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African American travelers spent $63 billion on leisure travel in 2018, up from $48 billion in 2010.
But, thumb through a typical travel magazine and you’ll find content largely limited to aspirational images of young white men and women, with straight teeth and eviable muscle tone, pondering mountain sunsets, gliding kayaks through tropical waters, or modeling wrinkle-free travel pants.
Newsstand, online, in-flight, even social media influencer-created—it doesn’t seem to matter—the content is the same, largely created for a very narrow definition of white business, leisure, or family travelers.
But conventional travel content creators, be warned. Serial entrepreneur Martinique Lewis is coming for your bland millennial travel clichés.
As a sought-after travel consultant, President of the Black Travel Alliance, and published travel guidebook author, Martinique Lewis challenges brands on their comfy position within the stale status quo.
She also educates potential allies on recognizing their privilege and how they can become better partners, all while traveling 270 days out of every year.
And just when I’m thinking she’s all business, Martinique informs me that she never misses Trinidad’s annual Carnival, but admits with a laugh, “My itinerary is packed. So it’s not really a resting holiday.”
I caught up with Martinique this month from London to discuss who’s getting straight A’s on her annual travel industry diversity report card, what travelers of color actually want to read, and why, after nine different product launches, this time she’s all in on her ABC (All Black Content) Travel Greenbook.
Martinique Lewis was recently awarded the Trailblazer Award at the 2020 Bessie Awards, the travel industry awards presented by Wanderful
Q: So obviously, Black and other persons of color travel. Why do you think the disconnect in travel media representation continues to exist?
Martinique: I think brands don’t want to market to Black and Brown people, as if our travel dollars don’t matter, as if we don’t spend the same amount, even though we do.
They’re afraid they’ll rock the boat if they show a Black kid, or a white male who’s in a wheelchair, or a plus-size Indian blogger.
They think that they’re going to lose customers because they’re showing diversity.
But then you have to ask the question, do you want that type of customer coming to your place anyways? Someone who doesn’t celebrate diversity?
Also, brands may think, “Well, if I know my target market is 70% white families, why am I going to show a Black or Filipino family?” My response is, so you can tap into markets that you normally have not tapped into.
Q. How else are the traditional platforms, like mainstream magazines and larger brands, failing the BIPOC travel community?
Martinique: They don’t include safety information ever. As Black travelers, we always look up if any racism has happened there lately.
Also, when I travel, I always try to find the minority communities. It doesn’t matter if they’re Black, brown, or orange, I always try to seek them out ahead of time so that I can find the neighborhoods when I’m there.
These aren’t places that you’re going to find in regular travel blogs, but those are the restaurants that I want to eat at, those are the events I want to go to.
Those are my two biggest things: Am I going to be safe, and where are the people who look like me?
Q. Are there any travel brands that are doing diversity and inclusion right?
Martinique: Absolutely. Before COVID hit, Norwegian Airlines was always my go-to brand. They have a North American communications manager named Anders Lindström, who is so serious about the Black and Asian travelers, making sure that they were reflected and felt wanted by Norwegian Airlines. He has always gone above and beyond in campaigns. He has always showed up to any of our events. He has always given money. He has always given tickets, and he has really helped put on a lot of Black and Asian content creators who would have normally been ignored by other airlines. He made sure to market to these communities and give them a chance to create great relationships with a major airline.
Also, every year, I release a Diversity in Travel Report Card. And that does really well within the industry. Many people share that, then people come to my website.
Then they reach out to ask, “Listen, we want to be able to do that. How much would it cost?” or “Can you come help diversify our marketing scheme?” The Diversity in Travel Report Card has gotten so much press and people caring. The first year, it didn’t do as well, but this year they were waiting on it.
Q. Travel wasn’t your first career. Can you describe your entrepreneurial journey?
Martinique: I went to school for fashion and was in the industry for six or seven years. I switched over to travel recently but if it wasn’t for that degree, I would have never been exposed to international business.
I studied abroad my senior year at the London College of Fashion. That’s when I really got exposed to doing things on an international level.
I remember thinking, “Wow, the world is so different, but yet there’s so many things that bring us together by common interests.”
Ever since then, my love for London has fueled my travel passion, period. Once I got here I could travel to so many places for cheap. I started to really understand the world outside of North America, South America and the Caribbean.
After I graduated from North Carolina A&T, I went to The Savannah College of Art and Design, where I got a MFA in luxury and fashion management. Then I was a professor for a year and a half. After that, I went into fashion marketing and social media influencer management.
Then, I had my own clothing line for a while, where I made customized kids clothes for NFL players and basically anybody who played professional sports.
