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Back to Black - African American Tourism

Back to Black - African American Tourism
Author: Hayleigh Redman
3 Commentries
Back to Black - African American Tourism

The aim of this discussion is to analyse the travel choices and motivations of the African American tourist. The African American market is one of the top three fastest growing markets in the travel industry which generates roughly $40 billion per year (Sylvester 2008). There is "a growing number of inquiries and growing amount of business from the African American community" (Sylvester 2008).

Tourists have a heterogeneous nature when it comes to their motivations (Cohen, 1972; Plog, 1974; and Dann, 1977), an individual tourist doesn't have one single motivation but in fact multiple ones. These motivations can be based on the tourist personality, what they enjoy visiting and the type of activity they will be participating in.
The majority of African American tourists look for specific criteria when they plan to travel. The main one being the ancestral history of African American people, in particular the slave trade which has many emotional ties to African Americans. Bruner (1996), records that African Americans become 'very emotional' when they return back to their ancestral homeland.

Ethnicity is also a factor for tourists' motivations to travel. The common form is for individuals to get an understanding of different cultures and way of life (Harron & Weiler, 1992; Smith, 1989; Van den Berghe & Keyes, 1984). King notes "the other and less frequent use of the term ethnic tourism is where it applies to travel movements whose primary motivation is ethnic reunion" (1994:173-4). Specialised 'ethnic reunion' markets are a big economic pull for many regions which can supply a unique experience to its consumers (Davidoff et al 1995). Many high street travel agencies do not cater for specific African American tours; therefore there is a need for specialised agencies. These agencies cater for the needs of African Americans, which are different to the mass tourists.

Discrimination is a huge influencing factor to consider when discussing race and tourism, as the outcome can be unpredictable, whilst on holiday safety and security is of the upmost importance, tourists are less likely to travel to areas which pose a threat to their safety. Before black people were socially accepted in society, discrimination and racism was a reason for them not to travel.

This history of African American travel agents began in the early 50's with the first travel agents opening in America. In 2000 African Americans made up 12.8% of the US population (US Department of Commerce 2001) however only 3.6% if these were business owners (Brimmer 1998). These statistics represent that few African Americans participate in business ownership; those that do have to work harder than most to survive. The reasons for this can include lack of available credit (Hisrich and Brush 1986), racial discrimination (Delaney 1998 and Kanter 1977) and racially segregated markets (Cummings 1997).
Primary research for this paper is a content analysis of 5 African American travel websites. It is clear from these websites that the most popular destinations for African American tourists seem to be Brazil and the Caribbean, followed by the USA, Italy, Paris, Mexico, Africa and London.

Brazil was advertised as a destination on all of the websites which were analysed, this is due to the fact that Brazil has the largest population of Africans in the world outside of Africa, this means that any visiting African Americans will feel safe and secure here and they are less likely to face any discrimination. Also Brazil imported African slaves to work in the country, this emphasises the point that ethnic reunion is a key pull factor for many tourists. African Americans can reunite with many areas related to the slave trade and their countries of origin. The other destinations mentioned are part of the westernised world; they are more cosmopolitan in nature and form (Dann 1993), their culture will be socially accepted and most countries off ties to their heritage. This is one incentive why African American's travel to more westernised countries, there is less chance of personal conflict.
A common theme advertised on the websites was African American tours, the majority focusing on returning back to the homeland (Africa), these tours are well organised with the majority being from an African American background. These tours allow for large amounts of African Americans to be in the same place, here they will feel socially accepted within the group and safe and secure. All factors which are important for travelling African Americans.

Although there is a limited amount of literature on this topic, some key conclusions were drawn from this; emotional ties with ethnic background and the history of ancestors is a major influence for African Americans to travel, the websites have developed and diversified to reflect the changing needs of the African American market (shown by the choice of destinations advertised, not only historically relevant but also predominately westernised areas). The advantage that these companies have over others is that they are internet based; they are attracting a wider market audience thus ensuring their survival. As long as these websites continue to adapt to the growing African American market their success will continue to grow.


Hisrich, R. and C. Brush 1986 . Characteristics of the Minority Entrepreneur. Journal of Small Business
Management (October):1-8.

King, B. (1994)What is ethnic tourism? An Australian perspective. Tourism Management 15 (3), 173-6.

