‘We’re Not Staying Home’: Stephanie M. Jones Talks Launching A Tourism Collaborative In A White Male-Dominated Industry

Black people are largely ignored by the travel and tourism industry. 

Despite making up more than 12 percent of the US travel population and 6 percent of tourism spend, less than 3 percent of travel advertising focuses on Black people, according to Travel Noire

Black U.S. leisure travelers spent $109.4 billion on travel in 2019 – the most recent year reflecting normal travel spend prior to COVID-19, according to The Black Traveler: Insights, Opportunities & Priorities report, created by MMGY Travel Intelligence. 

The neglect makes up one layer of frustration. There’s also blatant discrimination. A Harvard study revealed that travelers with “Black names” were 16 percent less likely to get an Airbnb booking in selected cities than travelers with white-sounding names.

Stephanie M. Jones has been keenly aware of the disparity in the travel industry for a long time. As the founder of the National Blacks in Travel and Tourism Collaborative and a member of the U.S. Travel and Tourism Advisory Board for the U.S. Department of Commerce, she said she’s seen, first-hand, some of the disparities BIPOC face. 

“I believe in being very transparent because working in the traveling industry as a small Black-owned business and a Black tour operator has been extremely challenging over the years,” Jones said. 

She shared that even before the pandemic’s devastating blow to the travel industry, most Black-owned agencies were not operating full time, or generating much of a profit. 

“My peers just weren’t really making money in this industry,” Jones said. “That’s why it’s important to leverage smart partnerships.” 

For her, that meant collaborating with Intrepid Travel. Founded in 1988 by two best friends from Australia, it is now the largest small group tour company in the world. 

“During the Pandemic, we started to reflect on how it was going to reshape its future and its brand and vision for the future,” Matt Berna said, who is the managing director of Intrepid Travel, North America. “As we started to develop a tour program in the US, it became clear that we were spending a lot of time focusing on the outdoors and conservation, but we weren’t doing enough to focus on America’s rich culture.” 

He said he reached out to Jones and her team to highlight different aspects of travel that had been long underrepresented. 

“I was instantly completely drawn into her as a person, but also to her passion for what she was trying to do,” Berna shared with Essence. 

In partnership with the National Blacks in Travel & Tourism Collaborative, Intrepid Travel recently launched a brand-new tour in Southeast America celebrating West and Central African cultural heritage. Intrepid says the trip is part of an ongoing effort to introduce new experiences that not only celebrate BIPOC cultures but also provide a more diverse and inclusive perspective of the United States.

“This partnership was incredibly important because my mission has always been to amplify Black businesses, Black history, and our amazing culture,” Jones said.

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