It’s so funny—with the Greenbook, this is the ninth thing in my life people have seen me release. They’re like, “Ah, this is the one!” They’ve bought cutoff shorts from me. They have bought children’s clothes from me. They’ve bought Snapchat filters from me. They have done online branding classes with me and now, they have the ABC Travel Greenbook with me.
They have seen me launch a million products and have a million different brands, but this is the one that I am most passionate about.
The other projects were forced—it was me trying to figure out how to make money, but it wasn’t driven by a passion of mine. Fashion is my skill, but travel is really my passion, and that was the difference right there. This is the industry that I see myself being in for the rest of my life.
Also, I’ve always been as entrepreneurial as I can be. I’ve positioned myself in this space to be the diversity in travel expert, and that is what I’m known for.
I made the lane, so really, I’m one of one as of right now.
Almost everybody comes to me, which is great because now I’m able to delegate out to my colleagues, because I can’t take everything at once. It feels good for somebody to pay you to come and speak, because it is your knowledge, and if they had the knowledge themselves, then they wouldn’t need you.
Q. Now that it’s published, what’s been the response to the ABC Travel Greenbook?
Martinique: I was very hard on myself in the beginning, but then I had to remind myself that this book will be published far beyond when I die.
This is just volume one. It comes out every year. There’ll be the next volume, then the next volume, then the next volume. Just like Victor Hugo Green. He ran his book [The Negro Motorist Green Book] for 30 years.
And with the open and closing of businesses, and then just finding more Black-owned businesses, it will continue to expand and expand. And honestly, it’s doing amazing and I couldn’t be more grateful.
So many people are showing me love, so many people who I don’t know, have just tapped in and said, thank you for creating such a resource.
Q. What’s your advice to young Black women who are preparing for their first international trip (besides to buy your book?)
Martinique: My top three things are to definitely register with the Department of State that you’re leaving, send somebody your itinerary, and connect with other people before you go.
Go to Facebook and see if there is a Facebook group that’s specifically for Black people in this area, and see who you can connect with when you get there.
Or search Facebook groups to see what advice they have. Type your destination into the search and if anybody has made a post about it, it will come up. It’s such great information.
Q. What does success look like for you?
Martinique: Success looks like different things for me in different stages of my life.
But over the next three to five years, success will look like a publishing deal for The Greenbook, some type of TV show that shows Black communities worldwide, and not being hired on a consulting basis, but having an actual position at a company because somebody heard me speak or took my actual training.
And when I say, “You need to have somebody dedicated to diversity inclusion,” they do. Black Travel Alliance, the organization that I’m the President of currently, is really holding the industry accountable. Ultimately, I want diversity and inclusion at the top of mind because of something that I did.
Q. How can the larger travel community, not necessarily brands, but ordinary people, be better allies in support of diversity in travel?
Martinique: They can tell the stories that get left out. It’s not just the Black community. When it comes to diversity and inclusion, there are so many people left out, but who also have great platforms that can be shared to educate your followers.
And not only travel influencers, if you’re anybody who has any type of influence or following, especially allies who are in the journalist space, you can share these stories.
It’s really about making the decision that you’re going to do things outside of the norm of what you’ve been doing for the past 10 years.
So help spread awareness, and be willing to lose family members, friends, and even opportunities because you are willing to stand up for what’s right even though it might not be what’s popular.
And, have conversations.
It’s okay to ask questions, even though you might not know the right thing to say. We’re not going to get mad because you didn’t know the right thing to say. We might get mad because you didn’t say anything, but have the conversations. Check in with us. Ask us how we’re doing. Ask us how you can help.
Q. What can we expect next from Martinique Lewis?
Martinique: I would love to have a TV show where I show you different Black communities worldwide—places that you would never think Black people were.
I want to take you to Ecuador, and show you the Esmeraldas that are in the northern part of Ecuador, even though you only knew about Quito.
I would love to take you to Roatán, Honduras and show you the Garifuna community there.
I would love to take you to Amsterdam and show you the Surinamese community there, or Yemen and show you the Afro-Yemen community there, and I can see doing that in the form of a show.
But I would also love to get a publishing deal [for the ABC Travel Greenbook] in the next year. By the end of this year, I’d love to be on Barack Obama’s Book List and be featured on Oprah’s Favorite Things List.
But in terms of me and what I’m doing, I will continue to be that diversity in travel consultant. I will continue to share Black stories, and that’s what people can expect from me. Nothing short of greatness, for sure.
If you choose to travel in 2021, Martinique wants you to support Black-owned businesses while you’re abroad. Get started by purchasing her guide, The ABC Travel Greenbook, at Barnes & Noble and Amazon.com.
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