where there was quite a disconnect between how white and Black respondents viewed diversity and inclusion within the travel industry.
From the survey, 61% of white respondents agreed or strongly agreed that the travel industry was diverse and inclusive, whereas 61% of the Black respondents who made up 15% of the survey sample disagreed or strongly disagreed that the industry is diverse and inclusive. So there is a need for more awareness, education, and acceptance of the challenges faced by Black and other minority groups within the travel industry. Greater acceptance of the problem will make it easier to implement the changes needed to increase diversity and inclusion at all levels and areas of travel.
REBECCA: What were the key findings from your recent #PullUpForTravel campaign and do you think that most companies only pay lip service to diversity?
URSULA: We launched the #PullUpForTravel campaign as part of our initiative to hold travel brands accountable and advocate for meaningful representation of Black voices across the travel industry. Specifically, the campaign evaluated destination management organizations and travel brands in five major areas:
- Employment – Current number and percentage of Black people in management and on staff
- Conferences & Tradeshows – Black representation (number and percentage) on speaker panels, workshops, sessions, etc. in 2019
- Paid Advertising/Marketing Campaigns – Black representation (number and percentage) in TV, radio, print, and digital channels including social media in 2019
- Press – Black representation (number and percentage) on media/press trips in 2019
- Philanthropy – Charitable contributions and support (i.e., mentorship and intern programs, etc.) to Black charities and community groups
The key outcomes of the campaign are as follows:
- Of the 121 travel organizations that the Black Travel Alliance identified as posting about #BlackLivesMatter or #BlackOutTuesday, 67 (55%) responded to the #PullUpForTravel campaign, and the majority gave statements instead of providing their KPIs.
- All the destination management organizations (DMOs) that responded were based in the United States, except for the Bermuda Tourism Authority.
- Travel Related Retail Brands and Travel Related Financial Services Brands had the lowest response rate for the #PullUpForTravel campaign.
- A few organizations (one under Travel Communities and two under Travel Services) not initially identified also responded to the #PullUpForTravel campaign.
Overall, the key takeaways from the #PullUpForTravel campaign include:
- Black travel content creators are under-represented in the travel industry, and there is a great need to address the imbalance.
- For the most part, there is lip service paid to diversity and inclusion, and it is time for allies in the travel industry to join forces with organizations like the Black Travel Alliance and push for positive change in the travel industry and the world at large.
REBECCA: Do you have any plans to follow up on these findings to see if big brands are starting to take the lack of diversity in the industry seriously?
URSULA: Yes, the Black Travel Alliance plans to conduct a formal study before the first anniversary of the #PullUpForTravel campaign. We hope to gather KPIs from more destination management organizations and travel brands globally, but we will closely look at those destination management organizations and travel brands who posted #BlackLivesMatter and #BlackOutTuesday squares on social media to see if diversity and inclusion have improved within their organizations.
REBECCA: As a UK-based travel blogger, do you think there are specific challenges or successes in the UK in comparison with the US?
URSULA: Sadly, most view the issues raised from the #BLackLivesMatter movement and our #PullUpForTravel campaign as an American problem. So there is a lot of work to be done in the United Kingdom to educate travel brands and destination management organizations about the challenges faced by Black and other minority groups in the travel industry. Also, there needs to be increased awareness by them about the spending power of Black travelers.
This is why the Black Travel Alliance has partnered with MMGY Global to conduct a global Black Traveler study. We no longer just want to make the moral argument for change but also the financial one. Already from Phase I of The Black Traveler study released in November, we know that US Black travelers spend US$109.4 billion annually on travel. Phase II of the study will be published in January 2021. It will provide further insights about Black travelers from the United States and Canada, France, Germany, and the United Kingdom/Ireland.
REBECCA: The Black Travel Alliance seems to be consumer-focused, do you have any plans to look into racism or lack of diversity more generally at the destination level too?
URSULA: The Black Travel Alliance board and most of our members are Black travel content creators, including travel authors, bloggers, broadcasters, journalists, photographers, podcasters, social media influencers, and vloggers. We primarily promote travel to consumers, so it is natural that we are most concerned about the consumer experience, not just with the travel brands, but once they arrive at the destination. That’s why we are looking to hold both travel brands and destination management organizations responsible for marketing the destinations accountable. We advocate for diversity within their organizations, conferences, advertising/marketing campaigns, media, press activities, charitable contributions, and vendors.
REBECCA: What would you like the travel industry to look like in 10 years?
URSULA: In 10 years, we would like to see the travel industry more reflective of society at large. So not just more Black travel professionals at all levels of the sector, but also other minority groups. It is the right thing to do with shifting demographics. It will also provide a competitive edge and be profitable for travel brands and destinations to embrace the change.
To continue making the business case, the Black Travel Alliance will continue providing insights and analysis through our various research projects. Plus, we hope that our signature event Wavelength, will become the biggest industry event for connecting Black content creators to travel brands and destination management organizations.
Beyond improved diversity, we’d also like to see the development of more sustainable tourism. 2020 has been a challenging year, and it has shown us that travel is not a right but a privilege. Thus, the travel industry needs to do more to ensure that local communities benefit from travel and tourism.