Long time, no…write? If you read my last blog post, you would know I intentionally took a hiatus given the current climate. After making the decision to position this blog as more travel-centered, I was obviously at an impasse for providing interesting and relevant content. Until now, that is. I should say that you shouldn’t expect any trips in the near future and instead, like everything else in the world, the content on this blog may have to pivot for the time being. Still, I am so excited to feel inspired and motivated again after a month and some change of feeling like I’d hit a dead end. In travel-related news, I tuned into a webinar hosted by The Black Travel Summit this past Saturday called “STAY-CATION” and wanted to share my thoughts with you all!!
The Black Travel Summit typically hosts an in-person annual event in Miami, so this was their first (and hopefully only) virtual experience. This webinar covered five major topics that I thought I would review! As you can imagine, this will be a long post. 🙂
Segment 1: The Effects of Social Media and the Black Travel Experience
The opening segment was hosted by Romie Williams, an educator and travel influencer that I’ve recently been following and discovered this event through. As we all know, social media has revolutionized every industry imaginable. Romie shared the benefits as well as the detriments of social media, including how it has connected people who otherwise would not have crossed paths, and, in some ways, has caused a big hit to our individual personal communication skills. Social media has also been a major source of research for people and allows people to get instantaneous information, especially about travel. In the research she presented, it showed that “27% of travelers pick their destination based off what they view on social media,” and “63% of 18-24 year-old Instagram users follow travel influencer accounts.”
Though I am personally out of that age bracket now, I have been following travel accounts since college and it has only increased as I have been working full-time and can now financially support my travel dreams. Additionally, many of my “travel goals” have spurred from stumbling upon random posts on Instagram and Pinterest and doing further research. Sometimes, I even fall down a rabbit hole of videos on YouTube when I like one person’s travel vlog and check out other places they have visited on their channel or what is recommended to me. If you read my Beginner’s Guide to Planning a Trip post, you will have seen how I have been filtering my content to discover more black creators/creators of color and travelers as well which helps us segue into the final piece of Romie’s presentation: social media and black travel communities.
The black travel community is growing and thriving at an exponential rate. As we continue to see ourselves on these platforms sharing these experiences, we are feeling more comfortable about spreading our wings. I will just say it–much of the world is anti-black, so representation is highly significant when it comes to the travel industry. Though my following is a drop in the ocean, I like to do what I can to share my honest opinions about my adventures and as much detail as possible to help another traveler out there feel safer and more informed. A statistic that Romie shared is that there are about “five million black millennials in the U.S.” that are part of the black travel community. If that is just for millennials in the U.S., imagine the strides we are making across the diaspora in different age groups as well!! But an important trend that I was sooo happy Romie pointed out was the harmful effects of the digital competition that has ensued amongst the black travel community. Unfortunately, many content creators seemingly travel just to “brag” or “stunt” on others. This may be just a perception (hence seemingly), but it is pervasive enough that it is hurting the collaborative efforts of others. There is nothing wrong with not being able to help everyone if your following is that large, but there is no point in having a “holier than thou” approach to social media. Despite everyone’s attempts to show that travel can be affordable, it is still a luxury. Representation matters and any effort to encourage competition amongst other travelers or place yourself above others for having more access ultimately hurts the end goal of increasing our numbers. And, in some ways, can contribute to the global anti-blackness we already experience.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed Romie’s presentation and it is was very clear that she is an educator by her ability to communicate various messages concisely and easily in her allotted 30 minutes. It may be because this topic is very relevant to my age bracket, to how I utilize technology, and to what I need to know to elevate my platform, but it was a great way to open up the summit in my opinion.
Segment 3: Channeling your Inner Content Creator
This third segment was hosted by an NYC-based blogger and analyst, Chanice “Queenie” Williams. This segment was quite honestly a beginner’s look into becoming a content creator. She gave a lot of great advice for people who may be interested in or are just getting started with building a social media platform. She shared the types of equipment she uses, how she creates backgrounds for photos and types of poses she does,, as well as navigating the world of presets for that aesthetically pleasing feed. Since I am not new to this side of things, there were not a lot of takeaways for me, but she had very positive feedback in the comments. Actually, one takeaway that I think is important and something I should adopt is how you don’t necessarily need to be in all of your photos despite how they may perform in terms of engagement. Since following her on Instagram, I have loved how her feed looks because it is unlike anyone else I am following. She also has great Highlights of her trips that I highly recommend checking out!!
