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

Destiny - - Contents - BY Khumo Theko

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.

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