DENVER As a travel agent for more than eight years, Charlotte
Haymore has attended her share of industry conferences and trade
Yet the African-American owner of Charlotte’s Cruises-N-Tours
here never saw many minorities at travel events.
“There were just very few people of color in attendance,” she
said. “I always wondered why. I felt like there was a lot of
education and training available that was valuable and that a lot
of minorities were missing out on it.”
An exact figure for the number of minorities in the travel
agency industry is difficult to establish; few industry
associations track such statistics. But the Minority Development
Center of Colorado estimates 3 percent of all travel agents
nationally are minorities.
In an effort to unify and reach out to this segment of the
industry, Haymore and Betty Jones, of CB Jones Travel Services in
Denver, last month organized The Travel Professionals of Color
Conference and Trade Show here, which drew about 35 agents, mostly
Sessions addressed general travel-seller issues as well as
challenges specific to minority agents.
A prevailing concern was how African-American agents can attract
more business in the African-American community.
“Much of the African-American community is accustomed to going
to another community for their business needs,” Haymore said.
“That’s because we weren’t there, because of our history. Now
that’s changed, and we need to make sure our customers know we’re
here and we’re professional.”
The potential is worth pursuing: minorities are spending lots of
money on travel.
“A billion dollars is spent by African-Americans and other
minorities on leisure travel,” said Haymore. “It’s out there, and
it’s big spending, and it’s no longer just one vacation a
African-Americans have favorite destinations such as the
Bahamas, the Caribbean and Africa, to name a few. Cruising in
groups is becoming popular, particularly on the mass-market
Expertise in those destinations and the cultures is valuable and
should be promoted as a way to gain clients. So is in-depth
knowledge of, say, historically black colleges.
“You’re not selling a product that a traveler can’t get anywhere
else,” said Pat Spencer, a former travel-agency owner who now
specializes in agency relations for ARC. “Why would I go to one
agent rather than another? If I know you specialize in heritage
tours, I’d go to you for that kind of trip. The value is to know
what you’re selling and to have a passion.”
Personal relationships within the minority community can also
result in business.
“Those relationships can be very, very powerful,” said
conference speaker Milt Branch, the retired business development
manager for Carnival Cruise Lines in Colorado. “That’s how you
overcome the level of mistrust that sometimes exists among minority
customers for minority businesses.”
Jones, for example, an independent consultant affiliated with
Polk Travel, built business with her church, organizing all the
travel for five conferences a year. Her sales last year exceeded
$500,000; of that about 95 percent was from African-American
Haymore organizes theme cruises, such as this November’s
“Rhythms of Soul” cruise featuring three styles of music
appreciated by African-Americans. She hopes to book 200 passengers
on the Carnival Conquest cruise, which kicks off with a land stay
in New Orleans for the Bayou Classic football tournament in which
black colleges and their bands compete.
By organizing such theme cruises for groups, Haymore sold more
than $700,000 in 2001; like Jones, about 95 percent of her
clientele is African-American. By banding together, minorities can
also increase awareness of specific problems they face.For example,
Haymore said cruise lines have only recently begun producing
brochures that show African-Americans aboard ships.
Formation of an association for minority travel professionals
was discussed at the end of the conference, but that seems unlikely
anytime soon due to the time commitment required.
But Haymore and Jones do plan to reach out. The first order of
business: compiling a minority travel agent directory.
And they are already planning next year’s conference,
tentatively set for April 21-25 again at the Doubletree in