As the travel industry braces for what some estimates say could be a $30 billion drop in spending by Americans in general on leisure trips in the first half of this year alone, minority travel planners are hoping to cash in on a growing trend among travelers of color.
“African-Americans and other minority travelers have a genuine desire to connect with their past and are willing to spend money on leisure travel that provide them a personal and rewarding heritage experience,” says Charlotte Haymore, president of the Travel Professionals of Color Association. “Statistical reports show that minority tourists spend approximately $600 billion annually on heritage travel. Destinations and suppliers that reach out to this niche group will benefit and have a hand in helping stimulate the economy,” she says.
When the Denver-based association meets this month for its annual conference and trade show, heritage tourism will be high on the agenda. The association represents the interests of minority travel professionals and certifies the authenticity of a particular destination through the Authentic African American Heritage Tourism Destination Program. “Even though many Americans are cutting back on leisure travel, many are still taking specialized vacations including destinations offering exciting heritage sites and trails,” it says in a statement announcing its seventh annual event, which is being held in Buffalo, N.Y., from May 14 to 17.
The travel and tourism industry is a vital part of the global economy. It is the No.1, revenue-generating industry worldwide and the second-biggest industry in the United States behind health care. Cultural tourism, which includes heritage tours, is the industry’s fastest-growing segment and continues to attract visits even as the recession takes a toll on travel and tourism spending in general. According to a USA Today/Gallup Poll published in February, 58 percent of people who normally take an annual vacation away from home will shrink their vacation spending this year, or just not go. Consultants D.K. Shifflet & Associates and IHS Global Insight, both of whom research travel behavior monthly, forecast Americans will spend 9.7 percent less on leisure travel in April, May and June this year and 9 percent less in July, August and September than in 2008.
“When money is tight and people are under tremendous stress, they tend to travel with their heartstrings more so than with their purse strings. So while the bottom line is always a consideration, planners and their delegates, as well as leisure travelers, are searching for those warm and fuzzy experiences of traveling with loved ones, traveling to visit loved ones and visiting destinations that offer a cultural and emotional payoff,” Solomon J. Herbert, publisher and editor-in-chief of Black Meetings and Tourism magazine, writes on the magazine’s Web site.
Opportunities abound in the African-American market, Herbert says. He notes that when the general market, including international visitors, stops traveling, destinations begin searching for new or underserved market niches to target. “African-American travelers, who it is conservatively estimated generate over $45 billion annually, should be a prime target to fill the void — and those hotel beds. Not only has the industry barely tapped into this burgeoning market, but history shows us that Black travelers are not as drastically effected by economic downturns as the general traveling public,” Herbert says.
A perfect example of this was witnessed in the weeks and months following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, when general-market conferences were cancelled on a major scale and African-Americans continued with their travel plans “almost as if nothing has happened,” he says. “Attendance at the Congressional Black Caucus Legislative Weekend, which unfolded shortly after 9/11 in Washington, D.C., was practically unaffected.”
Second- and third-tier destinations should be exploited during tough economic times, Herbert says. “Planners who might not normally choose a city that’s not on the top-tier list will be far more willing to explore this possibility as an alternative to canceling their conferences outright. Not only will they be able to negotiate a more affordable package that will attract better delegate attendance, but destination reps from second- and third-tier cities will have an opportunity to strut their stuff before a new audience, and hopefully generate repeat business long after this economic downturn has run its course,” he notes.
While the revenue potential from travelers of color may be huge, relatively little is spent on advertising to this market in the United States and overseas, including the Caribbean and African markets, because of the perception that they don’t spend, industry experts say. That perception could not be more inaccurate.
Haymore of the Travel Professionals of Color Association says the U.S. Hispanic market alone, which grew at an average rate of approximately 10 percent to 20 percent in 2007, spends more than $32 billion annually on travel; takes 77 million person trips annually, with 77 percent of those person trips spent on leisure
travel; and spends about $1,000 per person, excluding transportation, on those trips. “Take note, thirty-three percent of trips taken by them include whole households with children under the age of eighteen,” she said in a 2008 interview.
The African-American market is growing at nearly the same pace. At 40.7 million, African-Americans account for 13.4 percent of the total U.S. population, with a current spending power of $798 billion annually that is projected to grow to $1.1 trillion by 2011. “Their travel expenditure is approximately $30 billion annually, accounted for by seventy million person trips yearly, with forty-four percent of person trips for leisure, ten percent spending money on group travel, and each spending about $1,000 per person on travel excluding transportation,” Haymore says.
Within the African-American market, women are finding their place in the growing phenomenon of women traveling on their own, whether it is for business, education, vacation, family visits or other reasons, according to Vanessa Loy of the marketing firm Sonshine Communications. While a woman traveling on her own is a normal occurrence within the United States, women may have different concerns about venturing solo in a foreign country, Loy says. “Political unrest, treatment of women, cultural stereotypes and health conditions are factors that can affect a traveler’s safety and enjoyment of a destination. But they don’t have to stop your plans if you have all the facts. There are tour agencies, cruises, books, Web sites and hotels that focus on the needs of the single female traveler,” she says.