Perhaps the most important takeaway from Earvin "Magic" Johnson's speech at CLIA's Cruise3Sixty conference earlier this year was the revelation that urban African-Americans don't care much for scones.

The former basketball star owns or co-owns many businesses in urban neighborhoods, including 108 Starbucks. He saw opportunities with that company because he believed that misconceptions about minorities -- for example, the assumption that Harlem residents wouldn't pay $4 for a cup of coffee -- were slowing development of the chain among African-Americans and Latinos and driving residents out of their neighborhoods in pursuit of a venti soy caramel macchiato, extra hot.

But it wasn't only misconceptions about what minorities would pay that caught Johnson's attention; it was also assumptions about what is and isn't universally desirable to eat when drinking coffee. The scone, for example, is a staple in Starbucks pastry cases.

"We just don't eat scones," Johnson said. "In my Starbucks, we took out the scones."

The philosophy of tailoring his businesses to the sensibilities of urban neighborhoods is central to all of Johnson's business enterprises, which include movie theaters, fitness centers, Burger Kings and a TGI Friday's. About a year ago, he announced the creation of the Magic Johnson Travel Group to establish minority-owned businesses to sell travel in cities.

Johnson has provided a handy metaphor to explore our industry's challenges in marketing to African-American and Hispanic consumers. What are the scones of travel -- the things that we assume are integral to tours, cruises and packages but may be turning off a market we want to grow?

I recently had breakfast with Mark Scoggins, president of Magic Johnson Enterprises, and Adam Goldstein, president of Royal Caribbean International, which has a sizeable investment in Johnson's travel group. It was Goldstein who, after hearing Johnson speak at a meeting aboard a Royal Caribbean ship, disembarked with him and, in five minutes, pitched him on the idea of getting involved in the industry.

"I told him we wanted a more multicultural course but were frustrated in identifying potential partners," Goldstein said. "This was two years ago in July, and he said, 'Let's talk in the fall.' Which I interpreted as, 'No thanks, not interested.' "

But he did get a call that fall, and the result was a partnership involving Royal Caribbean, Johnson's enterprise, CruiseShip Centers International and Liberty GoGo Worldwide Vacations to provide turnkey travel-selling operations.

A year and a month since the partnership was announced, the group is empowering its first 28 agents to sell travel. What, I asked, had Scoggins and Goldstein learned, as concept and theory had morphed into action plans, about how African-Americans view the cruise experience?

"Adam said right at the beginning that as much as we were going to learn about the travel experience, he was going to learn about the urban experience," Scoggins said. "We've learned, for instance, that there are interesting differences [among ethnicities regarding] spending habits, credit issues and the types of entertainment they want to see on the ship."

"But this isn't only about cruising," said Goldstein. "For instance, urban travelers might like to experience three-night city breaks in a unique way, and now there's a vehicle with a voice to go to the CVBs and hotels and make suggestions."

"Adam touched a nerve with Earvin that there was a void, a need for people of color to get into this space," Scoggins said. "We're a community that travels, and we need to talk to people who understand issues that relate to travel that are important to us."

As MJTG moves further into its next cycle -- the one in which travel is actually sold -- I hope Johnson continues to share stories with the industry about what his company learns about minorities' travel preferences. Otherwise, we'll all have to sneak into the next convention of Starbucks managers to hear Johnson tell parallel anecdotes about the products that fill our brochures with bright graphics and clever words but generate as much excitement as dense, dry dough balls on a shelf.


From Our Partners

2021 Family Expo
Family Travel Expo
Register Now
Air Astana 1366
Air Astana
Read More
2021 Caesars Webinar
Watch Now

JDS Travel News JDS Viewpoints JDS Africa/MI