Travel Black Travel Advisors on Representation in the Travel Agent Industry

02:27  15 june  2020
02:27  15 june  2020 Source:   travelpulse.com

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When I asked Tiffany LaVon Layne, Founder and Luxury Travel Designer of LaVon Travel & Lifestyle, “What is one thing that people don't realize about the travel agent profession?” she replied: “That we even exist.”

a person standing next to a body of water: Antoine Wilson, travel agent © Antoine Wilson Antoine Wilson, travel agent

She was not alone in this answer. In speaking with travel agents, Jemica Archer of TruBlue Travels and Antoine Wilson of A.D. Elite Travels, LLC, both said similar things.

Yet, Layne’s words, “That we even exist,” took on a secondary meaning after she recounted a recent experience with a legal professional: “She said to me, ‘To be honest, I didn’t even know you existed,’ suggesting that the idea of a luxury black travel advisor in this space seemed almost a foreign concept – as if we do not have access to the same level of clientele.”

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A travel agency is a private retailer or public service that provides travel and tourism-related services to the general public on behalf of accommodation or travel suppliers.

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And there it is.

According to DataUSA, the travel agent industry has a workforce of approximately 66,500 advisors. Of those agents, 78% are white and 9.56% are Asian. Only 6.8% are black. African American travelers are a $63 billion-dollar group, and yet this community is not represented among the travel agent profession.

Archer, Wilson, and Layne represent a rich, hard-working, and successful community of black travel agents. In my conversations with each one, they exemplified what I already knew to be true: that black travel agents are innovators, offering perspective and expertise that can make travel and tourism more inclusive.

Meet Antoine Wilson, Jemica Archer, and Tiffany Layne

Archer became a travel agent in 2012 after she “started exploring the world and wanted to create a business that would allow [her] to do the same.” As a travel agent who specializes in international and romance travel, her favorite things about her job are the “relationships and hearing about the experiences I helped create after my clients return,” she explained.

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Similarly, Wilson’s business was born out of a passion and knowledge of travel: “My friends would always come to me for travel advice or ask for help planning their vacations. My mom suggested I turn it into a business.”

“I researched ways to become a travel agent and ended up on the OASIS website. I loved the diversity, energy, helpfulness of the staff at OASIS, and the training program. They welcomed me with open arms and here I am today.”

Over the last two years, Wilson has found purpose in his career: “I feel in the African-American community, a lot of us are afraid to venture out of the United States. So, it's been my mission and goal to not only be a travel agent but to inspire others within my community to see the world and how beautiful it is.”

Then there is Layne, who has been an avid traveler since she was in college. She “became a travel advisor after 10 years of a career in scientific research,” once she realized she wanted to own her own business.

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Self-identifying as a travel advisor, Layne explained, “’Travel agent’ is an outdated term. Professional travel advisors provide expert counsel to clients and consider their leisure time their most precious resource and take a long-term view of planning for a lifetime of travel experiences.”

Her business, Lavon Travel & Lifestyle specializes “primarily in luxury travel, offering a seamless, stress-free way for clients to maximize the value of their travel investments.” Her employees focus on various niches from honeymoons to family travel, while Layne personally manages ultra-luxe travel and VIP travel services.

Layne said, “I love that I get to work with an exceptionally diverse group of clientele from around the globe who trust and choose me for my professionalism and quality of service.”

Current Conversations About Diversity

With the murder of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter protests, discussions about black representation, diversity, and inclusivity have been topics of conversation in various sectors, including the travel industry. Though some travel companies and outlets have released diversity, equity, and inclusion statements or plans, Layne points out that many have not.

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“The sad thing is that many companies within the travel space have not come out with statements and the silence is not only deafening but heartbreaking as a professional,” she said. “I know for the luxury travel space it seems as if they are fearful of speaking out because for so long, they haven’t had to face something like this.”

For travel companies who have released statements, Wilson said, “I hope it's genuine…and not because of the current climate.”

As for Archer, she seems optimistic. “I am hopeful that the industry will follow through on their promises to be more inclusive,” she said, pointing out that this time is “a great opportunity to add diversity in the tourism sector.”

That being said, the lack of inclusivity that black travel agents experienced before the pandemic is not so easily forgotten.

“I have attended conferences where, in a room of over 3,000 attendees, I quite possibly represented only 0.001% of black people on the advisor side,” said Layne, adding: “Luxury Travel Advisor, an industry magazine, has not once in my four years of business featured a person of color on the cover of their magazine or done a story on them.”

And that’s not all.

“I had to ask Virtuoso to provide better marketing material for a program for me to use that reflected the actual diversity of the world and travelers. Why is it that I had to suggest to the company that the images they provided originally were lacking in representation…?” asked Layne.

