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TURNER Q&A: Anita Francois, Founder & CEO of the Black Travel Summit

Black Travel Summit

With the mission of supporting, expanding and enhancing the voice of Black travel industry professionals, travelers and influencers, the Black Travel Summit is making waves in 2020.

From Oct. 17-18, the BTS is hosting the “Movement” Travel Webinar, in partnership with the Dream Defenders. Over the course of two action-packed and interactive days, attendees will enjoy discussions on Black representation in the travel industry, the importance of the Movement for Black Lives, supporting Black-owned businesses and more. Get more info and register.

In the lead-up to the event, TURNER spoke with Anita Francois, the founder and CEO of the Black Travel Summit.

For those who don’t know, what is the Black Travel Summit — and why is it such an important part of the discussion in 2020?

The Black Travel Summit is a movement borne out of the ongoing lack of representation for people of color in the travel industry. We feel this isn’t important only in 2020; it’s been important since the creation of the Negro Motorist Green Book.

Our mission is not only to highlight the movers and shakers in the Black travel community, but also to create a real connection between us and the overall travel industry in order to foster collaborations. We also promote entrepreneurship and careers in travel, in addition to showcasing business ideas that afford people the flexibility to travel as much as they really want to.

The Black Travel Summit exists not to say that other people aren’t doing similar work in the community, but that we believe whatever difference someone can make for the movement should be welcomed with open arms, regardless of the torch-holder.

We’re great believers that collaboration over competition is key.

What are the biggest challenges that this movement is facing today?

The biggest challenge we face in this industry – and in any industry – is recognition. And that’s over centuries, not just now. We’re natural born entrepreneurs who adapt to whatever environment we face, yet it’s proven that we’re passed on by corporations who don’t see the value and salience in our work.

Black people have always traveled, but our image hasn’t always made it to the media. Fortunately, social media has aided in changing that. Even if we’re not seeing it in mainstream media, we’re able to share it amongst ourselves.

We are traveling and we are out there and that is what is influencing more of us to do so.

It’s called the Black Travel Movement not just because people of color are traveling, but because it’s a movement born out of the need to create space for ourselves. There was a need for a space where people can exchange ideas and share tips on traveling as a person of color, and we filled it.

One of our speakers this year is Lawrence Phillips with We Work To Travel. He’s essentially created a brand that could be referred to as the “Black TripAdvisor.” The reviews left on his site from thousands of travelers who look like us are shared, because of course, people of color don’t have the same experiences as others when they travel abroad.

Far too many times when I’ve traveled to the same city as a counterpart or friend who’s not a person of color, my experiences are drastically different from theirs. Even while we’re traveling together, they might end up saying, “Wow, I didn’t actually realize that this is what happens.”

These are the experiences we share with one another. “This is what you should do when you go to this place” or “Make sure to travel in a group.” We need to be able to have a source of knowledge for generations to come. We hope that one day our children won’t even have to worry about the things we experience while traveling today.

Black Travel Summit

How do you plan to take the Black Travel Summit event this month beyond the now-standard “virtual event” experience?

What I enjoy most about events is being able to network with people. Going in, getting some goodies, enjoying the hors d’oeuvres, just enjoying the overall energy. Now, of course, we can’t bring that same exact experience to life in a virtual setting, but we can do our best.

One of our breakout sessions, for example, is being hosted by Anela Malik; a foodie blogger who will be creating an internationally inspired dish for viewers to follow along or just enjoy watching. We also have another breakout session with Fabienne Claude, an expert yogi who will be leading individuals that wish to partake in raising their energy while also increasing their level of relaxation.

We are proud that a number of organizations discussing destination management will also be joining us. These include Seychelles Tourism Board and the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau, who will give destination overviews, so that when it is safe enough to travel again, attendees can learn what to expect. For example, the Seychelles Tourism Board is going to be including performances as part of their segment in addition to sharing experiences by American travelers of color.

Something we’re adding that we’re extremely excited about, is an influencer brunch to bring a little bit more fun outside of the important conversations.

We’re really just trying to create a space where individuals can exchange ideas, and networking is super-important so we had to make sure to choose a platform that allows attendees to interact with one another.

In addition to everything, we’re giving away free gift boxes to our VIP ticket-holders that include three Black-owned retails brands targeting travelers of color: Black Travel BoxRealm Concept Market, and Pure Khemia. We’ve also partnered with a lot of great Black travel brands like Up In The Air LifeBlack Travel GramYacht Week East Africa and others.

The last thing worth mentioning is that we’ve partnered with Hyatt Hotels, which is part of our goal to connect the Black travel community with the overarching travel industry.

All this to say that we have a lot to offer and we want to offer a lot to our audience.

Looking ahead five years, what would you like to see changed in the travel industry?

I hope that within the next five years, the Black travel community overall has become so integrated in the travel industry that we’ll no longer have to look hard for ourselves in advertising campaigns; whether it’s on billboards, TV, or magazines. Even just not needing to scale the entire internet to find a royalty-free image of people of color — including the need to type “person of color traveling” into the search bar.

Hopefully we’ll be so integrated that we can see ourselves on the first page of Google just by typing traveler!

Representation is important, because this is one thing that prevents a lot of people of color from traveling. If you don’t see somebody who looks like you, there’s almost a subconscious thought that makes you assume, “Maybe people like me don’t travel. Maybe that means I can’t travel. Maybe it’s impossible for me to travel.”

Aside from those already mentioned, I would like to thank the following for their participation in the development of our upcoming “Movement” webinar:

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