Henderson Travel

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n 1955, as Rosa Parks was refusing to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Ala., bus, Freddye Henderson was starting the first African-American travel agency, Henderson Travel in Atlanta.

One of her first achievements was to convince African-Americans to join her on a tour of Ghana. She had to charter a flight because no scheduled service was available.

Freddye and her husband, Jake, went on to establish a highly successful business. Over the years, she was widely recognized for her achievements, receiving, among other honors, ASTA's Rosenbluth Award as Travel Agent of the Year in 1982.

Jake Henderson died a few years ago and Freddye, now in her late 80s, is ailing and no longer operates the agency. But its tradition continues under her daughter, Gaynelle Henderson-Bailey, who relocated the firm to Silver Spring, Md.

Africa tours remain the centerpiece of Henderson Travel's business, but Henderson-Bailey also moves hundreds of African-Americans each year to what she calls the "African diaspora," places in the world with an African heritage.

The agency is one of a dwindling number owned by African-Americans. Within the past 10 years, more than half of the agencies owned by African-Americans have shut down, according to Jacquelyn Alton of CWT Almeda Travel in Houston. She says that of the 200 agencies formerly owned by African-Americans, most were small and couldn't withstand the loss of airline commissions. Alton estimates that fewer than 100 have survived but says that many former owners have stayed in the industry as home-based agents.

As the number of these agencies declines, the African-American travel market is growing. In its recent study of minority travel, the Travel Industry Association found that African-American travel volume was up 4% between 2000 and 2002, twice the growth rate for travelers overall during that period.

Henderson-Bailey says African-Americans are particularly drawn to group tours. A good portion of her business comes from churches, sororities, fraternities, associations and family reunions.

"African-Americans enjoy the social side of travel, and that's a key reason they enjoy traveling in groups," she says.

She says it's not as difficult to persuade African-Americans to travel these days compared with the early years, when her mother had to do a lot of convincing. "We no longer need to educate the market about the value of travel," she says. "We used to have to talk people into taking wonderful vacations to distant lands. Now, more and more, they're interested in cultural and heritage travel and they're traveling internationally."

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