Arnie Weissmann
Arnie Weissmann

I received a significant amount of feedback in the week since Travel Weekly published travel advisor Margie Jordan's article "Traveling while black comes with a different set of rules" and a From the Window Seat interview with Kier Matthews, a sales director for Classic Vacations, about his experiences as a black supplier in the travel industry.

Several black readers subsequently wrote in to share their experiences, both as travelers and professionals. And several white travel professionals -- agents and suppliers -- wrote to me to express support for their black colleagues. In some instances, they expressed uncertainty about how to show that support meaningfully.

I contacted some of the black professionals who had written to me to ask them what suggestions they have for white colleagues who wanted to be allies.

One area that came up frequently involves, in the words of Sheree Mitchell, "changing the image of travel." Mitchell is founder and president of Immersa Global, an upscale inbound tour operator specializing in food and wine tours in Portugal.

"In the U.S., the images we use to market upscale travel do not historically include people who look like me," she wrote. "So whenever you see Immersa Global, be it in promotional videos, travel magazines or conference announcements, you see my smiling brown face. Have we lost potential business because of it? I'm sure we have. But then I have to ask myself, were those the type of clients that we wanted in the first place?

Sheree Mitchell, Immersa Global
Sheree Mitchell, Immersa Global

"The way we market travel should reflect the demographic landscape of our country: multicultural," she continued. "Let's commit to showcasing faces of color in all segments of travel marketing. (Destination marketing organizations, listen up: This also applies to you.) The very nature of our industry represents diversity, yet the only time you see large brands using images of people of color (and not too much color) is for markets such as Miami, New York, Atlanta and Washington, D.C. This must change. If we're successful, 15 to 20 years from now, it won't be awkward to see a woman of color leading an upscale tour operator."

Wazha Dube, manager of the Africa Collection of Index Select, a global hospitality marketing firm, also feels it's important that travel companies that promote diverse destinations show representation not only within their company but in the content they put out: in brochures, on websites and in social media and travel publications.

Wazha Dube, Index Select
Wazha Dube, Index Select

And he challenged the industry not to ask people of color to be speakers or panelists only for topics related to diversity, Africa or the Caribbean. "Black people like Europe and Asia, too!" he wrote.

Both Mitchell and Dube noted the importance of mentorship and internships for students to provide opportunities and tools that will position them well in the industry after graduation.

Krista Betts, Balboa Travel
Krista Betts, Balboa Travel

Krista Betts, an advisor arranging luxe trips for Balboa Travel in Austin, Texas, pointed out that mentoring is valuable even after graduation. "I have been mentored and supported by my boss, Mark Simoes, who has encouraged my participation on panels, forums, travel writing, continuing education -- you name it."

Some who consider themselves white allies have already taken proactive steps. I heard from Nico Bergengruen, CEO of the tour operator Jubel. He wrote that he had partnered with Campaign Zero, an organization dedicated to identifying effective solutions to end police violence toward black Americans.

Jubel is offering a black civil rights history tour through the South and donating 100% of the profits to Campaign Zero. All accommodations, restaurant recommendations, tours and activities will be with black-owned businesses.

"We hope to encourage people to learn more about black history, support the people who need it most, celebrate the incredible contributions of the black community and ultimately inspire travelers to take action and combat systemic racism," Bergengruen wrote.

The majority of correspondence I received over this past week reflected optimism and hope. And, from some, frustration and anger about lost opportunities, the sting of bigotry and lack of recognition.

I believe we're truly at a tipping point. Which will increase? Frustration and anger or optimism and hope? 


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