There are few places on God’s green earth where Black people haven’t been. “Our travel history didn’t begin with the transatlantic slave trade,” says Ursula Petula Barzey, Co-Founder, Board Member & Research Committee Chair for Black Travel Alliance. “Our ancestors traveled to all corners of the globe for leisure and business.”
Today that tradition carries on with Black people across the diaspora journeying out to places both familiar and foreign, in search of new and exciting experiences. In 2019, the last year of regular travel pre-COVID, Black people from the United States, Canada, France, Germany, Ireland and the United Kingdom, spent a staggering $159.5 billion on domestic and international travel, according to The Black Traveler: Insights, Opportunities & Priorities report conducted by Black Travel Alliance, a consortium of Black travel content creators. Barzey says the numbers confirm what has been known—the Black travel moment spans several countries and continents and continues to grow.
Though the travel industry as a whole is experiencing a disruption, the demand for leisure travel is still there. And a majority of Black adventure seekers want their experiences to be rooted in culture. Last summer, BTA, in partnership with Tourism RESET, an initiative that seeks to attain greater social responsibility in the representation of African American heritage throughout the tourism industry, launched TheHistoryofBlackTravel.com, a website that outlines more than 130 timelines in Black travel, as well as guides Black travelers to historical sites and Black experiences.
Barzey believes that websites like the History Of Black Travel are needed to “help fill in the gaps and create awareness of Black travel stories through the centuries.” She asserts that it’s not only important for students and those in academic environments, but also for consumers and travel industry professionals, “many of whom don’t seem to be aware of the many Black travel pioneers, explorers, influencers, and historical moments that played a significant role in shaping travel.” Barzey adds that “increased awareness helps with product development and supports the call for greater diversity and inclusion in the travel industry.”
Members of the BTA and Tourism RESET see the new website as a living document and are hoping to get the public’s help in constructing the platform that will eventually include twelve main categories— accommodations, explorers, groundbreakers, and leisure travel developments spotlighting cultural sites and tours, festivals and major events, outdoor activities, food and drink, retail, and wellness—to help viewers focus on different aspects of Black travel throughout various eras, locations, and decades.
At launch, much of the content related to the United States, but the partners plan to build it out to include the entire African diaspora across the globe. Barzey says this includes stories from the Caribbean, South America, and elsewhere. “Our history has primarily been passed down through oral storytelling,” she says, “and it's time to document it for future generations.”