5 challenges facing Black creators in the travel industry

Sep 5, 2020

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On Tuesday, June 2, better known as #BlackOutTuesday it seemed like (most of) the world came together for #BlackLivesMatter after the horrendous murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Aubrey, Breonna Taylor and way too many other Black people that have become hashtags.

Not only did millions of people participate, posting a black square in solidarity, so did hundreds of travel brands and destinations.

Immediately following, #AmplifyMelanatedVoices took place.

It was a week where social media seemingly stayed quiet unless you were a Black person or amplifying a Black person’s voice. Individuals shared their content and encouraged their followers to follow other Black-owned accounts. It was as if overnight Black content creators mattered; that our content was finally good enough even though we’ve been producing amazing content all along. Black content creators were booked and busy, being asked to do takeovers on large accounts and to be on every diversity and inclusion webinar under the sun.

But was all this solidarity just for show?

Posting a black square doesn’t take much effort and doesn’t really prove you stand behind the meaning. Shouting out a few Black content creators one week, only to go back to an all-white feed the following doesn’t seem genuine, not when you’re an account that only reposts other people’s photos. Asking Black content creators to only speak on webinars that pertain to diversity and inclusion — as if that’s all we’re capable of speaking on — isn’t proving you value us overall.

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Now, things have gone “back to normal”. Webinars have died down, amplification has stopped. To me, this seemed more like an amplification of what it’s like to be a Black content creator in general. To be ignored for most of the year but be busy during Black History Month, this time we had Black deaths to thank.

I’ve worked in the travel industry since 2016 and while it has surely afforded my family amazing opportunities, giving me a work/life balance I never had working in corporate America and having me discover destinations I otherwise may not have, it comes with many barriers.

So, what is it like working in the travel industry as a Black content creator?

Having an audience that spends billions on travel But being told you don’t have the “target market”

In 2018 Black Americans spent $63 billion — yes, billion with a b — on travel. Still, when I see travel marketing as it relates to commercials and print ads, even in predominantly Black destinations, Black people are rarely included.

When PR companies host press trips with travel influencers they rarely invite Black content creators (or there is one to fit a quota) because they claim our audience isn’t their “target market.” How is this true when we’re spending billions of dollars a year on travel? There is nothing that Black people don’t do: We ski, RV, dive, hike, camp, skydive and we do luxury travel.

Don’t believe me? Just look at Instagram accounts like Melanin Base Camp, Soul Society, Black Folks Camp Too and Black Travel Feed.

Being undervalued and underpaid

As a Black content creator, I’ve been undervalued and underpaid for years.

I’ve been on the same campaign with white influencers who have lower or similar engagement than me but I’m paid half as much, oftentimes having to negotiate extensively even for that. Accounts such as @openfohr and @influencerpaygap take a deeper look at the disparity of pay in the industry.

