C&VBs: the Black dollar and Whitewashing

A city’s CMO (Chief Marketing Officer) already has many challenges of convincing the public of why they should visit the destination. In addition to the existing issue of how to effectively and properly communicate how to sell the destination to the public, the New York Times reported in 2014 that African Americans account for $48 billion in travel in the United States alone, yet most tourism agencies typically don’t specifically target the Black dollar.

Convention & Visitors Bureau CMO’s like Spelman College Alumni, Noelle LeVeaux, seeks out ways to rectify the issue by trying to find ways to target African Americans by hosting events that will be attended by a large African American audience, giving them the right experience and sending them home to tell friends and family. The Dallas, Texas CMO tells The Examiner, “where people travel is still largely impacted by word of mouth of friends and family, so our social media presence, and opportunities for sharing their Dallas experience are areas we’re focusing on. In addition, we’re tapping into our African American influencers in the city and using them as brand ambassadors. The reach and authenticity of their voice is very important.” Dallas now has a campaign called ‘Big Influence’ that starts the beginning to recognizing African Americans in Dallas which helps build the Dallas brand and help to make it the city it’ll become.

One obstacle going against every city is misrepresentation and how to get pass it. For certain cities, especially ones like Dallas, there are many old stereotypes and ideas about the city that maybe at one point were true but not now and have not been for many years so how to get pass the embedded stereotypes will seem impossible. For so many people, their recollection of certain cities derive from a television show or some other form of media outlet that once characterized the city, and cities dealing with that issue must realize that people are still looking for their expectations to be filled, even if it’s not what the city is about anymore. Visitors want their expectations met, so a city’s biggest challenge is honoring their expectations while getting them excited about the place they will experience when they visit. Places like Dallas show respect for their western heritage while highlighting the diverse, innovative, and forward thinking, destination they are now. Although CMO’s like Noelle LeVeaux are putting a focus on African American travel, there’s still a long way to go before other Chief Marketing Officers and Convention and Visitors Bureau executives honor African Americans in their cities, consider the Black dollar as powerful as the white dollar, and stop whitewashing cities to make it appear less Black than what it truly is. In order of largest African American populated cities are: Detroit, MI, Jackson, MS, Miami Gardens, FL, Birmingham, AL, Baltimore, MD, Memphis, TN, New Orleans, LA, Flint, MI, Montgomery, AL, and Savannah, GA. In the top ten largest Black populated cities of America, if you watch a commercial, seek out a travel article, watch a news clip that promotes travel in that city then you see a white face that represents that city.

Somehow in places like Detroit, at over a 90% Black population, its Convention and Visitors Bureau must have worked real hard to cover that up, and find photos of many white families to represent the city. Foreign places such as the Bahamas struggle with racial misrepresentation too. You visit a place like the Bahamas, and it’s not what you expected. Every American commercial shows only white faces to sell a destination, but it’s quite the opposite. This island country as the 2010 census reports is 90.6% Black, but not from the looks of those advertisements and commercials targeting American visitors to visit the country. Seems like the Bahamas and Detroit have the same problem, and it’s a whitewashing one. Nassau, Bahamas, one of Detroit’s sister-cities is Black as Black can get, and Detroit’s nicknames are “the real” Chocolate City (a play off of Washington D.C.’s nickname) and “little Africa” but “Where’s the Black people!?” because they surely haven’t disappeared into thin air.

Black Travel and Tourism hasn’t gone away, but it’s just barely getting recognized. According to the NAACP’s 2004 Lodging Industry Report Card, the African-American travel market is the fastest-growing segment of the industry, up 16% since 2002 compared to only 1% growth in the general market. The report says African Americans spend more than $35 billion out of the total of $544 billion that is spent each year on leisure and business travel.

You might wonder just where Black Americans travel to. The majority of Black Americans still tend to visit relatives and friends when they go away on holiday. “In the United States, we tend to go to the places where there are Black people and where we have a lot of roots, like Georgia and the Carolinas,” says Chiles. Another travel source like Nadine Ranger, founder of the online agency, Nikki’s Celestial Travel, concurs, “we are used to just heading back to wherever we are from originally, whether the Caribbean, Africa, or down South.”

There are other factors that influence Black travel. “Culture is much more important to African Americans than other groups. Many Black Americans want their trip to be more than fun and relaxation,” says Chiles. Visitors to Africa, for example, tend to gravitate toward West Africa—Ghana, the Ivory Coast—where the slave trade was concentrated. Some agencies cater solely to these clients to ensure that their trip is as informative as it is pleasurable. The National Black Tourism Network, for example, specializes in tours of the African diaspora. Its packages include visits to sites that have historical value and meaning to Black Americans.

In today’s world, many Black Americans are members of travel clubs, a growing trend where people of the same ethnicity or interests travel together to a destination. Chiles reports that, “research shows that African Americans, perhaps more than any other group, like to travel with other African Americans.” Travel clubs also seem to provide a safety net, and a comfort that you get from getting help arranging plans for such a demanding trip. Niche agencies, which specialize in a particular type or theme of travel, or in specific destinations, are another growing trend in the Black travel industry.

Property ownership by Black Americans is being analyzed, and also causes concern. Black Americans are traveling more frequently and more extensively, but property ownership by Black Americans is a concern. In the 2004 Lodging Industry Report Card, the NAACP noted that “property ownership continues to be a problem for the African American community, and many companies are hard at work developing strategies to increase the number of minority owned properties.”

Black Ameicans are taking steps to pool their resources and become a bigger force on the business side of the travel industry. The National Association of Black Hotel Owners, Operators and Developers (Nabhood), for example, aims to “increase the number of African Americans developing, managing, operating and owning hotel properties thereby creating jobs and wealth in the African American community.” Their website now lists resources for potential investors, and keeps visitors abreast of hotel chains that are seeking franchises within the Black community.

While Black representation remains extremely inadequate on the property ownership side, there are vital success stories. Don Barden, owner of the Majestic Star and Fitzgerald’s casinos and the America’s first African American to entirely own a national casino company. Robert Johnson, founder of BET, has long considered establishing DC Air as the first major regional airline owned and operated by an African American, but this deal was put on hold after the September 2001 terrorist attacks, which put a damper on air travel. “We are definitely growing in terms of what we own and what we are investing in,” Chiles says.

Many African Americans are going to have an issue with the Travel Industry having an issue with Black property ownership from a historical perspective where there was bloodshed and the slaughter of countless of African Americans to stop Black upward mobility in the States- but since then there have been laws put into place to stop such events that caused destruction of the Black power infrastructure done by angry white mobs or white hate groups. In the meantime, Black spending in the travel industry continues to increase due to Black mobilization.

Nicole Marie is an African-American woman who is the granddaughter of George Williams. He was the founder of the top Detroit, MI automotive battery company, Dexter Battery Co. What makes Dexter Battery Co. distinctive isn’t only because of its top ranking but it’s the leading African-American company of the industry. Dexter Battery Co. has been in business since 1962 and was started by her grandfather, the late George Williams, and in recent years her grandmother, Cornita Williams, has taken over as Owner and President. The late Owner and President, George Williams, was the first African-American man to acquire a contract with the Big Three; Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler and his memory lives on. Nicole Marie resides in the Buckhead area of Atlanta, GA accomplishing her own goals. Once she left Turner Broadcasting, the home of CNN, she pursued a non-profit career working with over 30 national and international organizations. When she returned to school she began to work part-time for Turner Broadcasting and different national and international non-profit companies. She is now the first and only Examiner writer to focus on the African Diaspora subject, along with being the Atlanta Spa Examiner since June 2009.