Building trust and community among LGBTQ+ travelers of color while on their trips abroad is at the heart of Black and Gay Travel, or B.A.G. Travel for short. The host agency and online community was founded by Michael Henderson, an engineer-turned-travel-advisor, and strives to help LGBTQ+ travelers, especially Black gay men, feel comfortable anywhere in the world. Senior editor Nicole Edenedo spoke with Henderson following the Black Travel Expo in Atlanta about his mission and how he's using group travel as the means to achieve a level of comfort for his clients.
Q: What is B.A.G. Travel? Who is its audience?
A: One of the things I noticed that Black travelers encounter when we go overseas, particularly Asia, is that you're kind of looked at as a novelty. You might literally be the first Black person that they've ever seen outside of what's portrayed on TV, in movies. It screams that there's a need for more of us to be visible out there and show our faces in terms of being tourists and travelers. So that's the core of my mission with B.A.G. Travel; it's a way to shape perceptions [about Black and gay travelers], a way for us to learn about ourselves and other people, show our faces and actually talk to people.
I would say 60% [of our client base] are Black gay men, probably 30% are Black lesbians, and the remaining 10%, I try to be inclusive. My main mission is group trips. I have social groups of Black, gay travelers on Facebook and Instagram in L.A., New York and London, and it's expanding to a few other places, for about 10,000 members total. I then curate group trips around local events for those members. Only 10% to 15% already know each other.
Q: What do you want to provide for these travelers on the LGBTQ+ trips you're curating for them?
A: Trust. A lot of us are very closed off, and there are a lot of trust issues in terms of meeting new people, getting out and about and presenting yourself in an unfamiliar environment. For a lot of people, it's their first time out of the country. So I think the best way to help people have a chance of bonding, a chance at networking etc., is to throw everybody in an unfamiliar but safe environment. When people are unguarded, then trust is possible.
Q: What kinds of events do you build group trips around, and what are some of the trends you're seeing as far as events clients want?
A: One was Oktoberfest in Munich last year. That was a lot of fun to go to as a Black group. We go to a lot of Pride events. We have a lot of what I call umbrella events -- New Year's Eve in Cape Town or Pride in Puerto Vallarta -- and then I build on those to take advantage of the interest in that event but make it a group experience to maximize the social bonding. I create polls in my [Facebook] groups, and people vote on destinations; it helps corral people who might have common interests. Cruising is always popular. I get feedback on out-of-the-box trips. Festivals. Wellness retreats -- that's a huge trend right now.
Q: You recently appeared at the second annual Black Travel Expo. Why was it important to you to bring B.A.G. Travel to that conference?
A: Part of the reason was to network, meet other groups and travel professionals, for cross promotion and exposure. There were tour operators there that I partnered with for some of my adventures. That's the core of the Black Travel Expo: Black travel professionals together in one room to speak to one another, to educate, to encourage, etc. And this year, I'm on the executive board, so I helped extensively in planning it. I'm very proud of the one this year; there's a lot more to come, even in different cities.