SAN ANTONIO — Several travel industry groups said that a travel advisory for Florida issued by the NAACP could harm small businesses in the state, specifically Black-owned ones.
The NAACP, the nation's oldest civil rights organization, said on May 20 that "Florida is openly hostile toward African Americans, people of color and LGBTQ+ individuals."
The advisory does not explicitly suggest that people not travel to Florida, but says that before they do, they "understand that the state of Florida devalues and marginalizes the contributions of and the challenges faced by African Americans and other communities of color."
Stephanie Jones, CEO of the Cultural Heritage Economic Alliance/Blacks in Travel & Tourism. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Stephanie Jones
In a joint statement, leaders of the Future of Black Tourism, Blacks in Travel & Tourism and the Black Travel Alliance said that they believe there is "a better way to make a statement to Governor DeSantis beyond a travel advisory petitioning African Americans and people of color to stay away from Florida. Small Black businesses and marginalized communities certainly should not be the sacrificial lamb."
Who does the advisory hurt?
"The question we all must ask ourselves is, 'Who does the Florida Travel Advisory really hurt?" said the statement, signed by Stephanie Jones, CEO of the Cultural Heritage Economic Alliance/Blacks in Travel & Tourism, and Martinique Lewis, president of the Black Travel Alliance. "DeSantis' attack on Black history studies and undermining of diversity, equity and inclusion efforts for political gain is not a representation of everyone in the state of Florida, especially Black businesses and marginalized communities who stand to be most negatively impacted by the NAACP's call to action."
Martinique Lewis, president of the Black Travel Alliance. Photo Credit: Black Travel Alliance
The NAACP is the latest civil rights group to warn travelers about discriminatory policies in the Sunshine State. The League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) and LGBTQ advocacy group Equality Florida both issued travel advisories in the past two months.
Geoff Freeman, CEO of the U.S. Travel Association, said during the association's annual IPW conference here that any efforts to reduce travel have an adverse impact on working Americans.
"We encourage leaders to leverage travel's unique ability to open minds and drive progress rather than shut the door in opposition to policies with which they disagree," Freeman said. "Millions of hardworking Americans suffer most when actions are taken to diminish travel."
Dana Young, CEO of Visit Florida, said it is "disappointing when partisan organizations attempt to weaponize travel in pursuit of political ends. Travel advisories issued with blatant factual misrepresentations are a disservice to the traveling public and are disrespectful to the incredibly diverse visitors and residents that are proud to call Florida home.
"The saddest part of this political stunt is that the people who would be most impacted are the hardworking hospitality professionals in Florida who depend on tourism to support themselves and their families. History proves that travel opens minds to diverse ideas and builds new connections. We encourage leaders to elevate the facts and put an end to these baseless and harmful attacks on the Florida tourism industry."
Destinations in Florida, meanwhile, sought to send a message of welcome to visitors.
"Orlando has always been and will continue to be a diverse, welcoming and inclusive community," said Casandra Matej, CEO of Visit Orlando. "As the top travel destination in the country and long-standing leader in the travel industry, our community has a history of welcoming all to our destination. Travel and tourism positively impacts our community and plays a valuable role in ongoing engagement and dialogue."
Matej said that while it is too early to predict the impact of the travel advisory, "We have been receiving inquiries and concerned calls from groups and travelers, primarily around the safety of our destination."
The statement from the Future of Black Tourism, Blacks in Travel & Tourism and the Black Travel Alliance said the NAACP should have met with Black travel and tourism entities "to gain a broader perspective on the plight of small Black travel and tourism businesses and how any disruption of visitors patronizing their businesses can cause devastating financial losses considering that many Black businesses are still trying to fully recover from the impact of the global pandemic."
The advisory also contradicts efforts of industry organizations in Florida and across the country to encourage travelers to be intentional in seeking out Black businesses.
"Does the NAACP understand how small Black businesses in our industry have had to work extremely hard to become better positioned to be sought out by Black travelers and others seeking diverse, authentic local experiences (i.e., food, tours, cultural museums, accommodations, etc.)?" the statement says.
The group also said they are ready to work with the NAACP to find alternative solutions that do not impede the sustainability, scalability or profitability of underserved small Black travel and tourism businesses as a result of its travel advisory.