Two years ago, when I became the co-Founder, Board Member, and Research Committee Chair of the Black Travel Alliance, I welcomed the opportunity and took the lead in working with MMGY Global on The Black Traveler: Insights, Opportunities & Priorities market research study.
I developed a love for market research during my four years as an undergraduate student at the University of Michigan where I worked as a Research Assistant in the Program For Research on Black Americans (PRBA). Their research focused on four key areas related to Black families:
- Aging and human development
- Physical and mental health disparities
- Politics and political participation
- Discrimination and racism
In recent years, PRBA has expanded its research to studying issues around the identity and migration of Black people across the globe with one project on the experiences of the Black expat community titled African Americans Living Abroad Project (#WeGlobal). So excitingly, very much connected to travel and the personal experiences of Black Americans living abroad.
That said, through their numerous research projects with findings published in hundreds of books and academic journals, I began to understand how qualitative (descriptive in nature) and quantitative (based on numeric data) research could provide valuable insight and help advance government and corporate policies and investment initiatives.
Thus I went into overdrive while working on The Black Traveler: Insights, Opportunities & Priorities study as I knew it would be informative about Black travel experiences and help move the needle on diversity and inclusion within the travel industry. But before highlighting the work from this groundbreaking global study which spanned a year, it is important to highlight an earlier study, the 2018 edition of The African American Traveler study by Mandala Research.
The African American Traveler study via Mandala Research
Advocating for increased representation by people of color in the travel industry is emotionally exhausting. Why? Surprisingly (perhaps not!), some tourism officials think that the travel industry is already diverse and inclusive. This was highlighted via a recent Travel Weekly survey, where 61% of White respondents agreed or strongly agreed that the travel industry was diverse and inclusive. So making the emotional argument for increasing Black representation in the industry due to changing demographics and anecdotal travel trends seen via social media related to the Black Travel Movement isn’t enough to move the needle.
Thus, before the launch of the Black Travel Alliance, when discussing the need for more diversity in the tourism industry, I would reference figures from The African American Traveler study via Mandala Research. The 2018 edition surveyed 1,747 Black American leisure travelers in the United States in March and April 2018. The findings indicated that the economic value of Back American travelers had increased in 2018 to US$63 billion from US$48 billion in 2010.
A few key findings from the 74-page The African American Traveler report include:
- Black American “cultural” travelers were the highest spenders, with an average per trip spend of US$2,078 versus US$1,345 for all Black American travelers.
- More than half of the Black travelers reported that their most recent leisure destination was 100-500 miles from home.
- Florida, New York City/New York, and Atlanta were the top destinations in the United States, and the Caribbean/Bahamas (38%) and Mexico (26%) were mentioned as leading international destinations.
- Food-related activities were popular, with nearly half of the Black travelers eating local and regional cuisine on their most recent leisure trip.
- More than half of Black travelers in the study (58%) used Google and other search engines to research leisure trips.
Concern over racial profiling had a greater impact on leisure travel than concern over “airport hassles.”
These data points and others in the 74-page report from Mandala Research were insightful and helpful in discussions with others, particularly White travel professionals who simply didn’t understand the magnitude of the problem. But as the Black travel market was increasing each year before the COVID-19 pandemic, it was essential to get updated information.
The Black Traveler: Insights, Opportunities & Priorities study via MMGY Global
The opportunity for updated insights on the Black traveler came via Clayton Reid, CEO of MMGY Global (the world’s leading integrated marketing company specializing in the travel, tourism, and hospitality industry), who sent an email to the Black Travel Alliance on June 24th, 2020. He expressed an interest in partnering with the Black Travel Alliance “on a joint study that looks at behaviors, intent and specific needs of the Black traveler.”
And after a series of joint meetings (the first on July 13th, 2020) with senior executives from MMGY Global and Black Travel Alliance Research Committee members, we signed an agreement a month later, and the project was announced in September 2020. The study’s goal, as outlined in the press release, was to “identify the needs, behaviors, and sentiment of the Black travel community on behalf of Black traveler advocacy organizations.”
Note: Along with myself, members of the Black Travel Alliance Research Committee Members included: Gabby Beckford, Donna-Kay Delahaye, Patricia King, Martinique Lewis, and Kerwin McKenzie.
That said, joining the Black Travel Alliance on this project with MMGY Global were two other Black travel advocacy organizations, including the National Coalition of Black Meeting Professionals (NCBMP) and the National Association of Black Hotel Owners, Operators, and Developers (NABHOOD).
