People & Stories

This is why representation matters in the travel industry

Recently updated on April 30th, 2024 at 01:13 pm

In the world of travel, representation plays a crucial role in enriching experiences and fostering inclusivity. To learn more about the importance of representation in travel, we spoke to four US-based BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) travel agents – Athena, Gail and couple Joe and Tilly – who recently went on a tailor-made trip to Vienna and Budapest. 

The aim of the trip was for the travel agents to familiarise themselves with these destinations and be able to share their knowledge and experiences with their clients back in the US, many of whom haven’t traveled to Europe before or are cautious about it, often due to a lack of representation in travel media for BIPOC travelers.

Here are some of the insights shared by Athena, Gayle, Joe and Tilly about the importance of representation in the travel industry.

Get inspired by their trip to Europe: Prague Vienna and Budapest

What does representation mean to you?

Athena: Number one, this trip. Looking around and seeing 20+ people that look like me, and visiting cities like Prague, Budapest and Vienna, is everything. I’ve been to Europe a couple of times and let’s be frank; people of color don’t always visit those places so coming here and being with a group of people that look just like me is nice, especially because we’re a sea of folks in an area where they don’t seem to be too used to seeing us. So it’s actually been really nice with this group of people because it’s letting me know, look, we can come here too.

Gayle: I would describe representation as when travelers can go to a destination no matter what they look like, they can blend in together and there’s no surprise to see one versus another. We’re all humans as a presence, as opposed to different nationalities at a destination.

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Athena - travel agent
Athena wants other people of color to feel they can travel to Europe

How important is representation in the travel industry?

Joe: It is vitally important. Critically important. We’re at that position now where not just our demographic but other demographics (people of color) will have an opportunity to experience things outside of the Caribbean for instance, or Alaska or Hawaii. It’s important to know there are many wonderful experiences around the world especially here in Europe. We’re working on a trip for the end of the year that will allow Black travelers to experience those things around the world.

Do you feel represented by the travel industry on a whole?

Gayle: Currently no. It’s getting there. I think that work has to come from the travel industry which is so used to a Caucasian and European mindset, but I think it’s starting to realise the importance and value of the fact that people of color do travel, they travel a lot and I think that area is being more represented and respected when the travel industry realises we do travel a lot.

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Gail - travel agent
Gayle believes the travel industry has improved on its representation of people of color

Has a lack of representation affected your desire to travel to Europe?

Gayle: Europe is always the place that everyone wants to go to, first of all. When you think of Europe you always think of Spain, France, Italy, and I think moving further east to places such as Hungary, Czech Republic or Austria expands that understanding that there are places in Europe other than those basic types of places we all know.

Athena: Absolutely. It’s the fear of the unknown. I feel like, myself included, this is not one of the places that I would have just said, “oh let me go visit”. So I feel like a lot of other travelers feel the same way too. But I’m glad that I came because I can now, with personal experience, tell other people that you have to go, you’ll miss out if you don’t.

How have you felt traveling around Europe?

Tilly: Oh fine, safe, comfortable, very comfortable.

Joe: Quite honestly, I really like it a lot. Over the last 24 months we’ve been to Paris, Budapest, Vienna, Germany, Munich and several other places here in Europe. We just got back from Rome, we went to Marseilles several times, also to Nice and Barcelona. So we’re well traveled here in Europe and to be quite honest it’s a very wonderful, self fulfilling kind of experience where we get to experience the cuisine, the people, the culture… Everything is really really nice.

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Joe and Tilly - travel agents
Joe and Tilly want to encourage people of color to see more of the world

What was your favorite part of the trip?

Tilly: I’ve enjoyed meeting like-minded people, other travel agency owners and travel advisors, and the experiences that Trafalgar has given to us on this trip, I’ve really enjoyed.

Joe: One of things that I’ve really enjoyed is having an opportunity to travel with like-minded professionals. The advisors that are here with us have the same desires I do, and that is to introduce our guests to the Black experience in Europe. Trafalgar has taken that step to move forward to make sure that different tours, museums and things like that are included to address the contributions made by Black travelers and Black professionals around the world.

Athena: I love architecture and art so that has been the best thing. The buildings, the structures, the metals… I like all of that and coming here first hand to see it and being able to compare it with some of the other cities that I’ve been to has been amazing. That and my new tribe, because I now have 20+ cousins that I can say I have now. I already have plans with like three different people. I’m going to visit somebody in Tennessee, I’m going to visit somebody in Jacksonville and there are about four people from where I live in Maryland, so we already have plans for when I get back.

Gayle: The thing that has surprised me the most on this trip is the family feeling. Some of them knew each other previously, but I didn’t know anyone on this trip, and I now have a handful of people who feel like they are friends, and we’ve already decided will stay in touch with each other, assist each other, and plan group trips with Trafalgar to go places in the future. 

Representation in the travel industry

Athena, Gayle, Joe and Tilly all shared similar sentiments about the importance of BIPOC travelers seeing themselves represented in the travel industry, and how visibility helps inspire more people to travel and helps ensure all customers feel welcomed, safe and considered when traveling. For many, especially those from underrepresented groups, this visibility can be empowering and motivating, encouraging them to explore new destinations they might not have considered before.

Representation in the travel industry also goes beyond just visibility. It’s about contributing diverse perspectives that shape travel experiences to be more inclusive.

Leon Burnette has been working to close that opportunity gap and reduce hiring inequalities in the travel industry by actively recruiting BIPOC and minority women to become travel professionals. He’s the driving force behind the Tourism Pathways Project, which provides students with the cost-effective tourism training programs they need to become tour directors, guides and company owners.  

Developed by the Media Arts Institute of Alabama and supported by Tourism Cares, TreadRight, The Travel Corporation, and the TripSchool, the project is pivotal in diversifying the voices in travel and tourism.

You can read more about the initiative in this interview with Leon Burnette and in this article: March in their footsteps: The powerful Trafalgar tour that traces America’s Black History

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