February is Black History Month and in honor and celebration of this annual observance Active Campaign and Actively Black, AC’s employee resource group for Black employees, recently hosted a panel discussion, “Founding While Black: The Challenges of Being a Black-Owned Business”, to bring attention to the racial disparities faced by black founders, promote black-owned business, and inspire action.
Panel member, Kristy Alexander, founder of luxury organic skincare company, Apple Rose Beauty(opens in a new tab), spoke about the roadblocks she faced as a business owner and as a first generation entrepreneur. She mentioned that for many black business owners, it’s not uncommon to be the first generation in their family to own a business. This may be due to lack of access to resources needed to start a business, lack of connections within the industry or as a result of racial discrimination(opens in a new tab) faced by the African American community.
Kristy specifically mentioned how challenging it was applying for new business loans. As a first generation entrepreneur, you won’t have the relationships with banks that others may have, and with African Americans making up only 5.6% of bankers(opens in a new tab) in the US, the average banker probably won’t look like you and may have a harder time understanding your brand, as Kristy explained.
Another panelist, Johann Berby, a French musician, entrepreneur and founder of Groove Like a Pig(opens in a new tab), an online music education platform, recalled the casual racism and belittlement he has faced while developing his business. At one point, he recalls being told “for a black guy, you’re really smart.” Johann also felt that a lack of solidarity with other entrepreneurs was a roadblock on his journey and along a similar vein, for Kristy, she named the isolation she felt when first starting her business as a great challenge.
How have Kristy, Johann and other black entrepreneurs overcome these obstacles? We have gathered insights from the Active Campaign panel discussion as well as advice from black travel professionals to outline a few strategies that could strengthen your business as a tour operator, with diversity and inclusion in mind:
It’s no secret that the travel industry is behind(opens in a new tab) when it comes to representation of diverse faces and voices. Whether it’s outdoor adventure travel or luxury and leisure, marketing seems to have been targeted almost exclusively to young white men and women. Many times a company’s attempt to market themselves as diverse and inclusive by simply inserting a person of color in a picture, comes across as ingenuine and potential customers will pick up on that.
When making the effort to expand your market to a more diverse audience, one thing to keep in mind is that within underrepresented communities there’s a huge range of diversity. In a National Geographic piece(opens in a new tab) on inclusivity in travel, Sara Greaves-Gabbadon(opens in a new tab), a freelance travel writer and expert in Caribbean travel shares, “It would be great if brands would recognize that the Black audience isn’t exclusively young and/or urban, ’perennial’ women like me are active, energetic, and have the means and motivation to travel, too.”
In addition to including images of diverse guests and understanding the value of underrepresented groups being able to visualize themselves taking your tours, we also recommend sharing diverse voices by including reviews from guests of different backgrounds and identities. Besides appealing more to a diverse audience, reviews from people of color are testimonials of a safe and welcoming environment for groups who have historically not been welcome in similar spaces, whether due to overt racist policies(opens in a new tab) or subtle microaggressions.
Don’t just market to a diverse audience. Make an effort to hire a diverse team as well. Guests may feel more comfortable when there are people in leadership roles that have an understanding of their perspective, particularly in an industry with a history of being exclusionary towards people of color.
Strong Relationships With Customers
Social media has become an amazing tool for connecting directly with customers. One roadblock Kristy mentioned facing when starting her business was underestimating the cost of marketing. Besides being able to connect directly with customers, social media can be a means to market your business without having to front a lot of capital.
In addition to the lower cost, the millennials and gen z-ers(opens in a new tab), who will soon be the future of the travel industry, use social media platforms like Instagram, Twitter and TikTok more than any other group. As we’ve mentioned previously in How Tour Businesses Can Convert Gen Z’s Pent Up Travel Demand(opens in a new tab), this age group also values diversity and inclusion more than any other. Take advantage of these platforms and connect directly with like-minded businesses, gather feedback, expand your customer base and stay ahead of the curve.
Solidarity With Other Business Owners
A resource Kristy found helpful in overcoming the “isolation of entrepreneurship” she experienced when starting her business was joining a business mastermind. A mastermind is a group of ideally 4-10 like-minded people with similar business goals who come together to brainstorm ideas and share the successes and challenges they are experiencing as entrepreneurs. You can read more about why you should join a mastermind in the Forbes article, Six Reasons Why You Need A Mastermind(opens in a new tab).
Kristy goes on to mention that the solid relationships she had with her partners and suppliers were vital for her company’s survival during the pandemic. In fact, because of the strength of those relationships, Apple Rose Beauty was able to grow during the pandemic. This is a testament to the value gained when taking the time to build relationships with suppliers and partners, particularly when the majority of small business owners experienced a negative impact on business due to the pandemic.(opens in a new tab)
In addition to building relationships with other entrepreneurs, partners and suppliers, if you are a Black tour operator, you could benefit by connecting with groups like the Black Travel Alliance(opens in a new tab), “a professional non-profit organization. . . created in 2020 to encourage, educate, equip and excel black travel professionals in education, media, and corporate positions.” Despite the fact that it’s still quite uncommon to see people of color equally represented in mainstream travel industry marketing and media, people of color have traveled for leisure for centuries(opens in a new tab) and in 2018 alone, African American travelers contributed $63 billion dollars(opens in a new tab) to the travel and tourism industry. In fact, according to David Kaufman, the recovery of the tourism industry depends on inclusivity for Black travelers(opens in a new tab). With these insights from Black business owners in mind you can help the travel and tourism industry become more inclusive, while watching your own business grow!
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