With agreements in place, MMGY Global set up a Steering Committee with me as co-chair representing the Black Travel Alliance and Jason Dunn representing the National Coalition of Black Meeting Professionals (NCBMP). The Steering Committee, with eleven other senior travel professionals, was vital as due to the heightened tensions after the tragic death of George Floyd, Black Lives Matter protests, and #BlackOutTuesday, we all wanted to make sure that the survey would be inclusive. We wanted to capture data and insights that would help convince those skeptical that there was a problem and that it made good business sense to increase diversity and inclusion in the travel industry.
Beyond the Steering Committee, we worked closely with Danny Guerrero, Vice President, North America Strategy & General Manager Los Angeles, on all the day-to-day account management aspects of the project. Specific to the surveys and reports, we worked closely with Cheryl Schutz, Vice President of MMGY Travel Intelligence, Chris Davidson, Executive Vice President, Insights & Strategy, and Leanne Hill, Research Account Manager.
The Black Traveler: Research Methodology & Findings
The Black Traveler: Insights, Opportunities & Priorities study was released in two phases with reports from three different studies. Phase I was released on November 19th, 2020, with two reports titled: DK Shifflet U.S. Black Leisure Segment Profile and Survey of Black Meeting Professionals. On January 13th, 2021, Phase II of the project was released with one report titled Profile of the Global Black Traveler.
DK Shifflet U.S. Black Leisure Segment Profile
The DK Shifflet U.S. Black Leisure Segment Profile extracted data and insights from the SHIFFLET TRAVEL PERFORMANCE/MONITOR. This is a study that MMGY Market Intelligence does annually. The 2019 dataset, the last year with normal travel before the COVID-19 pandemic had 55,880 leisure travelers from the United States, of which 4,805 were Black leisure travelers.
“The respondent sample was drawn as a national probability sample, and returns were demographically rebalanced on seven key measures to ensure that it is representative of the U.S. population (origin state, age, gender, household size, household income, ethnicity/race, and education) according to the 2019 ASEC supplement to the Current Population Survey.”
With the DK Shifflet U.S. Black Leisure Segment Profile, the Black Travel Alliance Research Committee primarily provided feedback on the presentation of the data in the report via two rounds of edits.
A few key findings from the 68-page DK Shifflet U.S. Black Leisure Segment Profile report include:
- There were 458.2 million Black U.S. leisure traveler stays in 2019. This accounted for 13.1% of the U.S. leisure travel market.
- Black U.S. leisure travelers spent $109.4 billion on domestic leisure travel in 2019 – 12.5% of total U.S. leisure travel spending.
- Transportation and food and beverage account for the largest share of spending.
- Florida attracts the largest percentage of U.S. Black overnight leisure travelers (10%), followed by North Carolina and Texas.
- 86% of domestic U.S. Black leisure travelers traveled by car.
- U.S. Black travelers stayed an average of 2.5 nights on their overnight leisure trips, and a majority stayed in hotels or with friends/relatives.
- Boomers and Millennial/Gen Zers make up the largest proportion of U.S. Black leisure travelers.
Survey of Black Meeting Professionals
The Survey of Black Meeting Professionals report includes insight from a dataset of 201 Black meeting planners, all National Coalition of Black Meeting Professionals members. The majority of respondents were based in the United States.
With this new survey, the Black Travel Alliance Research Committee provided input on the questions asked and the presentation of the data in the report through two rounds of edits.
A few key findings from the 52-page Survey of Black Meeting Professionals report include:
- Black meeting planners were organizing, on average, 7.5 meetings per year.
- $914,000 was the average annual spend on meetings each year.
- $122,000 was the average spend per meeting.
- 57% organize activities for attendees outside of the meeting venue.
- 83% are likely to reach out to CVB/DMO for assistance in planning.
- 84% agreed that some destinations are more welcoming of Black groups than others.
- 46% agreed that some of their attendees have felt unwelcome in the hotel/convention center.
Profile of the Global Black Traveler
The Profile of the Global Black Traveler report released in January 2021 shares data from a new custom survey analyzing the current opinions and attitudes of Black leisure travelers globally. Specifically, the 3,635 Black leisure traveler sample included respondents from six countries, including the United States (n=1,631), Canada (n=500), France (n=501), Germany (n=503), and United Kingdom (U.K.)/Ireland (n=500).
The Black Travel Alliance Research Committee strongly advocated for respondents from other countries beyond the United States as the Black Travel Movement is global. Also, the challenges Black travel professionals and the broader Black community face, whether traveling for leisure or business, are not unique to the United States. Sadly, Black people experience racism to varying degrees all across the globe when traveling.
