Family road trips between Kumasi and Accra in my native Ghana set the scene for an idyllic childhood. The journeys were punctuated by comical bickering and jostling between me and my brother as we raced to outdo each other in guessing the next town. We chortled with abandon, made up games and accused each other of cheating, sang loudly, and revelled in sibling harmony. Out on the open road, it was a feast for the senses. Now the jagged peaks of the Kwahu mountain carpeted in greenery. Then a swish of beaded necklaces on display as we sped by. The sighs of appreciation as we tucked into a meal at a rest stop, lips smarting from hot pepper. Then washed down with fresh coconut juice.
The kaleidoscope of culture, community and cuisine instilled awe and sparked my budding love of travel. Even then, I had a feeling this was my career trajectory; a future in which I would weave a tapestry of stories through the transformational lens of travel. As a travel content creator now at Wonders of Wanders, I am present in the future I imagined. Unfortunately, it is in an industry that often overlooks Black voices like mine, just as quickly as it ignores evidence that we, too, partake of the same joy, wonder and adventure of travel like our White counterparts whose stories continue to dominate.
In the unfolding saga of 2020, we have been assailed by the grim realities of a pandemic while racial injustices toward Black people rage on. Following George Floyd’s publicized death last month at the hands of Minneapolis police – the gruesome murder that a world in lockdown was forced to watch in collective horror – many travel brands and companies have joined the “Black Lives Matter” bandwagon.
Quick to show support on social media in the wake of protests after the murder, they participated in #BlackOutTuesday, posting black squares on Instagram in solidarity with the Black community. This wasn’t enough. Do Black lives matter in company hiring practices? Do Black lives matter in marketing campaigns? In philanthropic contributions? What we want to see is solidarity in action, backed by facts and figures, not tokenistic statements that paper over the cracks without any real accountability. So, we asked for proof.
In this seminal moment, I joined forces with other Black travel content creators across the globe, and together, we created Black Travel Alliance. On June 16th, the alliance launched the #PullUpForTravel campaign, calling on the industry to move from showing black squares to publicly sharing their metrics in these five major areas by June 19th:
Employment: Current number and percentage of Black people in management
and on staff
Conferences & Tradeshows: Black representation (number and percentage) on speaker panels, workshops, sessions, etc. in 2019
Paid Advertising/Marketing Campaigns: Black representation (number and percentage) in TV, radio, print and digital channels including social media in 2019
Press: Black representation (number and percentage) on media/press trips in 2019
Philanthropy: Charitable contributions and support (i.e. mentorship and intern programs, etc.) to Black charities and community groups
More than mere black squares on social media, this data will show true allyship and demonstrate some of the key areas of focus for ending the systemic lack of egalitarian opportunity and inclusion in the travel industry. We settled on June 19th, or Juneteenth, as the deadline because it commemorates the ending of slavery in the United States in 1865.
As a member of the Black Travel Alliance launch team, I have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support this week from the global travel community. The unfolding newsreel across the world has had an emboldening effect on #PullUpForTravel. With our three pillars of community in alliance, amplification and accountability, we are here to hold travel brands accountable and advocate for meaningful representation of Black voices across the industry. We are asking the travel industry to do better at diversifying the voices around the table, to share Black stories and to level the playing field in visibility, pay and opportunities.
To do that, the change must come from within. Travel brands and companies must not only look candidly at the ways they have been complicit in marginalizing Black voices, they must take measurable actions to smash the glass ceiling to smithereens. Black Travel Alliance is not just a moment, it’s a movement for Black travel content creators to gain the tools, resources and opportunities to flourish. Moreover, it’s a space for allies to be part of the positive change our industry – and the world at large - needs.
Many are those who say they can’t wait for things to get back to “normal” - and I shudder at the thought. “Normal” is the problem. “Normal” is talented Black people being overlooked for opportunities we’re qualified for. “Normal” is branded marketing and storytelling which excludes Black voices. “Normal” is Black content creators being given the dregs. “Normal” is a broken system that often doesn’t give Black people a seat at the table. This “normal” is abnormal.
Travel is too joyous and life-changing to be dominated by the experiences and perspectives of just one group. For travel to rebound sustainably in a post-COVID-19 world, the industry must present a balanced representation.
No more lip service to diversity and inclusion. It’s time to embrace the golden opportunity to do better. We are out here, and our stories matter. #PullUpForTravel is not a call-out so much as a call-in for the industry to take real steps in reflecting the world it represents. Not only is it the right thing to do, it’s also good for business. Now, that would be the real golden age of travel.
To quote Nelson Mandela, “…as long as injustice and gross inequality persist in our world, none of us can truly rest.” Will you join your voices with ours on this mission?