Segment 4: Fireside Chat on Male Representation and Body Positivity
In contrast to what I said earlier about competition, this fourth segment is definitely head-to-head with Romie’s presentation as both of these presenters really captivated me with their perspective on travel. Clé Hunnigan, a London-based creative producer and aspiring filmmaker, and Jeff Jenkins, a digital content creator, had a fireside chat about their experiences as black men traveling the world.
They opened the chat with discussing how there is fewer representation for black men in the travel community, especially when it comes to solo travel. The perspective is much like many marginalized groups in that there is a greater level of comfort in numbers–not to mention, the mentality we carry as black people specifically is that “my experience at home will be the same thing somewhere else.” However, it is significant to emphasize that black men experience the world differently. Black men and women obviously share the same racial experience, but black men also carry harmful images of being threatening, aggressive, and dangerous which would endanger them in a different way traveling abroad, especially alone. They mentioned white male privilege which is self-explanatory, as well as female privilege in the travel industry which was a new point of view for me. Despite the dangers we experience as women in travel, we do have a lot more sources and experiences designed for us and we have a larger reach on social media in terms of representation than black men or men of color. Black women have their own multitude of layers of negative experiences and potential dangers being both black and women, but it was extremely interesting to hear this from both an American and a Caribbean black man.
Besides sharing personal anecdotes about their first time traveling solo and the revelations that brought and how it encouraged them to keep doing it, they also used this time to discuss things that marginalized groups WITHIN marginalized groups experience that many of us may not consider could be deterrents to travel. For example, Jeff has built his platform around encouraging big people to travel more, and in only a year and a half, his social media following is over 17,000. Something that I was always aware of but never put too much thought into since it doesn’t affect me directly is how even the physical travel experience with airlines can be its own deterrent for people of larger sizes to see the world. If you have a negative experience with an airline or with other customers on a flight due to being a passenger of size (terminology we use in the travel industry), it makes it feel as if the experience is “not worth the hassle.” Both Jeff and Clé have attended travel summits in which they also learned more about and shared how people with physical disabilities like blindness, deafness, mobility, etc. have that same shared experience of the difficulties and obstacles that can arise before even getting to your dream destination.
Those of us who are not affected by these things in our day-to-day life may consider ourselves informed, but there are many shoes we do not walk in. I do have to carry the stress of being fully aware 24/7 that I am a black woman, but at this stage of my life, I have no idea what it is like to have a physical ailment or disability, or to be body-shamed for simply existing. When I went to Barcelona, for example, almost all of the major attractions were more or less up in the clouds. If you watched my vlog of the trip, you will have seen that we opted to walk all the way up to Parc Güell instead of paying for a taxi. While that was uncomfortable for me, it was still an option whereas someone else who does not have the same mobility that I have would now have to consider that as part of their budget which is already a major component in travel to begin with. It reminded me of how my late Uncle Ray went to Paris for the first time for his 90th birthday and all of his high expectations of the city were not met because he did not have the physical ability to experience Paris the way it is designed to be experienced: on foot.
Clé and Jeff really opened up a significant dialogue in such a short period of time. I truly did not want their segment to end!! It just further showed me that this is really a call-to-action in the fight for accessibility in countries around the world. Additionally, there are a lot of changes that need to be made in the travel industry regarding representation and inclusivity.
Shay Sane, founder of Black Girls on the Go, closed out the summit by discussing the realities of COVID-19 and the travel industry as it stands right now. As a travel professional, I was already fully aware of a lot of her messages and I try to do my part whenever the opportunity presents itself to also share this knowledge of how this pandemic is affecting the travel community. Please stay safe and stay informed. As much as we all hate what’s going on right now, everything that we are doing is to keep us healthy and to help flatten the curve. Of course, I do not have to tell y’all that because literally every company on the planet is telling you while also promoting their products. 🙂
The Black Travel Summit really kickstarted the drive I needed to get back in the blogging game and also gave me a lot to think about in terms of how I travel and the privileges I hold. I feel completely enlightened and I am happy I got to share my honest thoughts with you all. I know it was a long post, but I hope you all feel more informed and will consider these various topics and perspectives in your future travels. I also hope that The Black Travel Summit is able to resume an in-person event next year. As always, I would absolutely LOVE to hear your thoughts, comments, or concerns below!! 🙂
Editor’s note: A segment of this blog post has been omitted.