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𝗜𝗻 𝗹𝗶𝗴𝗵𝘁 𝗼𝗳 𝗿𝗲𝗰𝗲𝗻𝘁 𝗲𝘃𝗲𝗻𝘁𝘀, 𝗜’𝘃𝗲 𝗯𝗲𝗲𝗻 𝗿𝗲𝗮𝗹𝗹𝘆 𝗶𝗻𝘀𝗽𝗶𝗿𝗲𝗱 𝗯𝘆 𝗼𝘁𝗵𝗲𝗿 𝗰𝗿𝗲𝗮𝘁𝗶𝘃𝗲𝘀 𝗶𝗻 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝗶𝗻𝗱𝘂𝘀𝘁𝗿𝘆 𝗳𝗼𝗿 𝗰𝗮𝗹𝗹𝗶𝗻𝗴 𝗼𝘂𝘁 𝘁𝗵𝗲𝘀𝗲 𝗯𝗿𝗮𝗻𝗱𝘀/𝗮𝗴𝗲𝗻𝗰𝗶𝗲𝘀 𝘁𝗵𝗮𝘁 𝗮𝗿𝗲 𝘂𝘀𝗶𝗻𝗴 𝘁𝗵𝗶𝘀 #𝗕𝗟𝗠 𝗺𝗼𝘃𝗲𝗺𝗲𝗻𝘁 𝗮𝘀 𝗮 𝗺𝗮𝗿𝗸𝗲𝘁𝗶𝗻𝗴 𝗽𝗹𝗼𝘆. 𝗔𝘀 𝘀𝘂𝗰𝗵, 𝘁𝗵𝗶𝘀 𝗶𝘀 𝗺𝘆 𝗼𝗽𝗲𝗻 𝗹𝗲𝘁𝘁𝗲𝗿 𝘁𝗼 @fohr.co . 𝗛𝗲𝗿𝗲’𝘀 𝗺𝘆 𝘀𝘁𝗼𝗿𝘆: – For the 3 years I have been with Fohr, I’ve only booked two campaigns with them… let’s start with that. The second time I got an offer from them, I decided to negotiate for a higher rate but then they went ghost. After following up a few days later, I was informed they don’t have “any more budget to work with”. Cool… About a year + ago, they reached out for another opportunity. The offer came with a countdown clock (intimidation tactic) for you to accept the offer. Because my timer was running out and I remembered the last time I tried to negotiate higher they shut me down, I accepted the offer for $2700. A few days later, I found out the same campaign (same deliverable) was offered to a WHITE-passing influencer who had less followers + less engagement than me for $8500. To be clear, I didn’t have as much followers as I do now BUT my engagement rate is above 10% which is more than 6% above the industry rate. As you can see in the screenshot, I had 20k+ in engagement while the higher paid influencer had 3k in engagement on their post. – 𝗠𝗮𝗻𝘆 𝗯𝗹𝗮𝗰𝗸 𝗰𝗼𝗻𝘁𝗲𝗻𝘁 𝗰𝗿𝗲𝗮𝘁𝗼𝗿𝘀 𝗮𝗿𝗲 𝗹𝗼𝘄𝗯𝗮𝗹𝗹𝗲𝗱 𝗶𝗻 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝗶𝗻𝗱𝘂𝘀𝘁𝗿𝘆 𝗲𝘃𝗲𝗿𝘆𝗱𝗮𝘆—𝗪𝗲’𝘃𝗲 𝗵𝗮𝗱 𝗲𝗻𝗼𝘂𝗴𝗵! 𝗗𝗲𝗮𝗿 @jamesnord , 𝗜 (𝗮𝗹𝗼𝗻𝗴𝘀𝗶𝗱𝗲 𝗺𝘆 𝗰𝗼𝗹𝗹𝗲𝗮𝗴𝘂𝗲𝘀) 𝘂𝗿𝗴𝗲 𝘆𝗼𝘂 𝘁𝗼 #OpenFohr 𝗮𝗻𝗱 𝗮𝗻𝘀𝘄𝗲𝗿 𝗼𝘂𝗿 𝗾𝘂𝗲𝘀𝘁𝗶𝗼𝗻𝘀 ! #fohr #pulluporshutup – 𝘗𝘴: 𝘵𝘩𝘦 𝘭𝘢𝘴𝘵 𝘴𝘭𝘪𝘥𝘦 𝘪𝘴 𝘧𝘰𝘳 𝘢𝘯𝘺𝘰𝘯𝘦 𝘸𝘩𝘰 𝘸𝘢𝘯𝘵 𝘵𝘰 𝘳𝘦𝘱𝘰𝘴𝘵 𝘶𝘴𝘪𝘯𝘨 𝘵𝘩𝘦𝘪𝘳 𝘯𝘢𝘮𝘦.

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I recently had a brand that reached out to me in the height of the Black Lives Matter movement recognizing they haven’t done a great (or even sub-par) job at making sure children of all colors, backgrounds and geographical locations see themselves represented and included in their brand/company. Their goal for the campaign was to specifically diversify their content and marketing materials, and they wanted me to take photos of my children using their product to use in their marketing materials and for me to post on my Instagram account about their brand.

