Tour Companies Aim to Boost Diversity Through Training and Funding

Pathways is a group effort — initial investment came from the TreadRight Foundation, the Travel Corporation’s nonprofit arm, and funds are managed through the nonprofit Tourism Cares. New York City-based TripSchool, which builds online and in-person courses for tour guides and tour operators and last year launched a diversity initiative, is providing the curriculum.

“It’s been an open secret that if you look around at conventions, hiring conferences, or even internally at staff and independent contractors of companies, you don’t see much diversity,” said Mitch Bach, TripSchool’s chief executive. “There are a lot of diversity initiatives out there, but this is something that has never existed in group travel until now.”

Other group tour organizers are also making strides: Intrepid Travel last year launched a new marketing policy that involves a series of inclusivity pledges, including ensuring that at least half of its partner creators and influencers were Black, Indigenous or people of color; companies like Outdoor Afro are encouraging the Black community to connect to nature.

And the adventure cruising outfitter Hurtigruten Expeditions has created a six-person Black traveler advisory board, offering each member a $5,000 consulting fee, as well as a matched donation to an organization of their choice that supports Black travelers. In February, the group traveled together to Antarctica, where they held sessions on marketing to, and investing in, Black travelers.

While these may be the first organized, mainstream efforts to tackle the lack of diversity on group tours, Black tour guides have been operating for decades amid a growing Black travel sector. Black travelers in the United States spent nearly $130 billion on leisure travel, both domestic and international, in 2019. But Black travelers face unique challenges. The tourism marketing agency MMGY Global reports that concerns of both safety and representation weigh heavy on Black travelers.

“It’s not that Black tour guides aren’t there, they just aren’t getting the recognition that they deserve,” said Martinique Lewis, a diversity-in-travel consultant who serves as president of the Black Travel Alliance, a nonprofit launched in 2020 to hold travel brands accountable to their claims of diversity and inclusion (she is a member of Hurtigruten’s advisory board, as well). “They’re not the ones the travel publications put on their big list, and not the ones that destinations use when you go to their site. But there are multiple tours around the world that cater to a different narrative than one of the European background.”

Tashieka Brewer, a publicist who lives in New Jersey, began aggregating many of those tours on a website, Pink Girls Run The World, after growing frustrated with her own group travel experiences, including hearing a fellow traveler on a plantation tour in New Orleans who questioned whether African Americans had actually been held as slaves. She also links to Airbnb postings, restaurants and hotels that have been recommended as welcoming to Black travelers, and blogs about her own travel experiences.

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