Listen: Working as a Black Travel Advisor in a Predominantly White Industry

July 6, 2020

As a part of HAR's initiative to incorporate the work of anti-racism in creating a more equitable travel industry, we kicked off our webinar series: Listen. Learn. Act.

Listen below to HAR’s first installment, where our esteemed panelists chat on the dearth of Black/IPOC (Indigenous, people of color) industry leadership, lack of representation in marketing and travel media, the challenges of operating within a culture of colorblindness, and the extra steps they need to take to serve their Black/African American clients.

Listen with us below!

The Conversation Continues!

I'm handing the mic to agents who generously agreed to share their experiences and expand on the conversation. Also, for the first time ever, we have an article with an opening act from Will's wildly talented niece, Alesa Moore.

We're going to kick it off with Willie, who was supposed to join the webinar, but threw his back out laying pavers! Ouch. Willie, I hope your landscaping was worth the sacrifice.

Willie fruga, owner & Travel advisor of Will's Up Travel

Willie Fruga Jr
Willie Fruga, Will's Up Travel

On Microaggressions: To fight and try to gain a foothold and seat at the travel industry table as a black travel advisor is constant uphill battle. I have received, from seasoned white TA’s, extremely aggressive and not-so-micro answers to questions. I’ve seen black newbies berated and accused of trying to “get rich quick” by asking a simple question about how to input a personal cruise into the CRM. As a black newbie travel advisor, some of us do not have the luxury of generational travel experience and resources at the ready. We are wading into uncharted waters and doing our best to be successful. I have learned to navigate the waters I’ve been forced to swim in.

Resources for Safe / Friendly Destinations: One thought I had as a way that would allow travel advisors to find out which destinations are safe and friendly toward Black travelers, would be to require resorts receive a certification from a diversity/inclusion review board. Much like AAA. Create a Diversity / Inclusion Agency that would receive verified reports of racism at destinations, track those reports and issue quarterly “scores” that are posted on all review platforms. Much like the health score for a restaurant (My wife and I avoid restaurants with a health score in the low 90’s) The same can be said for the diversity/Inclusion score. I believe destinations would work hard to improve their score thru proper retraining or removing problem employees. Just a thought.

Code Switching: My first experience with code switching occurred when I was about 10 years old. It was 1968 (don’t do the math) and our family was heading to Yosemite National Park, California for a camping trip. I packed and was all set with my cassette tape player and James Brown's Say it Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud tape. I had planned on blasting that tape in the mountains. But Mom said, "Uhh “No.” She didn’t want us to stand out as proud black folks embracing our culture and music. I had to “hide” who I was. Fast forward to current-day events and not much has changed. I still find myself suppressing what makes me me so I don't stand out or call attention to my blackness and Black culture. This suppression of who I really am has infiltrated into my travel business as well. At the time of this article, I do not have my actual face pictured on my website. (Soon to be rectified.) Subconsciously I knew to do so might limit my access to whitey customers.

When dealing with more seasoned TA’s, I often change or switch how I interact with other white travel advisors. I often find that if I tone down my blackness, I am more favorably received. I know that when I am myself, I do not gain access to the kinder, gentler responses to questions. But when I speak more like my white peers, market my business like my white peers, or just overall emulate those that are already seated at the table, I find I get just a little closer, though never quite close enough.

Jenn Earley, Owner of Cultured Vacations and Amplified Marketing Services

Jenn Earley, Owner of Cultured Vacations

I was at a travel event. I asked the presenter what they were doing to make sure their sales collateral was diverse (not even just Black people — but diverse).

He was the VP of marketing. He stumbled and fumbled and eventually said “yeah it’s hard to show inclusivity because then we have to show multiple different groups to make sure everyone’s included”.

He was comfortable stating that answer. I was comfortable moving away from that organization.

Terrassa scott, Owner of Full Cup Travel

Terrassa Scott
Terrassa Scott, Full Cup Travel

I think someone on the webinar mentioned the African prostitutes somewhere making people view anyone that looks African as a prostitute. People need to be aware of those kinds of things. We literally ask, "What do "they" think of black people?" Or "How do they treat black people before we go anywhere." I think it boils down to diversity and education because you'd have to know the problems that we face to know what to look out for.

Someone also mentioned we need something like IGTLA for POC in the comments. I agree. For those that want to help, I'd recommend they look into The Green Book. People like to act like discrimination was so long ago and we're so past it, but that book was published in the 1930s so that black people would know of accommodations where they could feel safe while they traveled.

Destinations and suppliers really need to have more than white people in their marketing. If they have any African history in their country, mention where people can go to experience that culture. However, it needs to be immersive... not something that resembles a zoo where you look and point, but an actual experience. There is black history almost everywhere. Take care of those areas/buildings/artifacts. Don't let that history die out. Tour operators can make money off of that but they think no one cares. I noticed that there aren't really any suppliers available via our hosts and consortiums that represent West Africa. We have to find our own suppliers and hope they're reliable. Those destinations are difficult to the average American so that's another market that is just not represented. West Africa is definitely perfect for guided tours. Many black people want to experience West Africa but they're having to figure it out on their own.

Tiffany Layne, Owner of Lavon Travel & Lifestyle

Tiffany LaVon
Tiffany LaVon, LaVon Travel & Lifestyle

While I have experienced great support from many colleagues in the industry I have also experienced great ignorance. We need to address it from all sides and understand that many Travel Advisors themselves sit in their own ignorance and white fragility. I have been in a few luxury travel groups where I was removed for simply wanting to engage in conversation. With white advisors wanting cry uncomfortable and not wanting a group about travel to get “political.” One lady went as far as to say, “oh I visited your profile and I can see your are here to just cause trouble.” Indicating that by visiting my page which had many posts supporting and educating others on the movement it somehow implied I was simply antagonizing.

Dina Farmer, owner of Lily and Magnolia travel

Dina Farmer Headshot

I often feel during my very short time in the travel industry that I am one of the very few travel agents of color. Often times at industry events I'm one of 4-5 other travel agents of color. I feel I'm the center of attention and everyone is looking at me because I'm so unusual in that space. It's really uncomfortable going to industry events and being so underrepresented.

I've never been selected or invited to FAMs. I've often found that as a travel agent as soon as someone sees my face they ghost me. I've been carrying on conversations with potential clients over the phone and the second they see me, I never hear from them again. I personally want to keep my photo in my signature block but I'm beginning to wonder why it goes so silent when I try to help someone book a trip.

Thank You & Stay Tuned.

Thanks to our fabulous panelists and contributors—DeJuan, Tammy, Rosalind, Willie, Terrassa, Jenn, Tiffany, and Dina—for keeping it real and sharing your experiences. We appreciate you've shared your time and stories to put yourself out there to educate your industry peers.

This is the just the beginning! Click to register for "Learn." the next webinar in HAR's series.

Listen. Learn. Act. HAR Anti-Racism Webinar Series

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