The creator of a new Black history tours initiative in the U.S. has partnered with small-group tour operator Intrepid Travel to help it carry out the experience.
Stephanie Jones, CEO of the Cultural Heritage Alliance for Tourism, plans to launch the first departures of the Black Cultural Heritage Tours with Intrepid in October.
The multiday tour program will focus on telling a broader narrative of the Black American experience and cultural history in the U.S. that goes beyond the civil rights movement. The first, the six-day Charleston to Savannah: Exploring Gullah Geechee Culture, is set to depart Oct. 4; departures in 2022 and 2023 are available now via the travel agent portal on the Intrepid Travel website.
The road to the debut of Jones' Black Cultural Heritage Tours has been long. Plans started coming to fruition last summer when she launched a roadtrip around the U.S. to scout locations, identify potential Black-owned business partnerships and build out future itineraries.
But it wasn't until a serendipitous meeting at IPW in September that the blueprint for executing the tours started to take shape.
"It started with a conversation," Jones said of her meeting with Matt Berna, president of Intrepid Travel's North America division.
Jones said that Intrepid's reputation as an industry leader in sustainable travel and its status as a B Corporation -- a certified business proven to prioritize employee benefits and charitable contributions at the highest level -- were among the chief reasons she wanted to learn more about the tour operator.
"We don't have a million-dollar, global, Black-owned and -operated tour company. We're trying to become the first," Jones said. "We could get there faster with strategic partnerships, such as what we have with Intrepid -- a global company we can learn from."
Berna said Jones' high-profile roadtrip across America, and the relationships she was forging along the way, was what initially got his attention.
"I remember all the work Stephanie did with all of the local suppliers and trying to get them into this industry and understand how it works, what they'll need to do, taking their products and experiences into the wider market," said Berna.
Stephanie Jones (third from right) and members of the Black Cultural Heritage Tours team meet with Newtown Alive Trolley Tours staff in Sarasota, Fla. Photo Credit: Black Cultural Heritage Tours
Jones and her team have been very intentional about with whom to align the brand and their mission. A key goal of Black Cultural Heritage Tours is to preserve the integrity of ownership by making sure that the Black entrepreneurs and communities participating in its tours get a fair and equal share of revenue, exposure and opportunity.
"We know that tour operators now see that Black is the new green," she said. "They're looking for a Black face for the tours that they have created to tell our stories. And that's not what we do. We are trying to create economic benefits that will go back into the Black businesses and Black communities through these itineraries."
This approach helped Berna see how Intrepid could contribute to a solution and not be part of a larger problem.
"Not just putting a Black tour guide on this white experience -- that's what really got me on the line," Berna said of one of the problems Jones identified to him.
"The tourism industry has a reputation of doing that, just slapping labels on things. We want this truly to be immersive and told from the locals' perspective. So by finding Stephanie's woman of color-owned business, that seemed like the perfect fit for us."
And Jones is adamant about preparing her partners to reach the national and international level. All the partners and suppliers will go through an extensive, months-long training certification program to educate them on how to market and sell the tours and their business.
"We're really trying to create marketing and educational tools to help people who are selling these products be successful in communicating the messaging, and helping people understand why this experience is for them. We're not just targeting Black travelers," Jones said, reiterating that the tours are for everyone who is interested.