On a mission to raise the visibility of Blacks in travel

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Leslie and Martina Johnson in the Sahara.
Leslie and Martina Johnson in the Sahara.

When the coronavirus pandemic shut down leisure travel earlier this year, content creators found themselves grounded -- an unusual situation, especially for those who focus on travel.

That’s the position Martina Johnson and her husband, Leslie, found themselves in. Though the Johnsons both keep full-time jobs in the technology field, they also run the blog and social media presence of ThatCoupleWhoTravels.com. They started looking for different ways to connect with their followers and turned to other Black content creators.

“When Covid happened, obviously we couldn’t travel anymore,” Martina Johnson said. “Everybody was bummed about that, and we started having mastermind calls just as a way to support one another and to come up with ideas to continue to serve our audiences.”

The calls began in March, but when George Floyd was killed on May 25, the conversation shifted into the formation of something larger: the Black Travel Alliance.

The group had 18 members on its launch team. 

“We were all like, OK, enough is enough,” Johnson said. “We were tired of not just the police brutality, because obviously that is terrible, but that incident just brought so many other things to the forefront. Things that we’d always been dealing with, but when you literally see someone murdered on television, it’s like, OK, things have to change. We have to make this world better for our children and, quite frankly, for ourselves.”

The Black Travel Alliance is working to both support Black content creators and increase Black representation in the travel industry on multiple levels.

It launched with the #PullUpForTravel campaign, through which it sought to gather key performance indicators from travel companies about Black representation in five areas: employment, conferences and trade shows, paid advertising/marketing campaigns, inclusion on press trips and philanthropy. The group has been posting these indicators from various travel groups on its social channels and its website. 

Now, Johnson said, the alliance will turn that data into the Black Travel Scorecard, a look at where companies stand.

“We’re not here to shame the industry and to shame companies who are problematic in their diversity initiatives currently,” she said. 

“I think some people [think] we’re just here to shame them and only call them out, but that’s not the point. You have to get a baseline of where you are to ever be able to make improvement.”

There are many issues the alliance is attempting to fix in the travel industry in the long term, according to Johnson. She said the majority of press trip attendees are white, as are the keynote speakers and presenters at travel conferences. Advertising and marketing often neglect to include Blacks in messaging, and they’re under-represented on staffs of travel companies.

She also cited a 2018 Mandala Research report, showing Black Americans spend $63 billion a year on travel.

Not only is it morally wrong that Black people aren’t better represented, Johnson said, “but it’s also bad for business.”

“I believe that African Americans would spend even more on travel if there were more Black people telling their story,” she said.

The alliance is also creating a directory of Black content creators that the industry can access for press trips or for marketing or advertising opportunities.

Too often, Johnson said, travel companies will claim they didn’t know how to find a Black content creator to work with, “but we’re creating a directory so there’s never an excuse of you couldn’t find a person of color, you couldn’t find a Black person, to do something.”

Johnson said, “Our greatest hope for the travel industry is that one day we won’t have to have these conversations, that diversity and inclusion will be embedded into the fabric of the industry, that it will no longer be an afterthought or a second thought. 

“That’s our greatest hope, but in the meantime we want equal pay and equal opportunity.”

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