Trends: The black travel movement
Defined as global travel created for, by and with black people, the black travel movement is a reaction to the lack of representation in the travel market. And its evolution promises to be fascinating
Would a negro like to pursue a little happiness at a theatre, a beach, pool, hotel, restaurant, on a train, plane, or ship, a golf course, summer or winter resort? Well, just let him try!” So proclaimed a 1947 American magazine published by the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP). It was just one example of published advice and guides for black travellers who had the means and the temerity to venture around their hostile country. The Negro Motorist’s Guide Book was another example, published in 1936 by New York travel agent Victor Green. The book advised black travellers where to sleep, eat, find fuel or fix a tyre without fear of being victimised.
What’s sharply ironic, however, is that just last year, the NAACP issued a warning to black travellers about the “looming danger” of violence and harassment by Missouri cops, businesses and residents. This was partly in reaction to a government report showing that black drivers were stopped 85% more times than white ones and were more likely to be searched and arrested.
The “travelling while black” nickname for the historical guides has made a resurgence in cult blogs and agencies like Travel Noire, which document the experiences of black travellers. And while modern-day guidebooks for black people are far more focused on cultural and environmental nuances than on avoiding being attacked, the echo remains.
Vibrant and evocative online communities have mushroomed in recent years, enabling black people to share their travel experiences and also arrange group getaways.
In Africa, the black travel movement has seen the particular emergence of young black entrepreneurs stimulating continental travel. Black millennial Africans are recreating the narrative of intra-African travel through their experiences and businesses.
According to the United Nations (UN) Conference on Trade & Development, four in 10 tourists in Africa come from the continent. Coupled with this, the International Air Transport Association expects African airline passengers to grow to 400 million by 2036. Clearly, the economic potential in the sector is great. And with that, innovative ideas for marketing the continent to local travellers become much more important.
INTERESTING - AND AFFORDABLE
Bheki Dube, founder of Curiocity Backpackers, a warm oasis in the heart of Maboneng, agrees that the African American travel movement has had a significant impact on the continent. Aside from African countries hosting black-owned travel agencies and influencers, the representation of said groups travelling the continent has influenced other local travellers to explore their own cities. “Young people want to acquire experiences through travel. The growth of cultural events like the Yeoville Dinner Club is driving the curiosity of 19- to 35-year-olds investing in local travel,” he says. Curiocity provides neat, creative lodgings – including female-only floors – and proves that affordable doesn’t have to mean seedy. He also offers cycle tours through grimy, but fascinating parts of the city and pub crawls from his hostels in Durban and Johannesburg which expose tourists to interesting city underbellies.
Dube adds that while the opportunity to invest in brand communication to black tourists is useful, he finds this sort of messaging uncommon. “Locally, we still have a long way to go when it comes to marketing to black Africans. We also need to change the structure of accommodation to ensure it’s more inclusive for blacks.” He believes the best way of doing this is by growing black-owned tourist agencies that “promote black-owned experiences”. This will dispel the misperception of how black people travel, which Dube says is still quite stereotypical.
“We need to look at how we view our African counterparts.
Let’s take our blinkers off and ask why people really travel,” he says.
THE GENDER DIVIDE
Lerato Pakkies, a travel blogger, curator and co-founder of Kuyenda Travel, says bespoke digital communication has played a vital role in driving the black travel movement. “Representation on social media allows people to imagine and manifest the possibility that they, too, can have what seemed to be out of reach before,” she explains. Kuyende Travel, which she co-founded with Tshepang Likotsi, aims to foster a culture of young, black, well-travelled individuals.
“The vision of black people being well-travelled needs to start with black tourists representing that,” says Pakkies. Kuyenda Travel is putting this notion into practice by curating various “girls’ trips” in Africa. The first one saw a group from different provinces in SA travel together to explore Zanzibar. The focus of the agency is on making exotic destinations affordable through efficient group bookings.
The rise in black female tourism, in particular, has been rapid. Ugandan influencer Jessica Nabongo is one of the faces of the movement and is actively trying to create different perspectives of what it means to be a black female tourist in her social media content. She’s set herself the challenge of becoming the first black woman and Ugandan to travel all 195 member countries of the UN by 2019.
TRAVEL GIRL BOSSES
Curating black female travel makes good financial sense, too. The US Travel Association recently reported a 73% spike in solo female travel, while the success of travel agencies like Hip Africa, started by British tourism expert Ruby Audi, demonstrates the rise in black females creating channels to tap into the new black travel narrative.
Nigerian-Canadian Eyitemi Popo is the founder of Girls Trip Tours. She stresses that depicting the black female tourist in an idealised, stylish way is crucial. Media representation must mirror reality.
“The fact is that black women travel and I’m on a quest to increase those numbers, particularly in Africa,” she says. Her agency hosts experiences to various African destinations with the aim of empowering future leaders at female-led initiatives through mentorships, while exploring specific sites and dining in selected restaurants around the country being visited.
“I believe black tourism is key to the sustained growth of the African tourism industry. The real value will be from the tens of thousands of jobs to be created in this sector. The growth of the black tourism movement in Africa will ultimately hinge on how it drives economic inclusion,” says Popo.
Safety is another big consideration. Girls Trip Tours focuses on this aspect, curating experiences that allow women to explore African cities with confidence and purpose. “To travel freely without fear is a feminist act in itself. Daring to move through public spaces boldly and unapologetically is an important part of achieving gender parity.
“Today female travel is seen as revolutionary, but I hope that initiatives like mine will normalise it,” says Popo.
Pan-African blogger Katchie Nzama is also active in this sector, creating content regarding African destinations in terms of culture, history, heritage – and local beer. The aim is to “decolonise” travel culture. “Black travellers understand that our lives aren’t just about working from 9-5 or starting families. We’re courageous enough to push boundaries and explore the unknown to figure ourselves out,” she says.
Nzama deplores the fact that, commercially and through most marketing channels, Africa’s marketed to foreigners with dollars and euros. Companies need to market destinations “beyond just beaches and wildlife”, she insists. “I’ve found that Africans don’t want to know about yet another game park with the Big Five. As a South African, I want to know if my village in Venda is different from a village in Congo or Malawi. We want to learn through experiences.”
She adds that representation of black tourists is imperative because “we want to have a connection to each other’s wanderlust”. “Brands need to talk to us and make an effort to learn how we communicate and spend our money,” declares Nzama.
As an advocate for female travel, Nzama’s travelled to 34 African countries. This has included personal themed tours, like backpacking from the Cape to Cairo, which she did in 2014 and 2015.
Another adventure was her #breakingborders trip in 2017, which saw her travelling from Africa’s northernmost point to its southern tip, using public transport through 21 countries.
“It proved that Africa’s safe for solo female travellers. We all know that women on this continent are marginalised, but we’re breaking down these borders one passport stamp at a time,” she says.
Travelling freely without fear is a feminist act in itself.