Like most industries, there are many systemic problems that plague the travel space. From ableism to racism to tokenism, the travel industry has a long way to go in terms of being truly inclusive. But, thanks to the unyielding efforts of women like Martinique Lewis, we are now seeing tourism boards and companies being held accountable to their diversity goals. Last June, I noticed the hashtag #PullUpForTravel making the rounds on Instagram. Intrigued, I quickly learned that the #PullUpForTravel campaign was created by the Black Travel Alliance as a challenge to brands, publications, and companies to “pull up” with their diversity numbers.
The goal was simple: the social media campaign demanded transparency from travel companies on the number of Black staffers and content creators they employed. In the days that followed, I watched curiously as the travel industry seemingly scrambled to respond. There was a glaring silence from major travel companies who chose to not reply. There was encouraging transparency from small, niche blogs that were committed to diversifying. In the end, the Black Travel Alliance had sparked a much-needed conversation rooted in accountability. The message became clear: long gone are the days of giving lip service to diversity. It’s time for action.
For Martinique Lewis, who is the President and a Founding Member of the Black Travel Alliance, the crusade for inclusivity is unending. While the mind reels that Lewis can find the time to spearhead a grassroots movement, be creative lead for the Nomadness Travel Tribe, work as a diversity in travel consultant, and release a book — that is exactly what she did. Lewis is the author of the sorely needed ABC Travel Green Book, which is a modern-day nod to the historic Negro Motorist Green Book. Lewis’ book is the go-to resource for supporting Black-owned businesses and connecting travelers to the larger African Diaspora. One clear morning in New York, I sat down for a phone interview with Lewis to talk about the Black Travel Alliance, her book, and how to hold travel brands accountable to their diversity goals.
Unearth Women (UW): For those unfamiliar with the Black Travel Alliance (BTA), can you explain what it is?
Martinique Lewis (ML): The BTA is a non-profit organization that began in June 2020 with about 18 Black travel content creators, following Black Out Tuesday. We are in a Facebook group together and whenever there are issues in the travel industry that we don’t like, we come together in this group to speak about them. After Black Out Tuesday, we came together with the idea to create a community for Black travel professionals to have a fair chance in the travel industry. That means Black creators receive the same opportunities as our counterparts, the same pay as our counterparts, and are invited to speak at the same type of conferences as our counterparts.
We started the BTA with three pillars as its foundation: alliance, amplification, and accountability. Accountability for the industry, amplification of Black voices, and alliance between ourselves, the larger community, and these brands and companies that want to do better but don’t know. We especially want to eliminate tokenism, which is something we’ve noticed the industry is doing. Brands are always choosing the same Black content creators to work with when there are so many of us out here. We’re not a monolith; all of us don’t like to do the same things. BTA came from a need in the travel industry to not only show more Black content creators but for Black content creators to have a community.
UW: When BTA launched, it started the #PullUpForTravel campaign. What was the outcome of the campaign like?
ML: Initially, I was disappointed that more companies who could have turned something in, didn’t. The biggest goal of the #PullUpForTravel campaign was for the industry to be as transparent as possible about the Black talent they have on their teams and about their diversity goals. For the brands that did share their numbers, it was very clear that they needed to hire more Black people. It was nice to see the smaller brands that took the campaign seriously and shared both their numbers and commitment to diversity. That’s what we expected the larger brands to do, but they didn’t.
UW: How does BTA hold companies accountable to their diversity goals?
ML: #PullUpForTravel part two will take those same brands and hold them accountable. We’re here to remind them about the numbers and diversity plans they gave us last June, to see how far they’ve come, and to hold them accountable to it. This isn’t about making someone feel attacked. It’s about asking the industry how we can help them move forward in these goals. I want to make sure these companies aren’t just committing to diversity this June, but that they’re still doing it five years from now.
UW: Some companies claim to have difficulty finding and hiring Black content creators. Is lack of resources an obstacle?
ML: No, because Black content creators have published so many reports for the past five years on how to find top Black content creators. These companies are just not reading them. I think it’s laziness because I can search Google right now for “Black content creators to hire,” and the results date back years. The information has always been there. It’s about brands and companies doing the work and giving a damn. We’ve created Wavelength, which allows brands to speed network with Black content creators. We have told them the Black travel movements they can work with. We’ve even created a directory for brands and companies to have. Not being able to find Black content creators is an excuse I can’t accept any longer. We’ve provided the tools that brands need to succeed.
UW: How can allies to the Black community support the BTA and its mission?
ML: There are a large number of organizations in our membership who are just allies. We need their help because we don’t advance unless people bring us up, put us on a platform, write about us, or talk about us. I always tell people there is a space for them at the BTA, no matter what they look like. We need all the allyship in the travel industry that we can get. Come, be a member, and see the different things that we have put in place for everybody.
UW: In addition to your work with the BTA, you are the author of The ABC Travel Green Book. What is your book about?
ML: The ABC Travel Green Book is the number one resource that connects travelers everywhere to the global African Diaspora. The book is inspired by Victor Hugo Green who created the original Negro Motorist Green Book in 1936. Green’s book was written to help African Americans stay safe as they were driving up and down Route 66 because at the time, Black travelers could be killed traveling through “Sundown towns” (all-white communities that excluded Black people and other minorities). Green created this book as a guide for Black travelers to find safe accommodations.
Taking a page from this book, I wanted to highlight Black-owned businesses around-the-world. For Black travelers, one of the things that make us feel safe is knowing there are other Black people around. When you go to Ecuador, I want you to know there is an Afro-Ecuadorian community up north called the Esmeraldas. If I’m in South Korea, Kuwait, or Oman, what Black community of ex-pats is there? It’s important for us to know where the Black community is in case something happens and you need to be supported. It makes our travels that much better. Those are the type of things The ABC Travel Green Book tells you.
UW: What was it like writing The ABC Travel Green Book?
ML: It took two years to complete. I wasn’t motivated for the longest time, but I had to suck it up because the world needs this. There is nothing out there like The ABC Travel Green Book and, especially during COVID, this is how we can help Black-owned businesses stay open.
UW: On the topic of motivation, how do you find the motivation to keep tackling all of your projects?
ML: I set really high goals for myself. I’m a super manifester and a visionary. If I have a goal on my vision board, I know it’s on there for a reason. I want to make my parents proud. I want to make my ancestors proud. I want to set up my great great great grandkids for success. It’s my family that’s my motivation, that’s what keeps me going.
I am always thinking about what’s next, what’s the next move? What does the industry still need? What problem haven’t we solved? I know I have a purpose in this world and I need to fulfill it. I’m not okay with just being regular or ordinary. I’m not okay with being passive. I want to make a real impact for my family and for people I don’t even know. If I can help tourism boards understand they need to make things wheelchair accessible, that’s what I’m going to spend my life doing. It’s about the people who have never met me that will say thank you years after I’m gone. That is my motivation. Making sure everyone feels included, that my family is proud of me, and that I leave a positive imprint on this world.
UW: When you say vision board, is it a literal board?
ML: It used to be vision boards but then I decided I needed a vision wall. I have whole walls now. And when I say whole walls, I mean from wall-to-wall. I have to see my goals in front of me, every day, to keep myself motivated and remember why I’m here.
UW: Looking ahead, what do you think the future of travel will look like post-COVID?
ML: I think we will see the rise of the influencer again. Travel influencers are who people are looking to during COVID to ask about recommendations on how to travel, when they can travel, navigating travel restrictions, where they got tested in a certain destination, etc. I think we will also see more heartfelt and personal experiences coming from tourism boards as they engage with new potential travelers. I think tourism boards will be more mindful of diversity and inclusion in general.