Plog, S. C. (1974). Why destination areas rise and fall in popularity. Cornell Hotel and Restaurant Administration Quarterly, February (pp. 55-58).

Back to the roots
Author: Stefanie Ullrich
Your conference paper about African-American tourism is of big interest to me, though I was about to chose this topic for my own paper at the beginning but decided differently during the research. However, my final conference paper shows quite a few similarities as I discussed ancestral tourism concerning the Irish-Americans.

It was interesting to read your well-structured paper and being able to identify some parallels between the two different groups of tourists regarding origin and their history. You started your paper by identifying the tourist motivations and came to the same conclusion which my paper discusses, that ancestral history and family background has become more crucial when stating travel reasons (Santos and Yan, 2010). Moreover, you mentioned the growing impact of ethnicity, which already Stephenson claimed to be one of the main travel motivations (2002). Knowing about origin and ethnicity has become a central part of our present society. Moreover, in our fast-moving and high-tech spoiled society the meaning of being a family and affiliation to a community or group has grown remarkable. That is why genealogy has raised more and more attention especially during the last decades (Santos and Yan, 2010).

An interesting fact which you have established was the lack of specified travel agencies for African-Americans. Already Josiam and Frazier (2008) stated that there is a big opportunity for tour operator to expand this section tremendously if they define their business according to demographic aspects as age or nationalities.

In addition, this kind of travelling shows a great impact on tourism numbers though it can be stated that at the same time tourist numbers grew with the increasing research of genealogists (Santos and Yan, 2010). A special characteristic which this niche segment offers is, amongst others, that ancestral tourism is limited to certain countries. In your case, those are countries with African-American history considering the issues of slave trade whereas Ireland and Scotland are the main destinations for genealogical tourism in Europe (Novelli, 2005).

You claimed that the main reason for visiting Brazil is that the majority of the population belongs to the African heritage. This fact seems logic in some extend, due to the aspect that African-Americans may not have to deal with the same amount of conflicts or discrimination which may occur in other countries. However, it would be interesting to know, if there are other motivations as well or if it can be argued that because of the high percentage of black population, less tourists travel to Brazil who are not related to African roots. In addition, the question may arise if African-Americans only travel to countries where they are part of the majority and therefore exclude themselves automatically. This discussion could go further and claim that those specified tour operators then need to be careful with the destinations they choose.

To sum it up, I can say that you arouse interest and the readers' curiosity at the same time in order to gain more information about African-American tourism.

Novelli, M. (2005): Niche tourism: contemporary issues, trends and cases. Burlington: Butterworth-Heinemann.

Santos, C. and Yan, G. (2010): Genealogical Tourism: a phenomenological examination. Journal of Travel Research. 49 (1). pp. 56-67

Stephenson, M. (2002): Travelling to the ancestral homelands: the aspirations and experiences of a UK Caribbean community. Current issues in Tourism. 5 (5). pp. 378-425.

Past's strong hold on African American travel!?
Author: Jenni Heiman
I found this discussion paper to raise many good points with regard to African American tourism which also relates to my own secondary research basis on the connection between ethnicity and tourism. Ethnic ties of African Americans to their ancestral land have been noticed to have a strong influence on their holiday choice, many African Americans wanting to visit their roots to confirm and strengthen their identity in the society. In the USA organised tours, to cotton fields and plantations where many of the African slaves worked, are arranged. Trips to these places by African Americans have been said to increase the understanding of their cultural foundations in America.

Mass holiday packages have not been that successful amongst African Americans as they are looking for different kinds of experiences which usually involve gaining knowledge about their history. It has been noted that the appeal of sun, sea and sand holidays is not as strong amongst African Americans as they do not have the need to get a sun tan unlike white westerners. What also may put off African Americans from travelling to mass holiday destinations is that in travel brochures they are represented more as native attractions than as tourists.

African American ethnic reunions can be labelled under VFR travel, meeting familiar or like-minded people generally increases the feeling of security and safety which are important factors for travelling African Americans who are still discriminated in many ways in the western society. Scholars have written that sometimes even African American customers consider Black-owned businesses to be less reliable and capable than White-owned businesses. As a result of this internal racism and racial disloyalty the sales numbers of Black travel agents have been low; hence there has been a need amongst Black travel agents to expand their businesses to cover white customer segments as well.

