Compass Extra: An Interview on the Black Travel Advisor Experience

Written by: Amanda on October 01, 2020

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KHM Travel Group agent Wanda Thomas of 2BusyNot2Travel went in-depth in our interview for our Featured Agent section in Issue 22 of The Compass Magazine. We’re including her full, lightly edited responses here to expand understanding of the black travel advisor experience and dispel myths about black travelers.

In what ways can the travel industry work to support black travel advisors?

Google the top must-attend international festivals and you will see things like Comic-Con, Oktoberfest, Dia De Los Muertes, St. Patricks Day, and Carnival in Brazil. You will find almost every country, nationality, ethnicity, and culture represented often more than once but where are the celebrations of African culture? There is little to no representation of Essence Fest, Gullah Celebration, Juneteenth, American Black Film Festivals, Crop Over, Afro-Punk, Ghana Year of Return, or Caribana.

Why are we so under-represented in mainstream Travel & Leisure, Compass, Conde Nast Traveler, and AFAR? We need to be recognized and publicized — and not just a blurb on a given month of the year or during the latest trend.

We need images of our people in their many shades traveling the world, smiling, laughing, and being productive.

Wanda Thomas

We need to see more positive images and as travel advisors, we need those images present in the media available for advertisement. African American travel represents a $63 billion opportunity according to Mandala Research, so why are we so underserved and often ignored in this industry?

Finally, we need to see more tan, amber, brown, and black faces on panels, webinars, sessions, etc. We walk into a room and the crowd looks like an inverted domino piece with only a speckle of color in a sea of white. Those on stage are representing the masses and not the minority. Why are we more concerned with the variety of food at these events and important conferences than the variety of the audience? Change is definitely needed to support this growing market and our growing wallets!

What misconceptions about black travelers have you come across?

It is my belief that the minority is more often than not portrayed in a negative light and that their actions are automatically scrutinized more heavily even within the minority race, creed, and color. For example, when tennis player Serena Williams has an emotional outburst about what she sees as unjust, she is all over the news the next day as an angry, unprofessional, wild woman. In the past, the same behavior from John McEnroe was portrayed as passionate and stemming from a deep drive to be the best. It became a part of the norm and almost expected that he was going to blow up at someone, but it wasn’t a national or international story.

It’s these images and interpretations of the images that have the world seeing the traveler of color as unrefined, unruly, loud, and rowdy. We are often met immediately with an expectation of conflict; therefore, the hospitality clerk on the other side is a little less pleasant and less likely to go out of their way to accommodate us as travelers. Many DMCs and travel vendors perceive that all travelers of color are about partying and making a scene, so they’ll try to steer clear of accommodating us when we want to rent a yacht. It also appears that these negative images have lead to a misinterpretation of how travelers of color react to culture, art, music, and the finer things in life. An interpretation that we are unprofessional and unable to think and react rationally to experiences both negative and positive.

For example, prior to the current focus on Black Lives Matter, attempting to find travel vendors that offered Ghana or Trinidad and Tobago was a major struggle. When it came to Africa, every vendor wanted you to visit South Africa, Egypt, or Mauritius.

Travelers of color want to know their history and see their history and that history is in places like Ghana, Senegal, and Mali.

Wanda Thomas

The interpretation has been that our history is less important or that retracing our roots and viewing the dungeons and harshness of our ancestors will make us be the stereotypical angry person of color. We are seen as inconsequential to the industry although we have many highly paid, highly influential, and respected travelers of color in our midst.

Are there resources or people you’ve found helpful or motivational for travel professionals of color?

Yes, the blessing is that there are experienced agencies of color in our midst, like Henderson Travel Services which was the nation’s first African-American-owned travel agency. They took a group of black female fashion designers to Europe when travelers of color weren’t even considered at all or only within the pages of the Negro Motorist Green Book. Resources from the Black Travel Alliance, Black Meetings and Tourism, and the networking and support of other travel agents of color have been extremely helpful to the growth and business strategies for us.

As author Courtnie Nichols captured in her article, “The Travel Industry Has a Diversity Problem: Through the Lens of a Travel Advisor” outdated stereotypes like,””Black people don’t swim,” “Black people don’t hike,” and “Black people don’t like the outdoors,” are perpetuated to this day in the travel sector and because of that, Black travelers fall through the cracks of marketing campaigns designed to pass them by and this matters because REPRESENTATION MATTERS.”

She goes on to state, “You best believe that seeing more Black people living their best lives abroad, consuming more content created by and for us, and interacting with agents who look like we do makes a difference in the industry on every level.”

More Black people will pursue careers in travel; more of us will view travel as something that belongs to us too.

– Courtnie Nichols, The Travel Industry has a Diversity Problem

Thank you to Wanda for allowing us to share her insights on the black travel advisor experience.

Read our President Rick Zimmerman’s statement on equality and the issues of racism, and learn more about KHM Travel Group’s Diversity and Inclusion team.