Black Travel Alliance survey sets ground floor for change

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Ursula Petula Barzey at Stingray City in Antigua. Barzey chairs the Black Travel Alliance’s research committee.
Ursula Petula Barzey at Stingray City in Antigua. Barzey chairs the Black Travel Alliance’s research committee.

The results of the Black Travel Alliance's (BTA) #PullUpForTravel survey suggests that what was already suspected is true: Black people are wholly underrepresented in the travel industry.

The group, whose membership is primarily Black content providers, was formed in the wake of the killing of George Floyd. It advocates for increased Black representation in the industry, in part by bringing to light both travel companies' calls for support of increased diversity and inclusion and their actual practices and activities in that regard.

The group polled 121 travel companies that had posted social media messages in support of the Black Lives Matter movement to assess the current status of Black representation within those companies and various activities that would reflect diversity and inclusion.

Among the 67 company respondents, 29 provided employment data indicating people of color, though not necessarily Black, comprised 0% to 90% of its workforce. 

Six of the companies responded that they ensured Black representation on speaker panels, workshops or sessions at trade shows and conferences.

A dozen companies indicated they include messaging that specifically represents Black people in TV, radio, print and digital channels in 2019.

Six respondents replied that they ensured Black representation on media trips in 2019, and five said they made contributions to Black charities and community groups.

Travel Weekly's parent company, Northstar Travel Group, was among those that participated in the survey. It shared that the company has 3% Black representation overall and 2% Black representation in director-level and above positions.

Many respondents offered statements in support of the BTA in conjunction with data, including Memphis Travel, which said, "We hear your calls for transparency and support the mission of @TheBlackTravelAlliance, ensuring that the travel industry is an inclusive place for Black people on all levels. Memphis Tourism is committed to doing our part to create change in the industry and hope that our industry partners will do the same."

Some offered only statements, with no data points, and many of the statements focused on future plans. Airbnb said that by the end of 2021, 20% of its board of directors and executive team will be people of color.

Different aspects of the results are available online on the BTA's social media accounts and website.

The BTA hopes this survey, which it plans to conduct annually, can become a catalyst for increasing Black presence in the industry.

"We need to see change," said Ursula Petula Barzey, a BTA board member and chair of the alliance's research committee. "We have to put things in place to begin to say, 'OK, we're going to hold you accountable, and this is the starting point.'"

As a relatively new organization, the alliance was pleased with the response it got, Barzey said.

Next year, the BTA plans to launch a more formal survey to collect data points on Black representation. That survey will be conducted annually to track what the BTA hopes are positive changes, which, Barzey said, will likely be incremental, taking place over years, not months.

"Our goal is not to shame anyone or to make companies feel bad about what hasn't happened so far," Barzey said. "It's like, OK, let's draw a line in the sand because you've now said that Black lives matter, and we thank you for that. But let's really show that it does matter. And what that means is being more inclusive in all areas of travel."

The BTA, along with other Black travel organizations, has also partnered with MMGY Global for its upcoming traveler study focusing on Black travelers.

That study's goal is to provide data that will help the industry understand the value of the Black traveler as well as the broad range of experiences they're interested in, Barzey said.

Diversity in the industry is important for two key reasons, Barzey added. First, it's the right thing to do. Second, it makes good economic sense.

"You're leaving money on the table by not actively targeting and developing products for the Black traveler," she said. 

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