African American travelers contributed $63 billion to the tourism economy in 2018, this is a staggering number, a number that Martinique Lewis justly feels should motivate brands to spend more time and money catering to this demographic. While Lewis, a former fashion designer, always loved to travel, it was a realization of the lack of representation that led her to turn her passion into a profession.
"I wanted them to know that 70 percent of multicultural travelers are more likely to spend money with brands in which they see themselves reflected," she said when speaking of her desire to see companies use diversity and inclusion as a driving force behind how they spend their resources. Unfortunately, there is much work to be done in that regard, as when referencing the amount of revenue dedicated towards this lucrative demographic, she says: "we are reflected in less than 3% in tourism ads and promotion…it makes you wonder."
Odyssey Media caught up with Martinique to speak about her passion, and discuss areas in which major travel organizations have room to improve.
“Originally when I got started, I was focused on black travel, that is until I went to the Women in Travel Summit, put on by Wanderful,” she said. “I saw a lot of people who didn’t look like me and realized that they also felt left out because no one cared about what they thought either. This sparked my love for diversity, which isn’t limited to race. We need to think about the blind, those with mobility issues, plus-sized travelers, LGBTQ, families, transgenders, the list goes on.”
Lewis points out that while there is currently increased awareness about diversity and inclusion, there still needs to be systemic and structural change if companies hope to align with these influential demographics. Referring to the current climate in which corporations are beginning to emphasize diversity and inclusion, she said: “Sadly, with George Floyd, it took a tragedy,” adding that: “Diversity and inclusion are not just buzzwords, they are a call to action. People care now because people are looking at them. There are a lot of old white men in the industry and they need to hire people who look different.”
To that end, she points out: "A lot of travel brands posted black squares on their social media for #BlackoutTuesday, but when you see their senior staff and board members, along with the imagery they use, there is no diversity."
Now while as president of the Black Travel Alliance, Martinique can speak with authority on the subject of diversity, but it has not always been easy. When starting out, she found that while companies desired to benefit from minorities and multicultural travelers, there was little willingness to pay for her advice. Fortunately, she was able to use her know-how and networking skills to create a brand with measurable results, noting: "Brands don’t necessarily care that you have 10,000 followers from California, but they do want to know that the director of tourism in Albuquerque is commenting on your posts."
Referring to her foundational early days, she points out: “I created the diversity in travel report card which you can find on my website, for brands who knew there was a problem, but didn't know how to change. We knew there was a problem but didn’t know how to start. Instead of calling brands out, I wanted to give case studies so they could see other brands who were getting it right. These are blueprints for what the industry should be doing. Since June (2020) there are more reports like this, which I think is great.”
While a strong core belief guides her business, Martinique still manages to focus on the bottom line, tying together social responsibility and a financial benefit to organizations that choose to heed her advice. Her LinkedIn page has nearly 3,000 followers, while her website shows the verifiable results of her case studies, showing the quantifiable impact of catering to multicultural travelers.
While a great deal of the travel discussion revolves around race, it is important to reiterate that Lewis's focus is not limited to skin color, “We need to hold the travel industry accountable,” she said. "Are you conscious of how close you put a Muslim family to the restaurant during Ramadan? Is the pool wheelchair accessible? Do you hire black and brown people for more than housekeeping positions? All these factors matter, and until companies tackle these issues the industry will continue to have a problem."
Thankfully, Martinique is determined to make a difference and work towards the change she desires to see. “This is what I go to sleep and wake up thinking about. This doesn’t feel like a job,” she said. Continuing: “I am here to represent everyone and be their voice.”