African American travelers, with an estimated $25 billion in travel spending power, are a rapidly growing market that is increasingly gaining the attention of the $440 billion U.S. travel industry. Over the past several years, many cities and states have launched multicultural tourism divisions to cater to this growing niche. Now private businesses have also taken note and they are creating packages and tours, in partnership with tourism agencies, to reach many more African American travelers.
Philadelphia’s Multicultural Affairs Congress (MAC) recently partnered with American Airlines to create the carrier’s first “Ethno Tour,” which wilt develop packages targeted to black travelers. “As the shift in the population occurs over the next 15 years, it is dear that our customer base will shift. We need to start developing products that appeal to this growing market. We intend to extract as much business as we can,” explains Lou Phillips of American Airlines. To that end, the airline’s new Urban and Community Relations division will pair up with MAC in its “Share The Heritage” campaign to create a tour complete with accommodations, travel and sightseeing excursions into Philadelphia’s black sites.
American is also seeking to build relationships with African American corporations, travel agencies and meeting planners. Via its PAArtners Program, nonprofit organizations, such as religious and community groups and professional organizations, will earn transportation credits when members use the airline. These credits can then be used by the organizations for businessrelated travel. American recently signed a three-year deal with The Links Inc., an African American professional women’s organization, as its carrier.
But they’re not alone. US Airways (formerly USAir) has been targeting the African American market through advertising and sponsorship activities over the past two years, according to US Airways spokesperson David Castelveter. Northwest Airlines has recently created an urban affairs department to develop and market special leisure trips to preferred black destinations. According to John E. Williams, Northwest’s vice president of corporate relations, the carrier plans to increase travel to those places and to create packages with carrier partners that fly to those popular African American destinations Northwest does not go to directly. The airline is also going after major black meetings and conventions groups, and is planning a special convention/meeting incentive number (800-328-2216, ext. 1775), along with a group travel desk.
But hotels and cruise lines have been slower to call. Most cruise lines don’t target special groups but say black organizations and travel agents have come to them. Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines had a ship completely booked by the black-owned Blue World Travel Agency in San Francisco last August. Recently, the Marriott Corp. signed its first deal with an African American franchisee, who now owns and operates a Courtyard hotel in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area, a rarity.
Before visiting a city, Coletha Powell, president of the African American Travel and Tourism Association, suggests that you first contact its convention and visitors bureau. “Ask if they have a black tourism division. If they don’t and can’t direct you to the African American services and products