Better Ways to Welcome Black Travelers: Insights from Black Travel Summit Founder, Anita Francois
Hotels should be a place of sanctuary where everyone should find solace, regardless of age, race, religion, gender, or ability. But the reality has not always lived up to this ideal, especially for Black travelers who have faced a history of discrimination.
The importance of creating a genuinely welcoming environment goes beyond the usual amenities. It's about respecting and valuing every guest, ensuring their comfort and safety, and recognizing that this approach can make or break a hotel's reputation. Prioritizing inclusivity is not just good for business; it's essential for fostering a positive community and promoting the values we hold dear.
We can't ignore the painful history of exclusion and segregation faced by Black travelers in the United States. Jim Crow grew out of the idea “separate but equal,” a belief made law in the United States in 1896 during the Plessy v. Ferguson case. Black people were not welcomed in many establishments, and the alternatives were undignified, not “equal.” The Negro Motorist Green Book is a living example of the detours Black Americans would need to take, sundown towns, and places safe enough to eat or lay their heads. The legacy of these struggles still echo today. While legal progress has been made––discriminatory laws were overruled by the Supreme Court in the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education case––the fight for equality in hospitality continues.
In recent times, global events like the tragic passing of George Floyd in 2020 have spotlighted the urgency for change across all sectors, including hospitality. Hotels worldwide are stepping up, increasing diversity in their workforce, launching inclusive marketing campaigns, and making meaningful commitments to create a more equitable industry.
Let's talk about the financial impact too, because it matters. A 2020 study revealed that Black travelers in the U.S. alone contributed a remarkable $129.6 billion, a 51% increase from 2018. Add to that the $29.9 billion from travelers in the UK/Ireland, Germany, Canada, and France. These figures underscore the immense potential of the Black travel market, making it a crucial focus for investment, growth and most importantly, equality within the industry.
Simply put, Black Travelers Matter. Here are six key strategies that can make a significant impact and make Black travelers feel more welcome:
1. Seeing ourselves traveling
Too many times we have seen stock images of the smiling happy white family relaxing on a beach or being welcomed to a hotel with a glass of wine. How can we make the booking experience feel more inclusive? By being inclusive. This includes seeing all races, genders, religions, and abilities before, during and after the booking process.
2. Seeing ourselves in the workforce
Representation in management and above needs to improve. Where do you usually see Black and other non-white employees the most? Mainly as housekeepers or back of house, correct? The fact is that many hotels maintain the idea that limited interactions with non-white employees create a better overall guest experience. Black guests feel more comfortable when they see themselves represented in more authoritative roles. Past experiences (and history) as hotel guests can easily make us feel like not everyone is in our corner... Seeing ourselves in the workforce will help to bring ease to our hotel experience.
3. Our comfort matters
Going above and beyond to be sincere, responsive, and provide us with a pleasant stay will dispel feelings of being unwelcomed. Asking if we “belong,” treating us as inferior or secondary does not. Many Black hotel guests feel like an afterthought and that their concerns are not prioritized. It seems to be easier said than done, due to conditioning over the centuries, but it remains a necessity. Training and frequent staff-building exercises are options when all else fails.
4. Our differences are acknowledged and celebrated
Can we travel and know that we won't have to spend hours pre-flight transferring products into travel-sized containers for the lack of forethought on the hotel's part? Understanding that melanin-rich skin and hair will likely need different products from what is made available, and providing alternatives is a great first step to making Black travelers feel welcomed.
5. Our diverse cultures are appreciated
Depending on where in the world the hotel is, there is likely a "Black" experience. If in the U.K., how can we introduce foreign Black travelers to the Black British experience? The hotel offers several options to do so, through art, decor, amenities, dining and products. The way we can think of adding a black-and-white photo of Kate Moss in a 5 star hotel hallway, is the same way we should think of adding one of Naomi Campbell. When we cannot think, we partner with those who can. Partnering with or promoting local diverse organizations/tours for guest excursions is a prime example of being authentically inclusive and acknowledging, and provides opportunities to lesser known brands.
6. Creating a safe environment for feedback
Being open to and encouraging feedback, and making every guest feel heard should be a habit, but it's normal for non-white people to have different experiences. Conditioning over the years, particularly within the Black community, tells us that our comfort and experiences don't matter. Unlearning has to be done on both ends. Ensuring that 1. the person seeking the feedback is intentional and authentic about the desire to provide a positive experience, and that 2. the person on the opposite end knows their experience and feedback matters.
All too often brands jump on the bandwagon of what’s trending in DEI while missing the most important step: authenticity.Being authentic means maintaining consistency in perpetuity. This is why we will continue to support, empower and create opportunities with and for the Black travel community for years to come. –– Anita Francois
This year, Black Travel Summit will be celebrating Black excellence in travel during their 2nd annual global summit. While Black Travel Summit has created events that celebrate the Black travel community since 2019, Anita Francois, the founder, believes in the importance of continuing to recognize leaders within this space. Join the Black Travel Summit this year in Miami from October 20–22, 2023.
Holding a master’s in archaeology from University College London, Anita Francois is an archeologist, museum curator, and the founder of the Black Travel Summit. Anita’s background studying the migration of Afro-indigenous communities around the world prompted her to propel the conversation about today’s Black traveler. The Black Travel Summit is an annual three-day educative and immersive conference experience,convening Black tourism leaders and creating a seat at the table for all minority travelers to be celebrated.