That said, similar to the DK Shifflet U.S. Black Leisure Segment Profile, the data in this global study was weighted based on sex and age. However, it wasn’t done for income due to the difficulty of getting authoritative information for the European countries. Although very detailed information is available for the United States, those data were treated similarly to the other countries for consistency with all countries.
With the Profile of the Global Black Traveler, the Black Travel Alliance Research Committee provided extensive input on the study questions divided into three sections. To start, there were three screening questions where respondents had to provide their age, and identify their ethnicity as Black American, Black African, Black Caribbean, or Black Hispanic/LatinX. They also had to have taken at least one vacation in 2019.
The second section of the Profile of the Global Black Traveler survey had twenty core questions (many with multiple parts) related to 2019 travel activities, diversity in the travel industry, and the influence of traditional media, social media, family/friends, and Black travel groups when booking solo or group trips. The third section had six demographic questions.
After the data collection period from October 1 through November 24, 2020, the Black Travel Alliance Research Committee provided extensive input on the presentation of the data in the report through three rounds of edits.
A few key findings from the 141-page report Profile of the Global Black Traveler include:
- Black travelers from the six countries featured in the survey spent US$159.5 billion on domestic and international leisure travel in 2019.
- U.S. Black travelers spent US$129.6 billion on domestic and international leisure travel in 2019.
- Canadian Black travelers spent US$7.8 billion (CA$10.2 billion) on domestic and international leisure travel in 2019.
- French Black travelers spent US$5.0 billion (€4.4 billion) on domestic and international leisure travel in 2019.
- German Black travelers spent US$8.1 billion (€7.2 billion) on domestic and international leisure travel in 2019.
- Black travelers in the United Kingdom/Ireland spent US$9.0 billion (£7.1 billion) on domestic and international leisure travel in 2019.
- 69% of Black travelers in Canada, 68% in the United States, and 63% in the United Kingdom/Ireland indicate that their perception of a destination’s commitment to diversity and inclusion influences their destination selection.
- 54% of U.S. Black travelers agree that they are more likely to visit a destination if they see Black representation in travel advertising (42% in U.K./Ireland, 40% in Canada, 27% in France, and 15% in Germany).
- 48% of U.S. Black travelers agree that they are more likely to book or purchase from a travel service provider if they see Black representation in their advertising (40% in the United Kingdom/Ireland, 38% in Canada, 23% in France, and 15% in Germany).
- 53% of U.S. Black male travelers indicate that race plays a role in their overall travel experience, compared to 37% of females.
- 46% of Black travelers in the United States indicated that they are more likely to visit a destination that has been covered by a Black journalist, travel writer, influencer, etc.
The Black Traveler: Launch Event & Media Coverage
MMGY Global through their public relations agency NJF took the lead in developing a promotions, public relations & communications plan for the study. Beyond the press release, kicking off the promotions was a virtual webinar for The Black Traveler: Insights, Opportunities & Priorities study which was held on January 19th, 2021. This was attended by over 350 travel industry professionals primarily from the United States. There were other virtual presentations to industry groups like the Society of American Travel Writers (SATW) and the Travel and Tourism Research Association. Representing the Black Travel Alliance was me or Martinique Lewis, fellow co-Founder, and President.
- 24th Annual International African American Hotel Ownership & Investment Summit & Trade Show: September 15 to 18th, 2020
- 7th Annual State of Black Tourism: September 17th, 2020
- 7th Annual Intl. Multicultural Heritage Tourism Summit & Trade Show: September 18 to 20th, 2020
- MMGY Global Summit at Vail, Monday, October 5th, 2020
- 2020 Travel Unity Virtual Summit, October 21st, 2020
- NCBMP 37th Annual Convention, November 19th, 2020
Finally, another virtual event was held for the European market on May 26th, 2020, and it was attended by over 100 travel industry professionals. So quite promising for the European market, which at times likes to pretend that diversity and inclusion issues are only an American problem.
Below are the press releases which announced results from Phase I and Phase II of the study:
- “Black U.S. Leisure travelers spent $109.4 billion on travel in 2019 according to new report.” November 19, 2020. MMGY Global.
- “New international study shows U.S. Black travelers are more influenced by concerns about safety and representation in marketing than European black travelers.” January 13, 2021. MMGY Global.
