Our research has informed us about the untapped potential of the Black traveler, and now it’s time for marketers to act upon what we know to be true.
In our groundbreaking report, The Black Traveler: Insights, Opportunities & Priorities, we learned several powerful facts. By looking at a combined sample size of 8,500 Black individuals, we discovered that Black travelers account for 13.1% of the U.S. leisure travel market, based on 458.2 million total leisure stays. This translates into $109.4 billion spent on travel in 2019 among Black U.S. leisure travelers.
Our research around the Black traveler measures economic power, but we also strove to understand behaviors and motivations. How do Black travelers select destinations and experiences while traveling, and how can we as marketers better meet those needs? The real takeaway emphasizes what we already understood contextually long before the numbers rose to the surface: Including more Black perspectives in travel marketing is crucial from both a business perspective and a moral standpoint.
In a recent panel with the Society of American Travel Writers (SATW), MMGY Global’s Danny Guerrero sat down with Ursula Petula Barzey – founder of Caribbean & Co and board member of the Black Travel Alliance (BTA) – and James Warren, Founder/CEO of Share More Stories and Vice President of Brand Strategy, JMI working with Virginia Tourism. Lisa Skriloff, Editor, Multicultural Travel News/Multicultural Marketing News and SATW DEAI committee member served as moderator.
During this conversation, Barzey shared an important insight about decision-making among Black travel communities: Word of mouth is a powerful tool that must not be overlooked. While traditionally marketers might think of word of mouth as getting recommendations from close family and friends, or via social media or blogs, Barzey explained, “We are in groups where we form friendships and get to know one another… we ask one another before we book somewhere; we don’t just go based on what we see on the websites.”
In a trustworthy circuit of personal experiences, Black travelers learn essential information from one another: What was the initial reception? Is the destination welcoming overall? Does it feel safe?
This insight also paralleled our findings from the survey conducted among members of the National Coalition of Black Meeting Professionals: At least 78% of respondents turn to word of mouth to research possible meeting locations. For many, considering whether a city or venue is “friendly to Black people” is a leading factor when planning meetings, and poor customer service can be a significant challenge.
So how can we close the gap between our integrated marketing efforts and meeting the level of trust needed to reach Black travelers?
The BTA, which is a collaboration among Black content creators founded amid the nationwide protests in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, first launched with a particularly strong call to action: How will your brand pull up for travel? Being a travel brand or destination that simply states “Black Lives Matter” or pledges to support diversity, equity and inclusivity, and then maintains the status quo won’t move the needle.
As the BTA pointed out in its recent Wavelength networking event for content creators, 70% of Black travelers are more likely to travel to destinations and purchase from brands where they see themselves reflected. So in order to even come close to achieving the kind of trust and authenticity among word-of-mouth communities, we as marketers must be more mindful in our actions to channel Black perspectives. That includes being more intentional in soliciting Black POVs through influencer campaigns, press trips, and conference keynotes and attendees. Our marketing materials need to be inclusive of Black faces across an entire spectrum of skin tones. Our internal hiring practices and leadership must feature diverse voices and experiences to truly speak to the audiences we want to reach. Change can be incremental, but it must be purposeful.
The Black Traveler: Insights, Opportunities & Priorities was produced by MMGY Travel Intelligence in advocacy and support of Black travel organizations including the Black Travel Alliance (BTA), the National Coalition of Black Meeting Professionals (NCBMP), and the National Association of Black Hotel Owners, Operators and Developers (NABHOOD). Supporting sponsors of the study include Choice Hotels International®, Tripadvisor and Virginia Tourism Corporation.
Phase I of the report and Phase II, looking at international Black travelers, can be purchased here. Proceeds from sales will go back to our partners and other not-for-profit organizations to support diversity, equity and inclusion across the travel and hospitality industry.