The primary research finding, concerning the most popular destinations marketed to African Americans, was an interesting one. Brazil as a major African American destination was not the first destination which came to mind when thinking about African American 'roots travel', but the travel patterns may be influenced by the proximity of the destination as well, because the prices can be lower for South American destinations than African destinations and quicker, easier and safer to reach from the USA. Bus tours were common when African Americans first started travelling, bus as a travel mode was perceived safe then and that may be the case still today.

To sum up, this paper deals well with issues relating to the growing African American travel market which can represent a booming customer segment in the years to come. The fact that discrimination has made African Americans avoid travelling is a vital issue as discrimination can have a long-lasting influence on travel behaviour. Further research on this topic could take into consideration e.g. how African hosts are affected by returning African American relatives?
Blacks' travel - How separated from the majority should they be?
Author: Heli Raudaskoski
I chose to comment on this paper as the topic is linked to mine on ethnic minorities. The paper is well structured, well researched and gives the reader a good overview of the different dynamics of African American tourism.

So, why do blacks' travelling behaviour differ to whites'? I have introduced Washburne's (1978, cited in Klemm, 2002) marginality-ethnicity framework in my discussion paper. The framework is considered as a comprehensive benchmark for literature on race and ethnicity in the context of their leisure behaviour. According to the framework blacks' often belong to a lower class and have a lower income than the white majority. Therefore they cannot afford to go on holidays and are not considered as potential customers (marginality dimension). Washburne also claims that the ways people travel are learned and determined by upbringing and cultural identity (ethnicity dimension).

The framework proves that poverty, discrimination and cultural influences are all important determinants of majority-minority differences. The differences are explained by socioeconomic reasons, without considering the differences between groups within minorities. Washburne's framework has faced a lot of critique as well; as discussed in my discussion paper. (Floyd, 1998) However, it is one of the theoretical "bases" given us to understand blacks' travel behaviour.

Like introduced in this paper, discrimination is another major factor affecting blacks' travelling. Prior to the 1960s, and before the federal civil rights legislation was adopted in the US, the most common form of travelling for the few blacks taking holidays were group trips to regional destinations by land-based transportation. Therefore the risks for racial acts against the African-Americans were minimised. Popular destinations included Orlando, Atlanta (where the Black amenities are located), New York and Niagara Falls (Brunn et al, 2002).

Since then however, blacks' have started travelling to destinations such as Africa and the Caribbean (Brunn et al, 2002), to maintain the "social, economical and cultural ties" with their countries of origin (Grillo, 2008) On the other hand, some African-Americans today choose Europe as a primary destination today (Brunn et al, 2002). These findings agree with the author's research on African-American websites.

Urry (1990, p. 142-3) suggested that UK immigrants would more likely conceive whites' obsession to darken their skins and increase the risk of acquiring skin cancer idiosyncratic. Asian and black minority members are likely to feel perplexed and excluded to the typical British seaside holidays that are very popular within western whites. According to Urry, immigrants would prefer to travel with a more serious purpose than that; travelling that involves finding work, visiting or joining family and relatives.

One thing that puzzled me in this paper was the author's suggestion that the travel agents researched were internet based, and therefore have an advantage over other agencies. I would think that most of today's travel agents are online? Also, is there prove that these travel agents are successful? Even though a need for African-American tour operators has been recognised, is the demand big enough for operating successful business?

All in all, I have found this an interesting discussion topic.


Brunn, S. D, Butler, D. L. & Carter, P. L. (2002) African-American Travel Agents: Travais and Survival. Annals of Tourism Research. 29 (4) pp. 1022-1035.

Floyd, M. F.; Boracco, J. N. & Thompson, T. D. (2008) Research on race and ethnicity in leisure studies: a review of five major journals. Journal of Leisure Research. 40 (1) pp. 1-22.

Grillo, R. (2008) Family in QWuestion: Immigrant and Ethnic Minorities in Multicultural Europe. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press. [E-book]. Available at: http://site.ebrary.com/lib/ulincoln/docDetail.action?docID=1030266. [Accessed at 21/04/10].

Klemm, M. (2002) Tourism and Ethnic Minorities in Bradford: The Invisible Segment. Journal of Travel Research. 41 pp. 85-91.

Urry, J. (1990) The Tourist Gaze: leisure and travel in contemporary societies, London: Sage.