These led to dozens of press mentions of the figures from the study in publications like AFAR Magazine, Travel Agent Central, TravelPulse, Travel Weekly, PhocusWire, eTurboNews, Lonely Planet, Skift, The Points Guy, Travel+Leisure, Travel Weekly, New York Times, etc. Below are a few of the articles where I was quoted or made mention of the study:
- Brady, Sasha. “How a New Study Aims to Amplify Black Voices and Experiences in Travel.” Lonely Planet. September 18, 2020.
- Biesiada, Jamie. “Black Travel Alliance Survey Sets Ground Floor for Change.” Travelweekly.Com. October 23, 2020.
- Girma, Lebawit Lily. “The Top-down Diversity Push That U.s. Tourism Desperately Needs Is Here.” Skift. February 3, 2021.
- Clark, Patrick. “New Study Reveals Further Insights into Black Travelers.” TravelPulse. January 13, 2021.
- Jelski, Christina. “What Factors Most Influence Black Travelers’ Vacation Choices?” Travelweekly.Com. Travel Weekly. January 14, 2021.
- Edenedo, Nicole. “Black Travelers on the Road to Discovery: Travel Weekly.” Travelweekly.Com. Travel Weekly. March 2, 2022.
Black Travel Organization Grant and the Black Travel Content Creator Grant
The successful launch of the Black Traveler: Insights, Opportunities & Priorities study generated sales resulting in over US$100,000 in profits, and per the agreement, 10% was given to each of the three Black travel organizations. The remaining $70,000 was distributed via a grant program which I designed with input from others on the Black Travel Alliance Research Committee and Jason Dunn representing the National Coalition of Black Meeting Professionals (NCBMP). This was ultimately approved by MMGY Global.
The grant program announced on April 5, 2021, was designed to award 10 Black Travel Organization Grants each worth US$5,000 to Black travel organizations that help advance representation, opportunity, and equity for Black voices in the travel space. There were also 20 Black Travel Content Creator Grants each worth US$1,000 for successful applicants to hone their craft and thereby increase the quality and quantity of Black content creators in travel.
Having the funds go to 10 Black travel organizations, and 20 Black travel content creators instead of one large advocacy organization was important as many have been around for some time, advocating and showcasing the diversity of Black travelers. Thus true to the Black Travel Alliance pillar of amplifying others in the community, we wanted to spotlight those who were doing great work! And after countless hours via three rounds of reviewing the applications (by members of the BTA Research Committee and Jason Dunn), following the criteria outlined for each grant program, the winners were announced on July 8, 2021, just five days before the one-year anniversary of our first meeting related to the project!
It should be noted here that for this part of the project, we worked with Justin Farmer, Senior Vice President, Business Strategy, and Jeanna Lee, Marketing & Communications Manager at MMGY Global.
Looking back as a Black woman who has worked with tourism and travel brands for the last decade, I’m incredibly proud of our collective efforts on this project – so the Black Travel Alliance Research Committee, The Black Traveler Steering Committee, and the MMGY Global executives. Finally, all the corporate sponsors (Choice Hotels International®, Tripadvisor, Virginia Tourism Corporation, and others unnamed) whose contributions help fund this global study.
We truly did what we set out to accomplish which was:
- Raise awareness of the importance of the Black traveler to the hospitality and tourism industry.
- Help hospitality and tourism professionals better understand the sociopolitical contexts of the Black traveler as they relate to identity.
- Create a bigger platform for Black travel advocacy groups to lobby for change.
- Engage and mobilize key stakeholders within the tourism and hospitality who will champion the development and implementation of products and services that addresses the needs of the Black traveler.
- Further position MMGY Global as a go-to source for credible data about the hospitality and tourism industry.
Generate demand for study report sales, with net proceeds donated to Black travel advocate organizations.
Of course, much work is still to be done before eradicating institutional racism within the travel industry. Is that even possible? At a minimum creating equal opportunities for Black travel processional and improving the representation of Black people in travel advertising and marketing campaigns Yes, things have changed since the era of repressive Jim Crow laws when Black travelers from the United States were using the Negro Motorist Green Book by Victor Hugo. It provided travel tips and guidance on friendly places to stay instead of sundown towns.
The Black Traveler: Insights, Opportunities & Priorities study moved the needle, but there is still must work to be done. There is a need for additional studies on Black travelers pushing boundaries because like others, they have disposable income and want to see and experience more of the world and its different cultures now that we are emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic. Still, we must celebrate this project as a major win for the Black traveler and the wider Black community!
Note: You can purchase a copy of the report via this link!
Ursula Petula Barzey is the Founder of Moxee Marketing and has 20+ years of business development and marketing (traditional and digital) experience working in the United States and the United kingdom for a wide range of international and SME companies.