They wanted to own the rights to the images forever, meaning in 15 years my child could be on their packaging, all in exchange for an $89 product. The words of Tyrone Edwards @mr1loveto immediately came to mind: “My trauma is not your trend.” For a brand to want to use my family to increase their sales by showing they’re diverse on the backs of free labor is, unfortunately, something Black content creators deal with far too often and it has to stop.

Fighting tokenism

If you’re familiar with our brand, The Traveling Child, you might be thinking, well you’ve worked with destinations so who are you to complain? I’m grateful for the destinations who’ve hired my family and for the publications, like The Points Guy, who’ve hired me to freelance. But, it’s not enough!

It’s not enough when there is tokenism in the travel industry, when we are one of the few Black content creators being hired for paid campaigns. When brands constantly give the excuse of not knowing where to find Black creators as justification for the lack of diversity in their campaigns.

I once had a VP of Marketing at a large travel brand tell me they didn’t work with Black content creators/talent because they couldn’t find any of us. She stated she knew of one who she reached but was busy with other work and couldn’t participate and that was the end of that. It’s a lazy excuse those of us in the industry hear way too often. It just takes a simple Google search of Black travel blogger, searching the hashtag #BlackTravelBlogger on Instagram or looking through any of the hundreds of Black travel repost accounts mentioned earlier and you’ll easily find tons of creators.

Having your stories written by white writers

Even with the increased coverage of Black travelers during #AmplifyMelanatedVoices, lots of publications missed the mark.

They were hiring white writers to write their lists on Black Content Creators to follow. White writers who mostly prior to the week at hand hadn’t heard of many of the people on the list. Instead of hiring a Black writer onto the team, or hiring a Black freelancer who really knows who is in the space, it often seems as if these pieces are just put together by skimming other lists written by another white writer at a different publication. This means it’s often the same content creators being listed, leaving out those who are loved and cherished in the Black community but not “big enough” to be noticed and listed.

Another example is when travel stories are written by white writers on countries like Jamaica where the writer may have only visited a resort, but doesn’t actually go into the community– or travels to Kenya but only covers safaris.

This result is surface-level writing when a much deeper story could be told. Or, locations other than Negril, Montego Bay and Ocho Rios could be highlighted because, contrary to popular belief, there are other areas of Jamaica to explore. Getting a Black writer on the ground who isn’t “scared” to leave the resort or has a connection to the destination will ultimately tell a much better story.

This is not to say white writers can’t write on historically Black destinations at all, or that Black writers only want to write about Black destinations, but where is the diversity?

A lack of diversity behind the scenes

As a Black travel content creator, you work with lots of employees from PR firms and directly at destinations, hotels and more. In the four and a half years I’ve been working in this industry I’ve only come across a Black employee in a decision-making position once. It’s not that there aren’t more, but I’ve never worked with any others. I truly believe that change will come when the internal employees of these organizations are more diverse — when these organizations truly represent the travelers who use their products and visit their destinations.

The Black Travel Alliance recently did a #pullupfortravel campaign (inspired by the @pullupforchange campaign started by Sharon Chuter of @heysharonc) where they asked travel brands to provide information on their organizations: the breakdown of their employment by race overall and executive-level; Black representation on speaker panels, workshops and sessions at their conferences and trade shows; Black representation in TV, radio, print and digital platforms; Black representation on media/press trios and contributions; and support to Black charities and community groups.

To me, there seemed to be a trend showing the organizations with the most Black representation in the various categories were those with the most diverse staff. Coincidence, I think not.

Bottom line

While many travel brands and destinations rushed to make statements on June 2, I know real change doesn’t happen overnight and I don’t expect it to. Performative allyship is one thing and very easy to showcase. Over the next few months and years, we’ll see if travel brands really meant what they posted or if it was all for show.

I hope the slow down of travel in 2020 allows travel brands and destinations to sit with the feelings expressed during these times and make real change.

Featured image by Westend61/Getty Images

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