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More Black Travel Advisor Representation

All three travel advisors agreed that more black travel agents or advisors would be beneficial to the industry.

“I think it would be great to have more [black travel agents] so we match consumer demand,” Archer said, noting how black travel advisors can "create more niches for clients seeking to learn more about the black diaspora in different destinations."

“Black travelers have increased presence and add so much revenue to tourism, [and] I would love to see more be able to create businesses doing what they love," she added.

Layne echoed Archer by saying, “I believe there should be options for BIPOC to have the same opportunity to thrive and build a successful business in this industry at the same level as their white colleagues.”

As for Wilson, an increase in black travel agents could mean an increase in African American travelers, or at the least, a transformation in their travel interests. “I feel having more black travel agents would do essentially the same thing I'm doing: inspire others to venture beyond the borders of the United States to see the world,” he said.

“We're messengers of sort, showcasing the opportunities and magnitude of possibilities that are out there when it comes to travel. What better way to deliver this message to the African-American community than through a black travel agent?”

Black Travelers Deserve Better

In our conversations about black travel agent representation, Wilson, Archer, and Layne turned the conversation to those that matter most to them: their clients. As black travel agents, they’ve long witnessed a lack of representation when it comes to black travelers and travelers of color.

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Wilson explained, “The most frustrating and saddening thing thus far about being a travel agent, is flipping through website after website or media gallery after media gallery, and there's not one person of color.”

“I'll research and find some awesome promotions and opportunities to share with clients, but when I go to media libraries or click a lot of websites, there's absolutely no diversity,” he said. “It makes one feel unwelcomed or not included.”

This lack of diversity on supplier websites has lead Wilson to create his own ads with people of various backgrounds, “so my clients won't have to endure the feeling I have inside while browsing through supplier websites,” he said.

Layne brought up a different but equally important point about the responsibility of travel outlets: “[Black travel advisors] are severely underrepresented as trusted resources in media outlets who seek out professionals to give advice and quotes. During COVID, I read countless articles where the same professionals were quoted over and over.”

Supporting Black Travel Agents After a Pandemic

“This was set to be an amazing summer for me, as I had my first two group cruises booked and a few land vacations, but the pandemic has halted my business,” Wilson explained. “Every single booking that I had planned, has been canceled for the year with the exception of one client.”

Archer and Layne were also affected by the pandemic. “This pandemic has caused me to lose all of my travel bookings through July 2020,” Archer said.

Layne added, “Many of us won’t be able to recoup most of that until travel picks up again and could quite possibly not see revenue generated until 2021.”

Although all travel agents felt the blow of the pandemic, we cannot ignore the fact that African Americans and people of color were the hardest-hit communities in the U.S., a result of systematic racism across various sectors. As destinations re-open, travelers of all backgrounds should support black travel agents by seeking out their services and supporting their business in the years to come. The travel agent industry cannot afford to lose a sector of professionals that are already minimal in number as is.

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Archer hopes that as the travel industry rebuilds they make a commitment to support black travel advisors by "showing more diversity in marketing to people of color in ads, magazines, online etc.”

Layne took it a step further: “I would like to see hoteliers, brands, tourism boards, and more start to change internally and take notable action to implement these changes through shifts in management, development of proper advisory boards as well as marketing teams.”

All that said, Layne makes it clear that black travel advisors desperately need the most support from within their own profession.

“We need support from our consortiums, host agencies, and supplier partners. We need them to support us by being allies and a voice against the clear disparities that exist in the industry. We need them not to fear a loss of revenue for doing what is right,” she said.

“I would like to see more of these institutions take action to include black travel advisors as part of committees and advisory boards that will revolutionize awareness and change. I would like to see more BIPOC in executive roles within the industry that can help drive more inclusive initiatives…Include us equally in first-hand experiences such as FAMs, in-person events, and personal property invitations as they do our white colleagues.”

Lastly, “It is also important to realize we need support from our own professional colleague of travel advisors,” said Layne.

For travel advisors this could include: learning to recognize racism in the agent industry, speaking to suppliers about diversifying their marketing materials, reaching out to host agencies to put forth diversity statements and plans, and requesting professional travel agent organizations to include more black travel agents in leadership positions.

While it may seem like a lot, Layne reminds us that representation and diversity in the travel advisor industry can bring forth a fair and equal travel experience for black travelers and travelers of color -- a goal we can all agree is beneficial to tourism and travel.

“The industry should keep in mind as we re-open and rebuild the travel infrastructure that black travelers are a strong economic force in the industry and are craving for destinations, hotels, and tourism boards to include them as welcomed savvy travelers.”

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The adventure operator’s new booking plan allows for changes in travel 21 days prior to departure date.Through the Flexible Bookings plan, travel advisors’ clients can choose new travel dates or opt for different trips – with no change fees.

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