How to Center Black Voices in the Travel Industry (For Real)

We built a platform that increased participation of Black Africans in the tourism industry and

We built a platform that increased participation of Black Africans in the tourism industry and changed the narrative at the same time. From 2018 to 2019, we drove $1M into the hands of new tour guides, creative entrepreneurs, and hoteliers for the very first time. I am deeply proud of this accomplishment—but there is a lot more work to do.

COVID-19 has pushed us to become more expansive and unpack the larger forces driving Black people to travel where we feel “at home.” Ten days into the global shutdown, we launched The Thread,  a monthly virtual summit that brings together Black luminaries from around the world to share the ideas, projects, and philosophies that will shape our future. It was part idea that we had buzzing pre-pandemic and part we’re a travel company and what the hell are we going to do when people can’t travel.

In building The Thread, which has now brought together nearly 8,000 people representing 51-plus countries in a four-month stretch, we’ve gone beyond helping people discover things to do on a trip in Africa and dived deeper into why we travel in the first place—and what’s possible when we as Black people center ourselves. 

Travel opens up an experience and discourse that allows Black people to understand and define our position in the world. This becomes a lifeline when living within systems that are tainted by white supremacy, not designed for this level of self-discovery and actualization for our community. Travel for many of us has become a path to freedom, and the industry has never had to contend with what that means. 

Tastemakers Africa travelers learning to make Thiebouduenne in Somone, Senegal. Photo: Courtesy of Cheraé Robinson

In fact, the travel industry has been oblivious to the needs and interests of Black travelers while exasperating disparities when it comes Black people in destinations around the world. I’ve traveled to 50-plus countries—something that the often racialized immigration system prevents many non-American Black people from doing—and I immerse myself in Black culture wherever I land. Observation and “spirited” discussion has shown me that erasure, lack of ownership, and lack of agency are the three biggest challenges to a more diverse and inclusive system.

From Colombia to the Carolinas, Paris to Puerto Rico, Black people are rarely in control of a sector that poaches our heritage, traditions, and cultural output to sell the uniqueness of destinations to the world. Often cornered into service-delivery roles and other subservient positions, would-be Black travel entrepreneurs, content creators, and destination ambassadors share rich cultural capital—from the “hidden gem” restaurants in their communities, to once-shunned ritual and celebrations that are now interesting to curious adventure seekers, to literally knowing the ins and outs of the land—all while being locked out of the most lucrative parts of the industry. 

From Colombia to the Carolinas, Paris to Puerto Rico, Black people are rarely in control of a sector that poaches our heritage, traditions, and cultural output to sell the uniqueness of destinations to the world.

The largest travel companies, led by white (mostly male) CEOs, along with the agencies contracted to promote destinations are not incentivized to transform this system because it works so well for them. If safari and its adjacent colonial vestiges amount to billion-dollar business, why change? 

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