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Appealing to the African Diaspora

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6 min read

The ‘African Diaspora’ refers to a collection of communities descended from people dispersed from sub-Saharan Africa during the Transatlantic Slave Trades between the 1500s and 1800s. This diaspora took millions of people from Africa to different regions throughout the Americas, the Caribbean – and across the globe.

African American travel now represents a $63 billion opportunity for destinations, according to 2018 Mandala Research. However, for far too long conversations around the African Diaspora traveller has been limited to opportunity and potential – without action, and it’s often focused on the US market which, large as it may be, is not wholly representative of the geographically-distributed Diaspora.

This was one of the central messages highlighted in Africa Travel Week’s latest virtual masterclass, Better understand and reach the African Diaspora traveller. In other words, when you focus on the African Diaspora you need to understand that it encompasses people from all over the world, all with diverse backgrounds and a vast spectrum of preferences and interests.

In the words of masterclass moderator, Naledi K. Khabo, CEO of Africa Tourism Association: “The African Diaspora is all things. We enjoy cultural activities; we are luxury travellers; we are adventure travellers; we have accessibility needs; we are members of the LGBTQ+ community; we are baby boomers; we are millennials; and the list goes on and on.”

How can South African tourism establishments and SMMEs appeal to the African diaspora traveller? Writer Emily Djock says Africa Travel Week’s panel of experts had the following advice:

Use a diverse range of images and ‘voices’ in your marketing material

According to the panel, travel marketing originating from Black voices, writers and advisors is so important because the travel experience is inextricably linked to the identity and perspective of the traveller. Whether they’re male or female, able-bodied or differently-abled, extrovert or introvert, and indeed, Black or any other race – you are going to experience a destination differently.

Paula Franklin, Co-founder of Franklin Bailey, says that more travel writing needs to address the fact that not everyone shares the same travel experience. She gives one such example from travel writer Sebastian Modak, who is Indian and Colombian. “He writes a lot about how his perspective is just different. For instance, when you read about Morocco, the market is hectic and you’re going to get badgered by the shop owners. But if you look like us, it’s not the same experience,” she says of Modak’s insights.

In another example, Franklin points to marketing materials which can often be visually alienating towards the African Diaspora. “Especially in the African safari space, if we could just move away from Black waiter, older white couple [image].” She acknowledges that while this may be the reality in some places, tourism needs to allow different perspectives to tell the story of a destination. And visuals are key. “Throw some colour into your marketing material. Advertise in a few Black-owned media companies. Pay a few Black influencers.” She says that it doesn’t actually need to take a lot of effort, just a more considered approach.

Connect through the right channels

A lack of Black voices in traditional travel marketing and media means that Black travellers have turned their attention elsewhere, namely social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook and even Twitter. It’s easier to find images and content that reflect what Black travellers want to see online, but there is differentiation across these platforms as well. Instagram and its cohort of influencers trend younger, while Facebook attracts an older crowd. Make sure you are using the right platforms for rich, diverse storytelling – and make sure you’re inclusive of people of colour and other marginalised voices, including LGBTQ+ and differently abled. Of course, traditional media needs to get in on the action, including a lot more stories by Black writers in travel magazines.

Manage and expand expectations

Resonating with the African Diaspora traveller with visual representation and storytelling is about more than just marketing though. This is because the first images or accounts of a destination to which a prospective traveller is introduced, already begin to shape their expectations about the place, its culture, people, and how they will be welcomed there. 

Here is where the travel experience actually begins, and the problem lies in the fact that these first introductions may not be representative of how a Black traveller would experience the destination. 

Having the right resources and outlets to help manage expectations prior to travel is crucial. This also serves to expand expectations and break down stereotypes about African destinations.

David Elikwu, Founder of Democratic Republic of Coffee and Baba’s Flight Club, says that travellers are often set in their views of what travel in Africa means. “If you only internalise what you’ve been told about a particular African country, you can miss out on a lot,” says Elikwu. He believes there is important work to do in showing the immense diversity that the continent has to offer in terms of experiences, and it begins with building a local network on the ground in these destinations.

Likewise, Franklin, who is a mother of two, says it is important to explain to children beforehand what to expect. She prepares her own daughters with context around the history, culture and people in a destination before they travel. But she also has to be prepared for the inevitable questions as her daughters get older around why they’re the only Black family at a hotel or on a tour.

Support guests to travel with intentionality

Mimi Mmabatho Selemela, Curator and Director at MM CONNECT and designer of the Johannesburg Experience for Travel Noire, says that working with Black-owned businesses throughout the value chain does matter to some clients, and being intentional with travel spend can make a big difference in the long run.

While supporting Black-owned businesses or smaller local suppliers is one way that the African Diaspora can travel with intentionality, it really comes down to delivering on that fundamental aspect of travel – connection. This will mean different things for different people, but the travel industry can take steps towards making the African Diaspora traveller feel more connected to Africa, through its destinations, people and authentic, local experiences.

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