Representation in the travel industry is extremely important, yet extremely lacking. One way to increase representation, diversity and inclusion in the industry is to support Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) travel suppliers and brands.
The following seven travel companies are not only BIPOC-owned and -operated, but are owned and operated by women of color, as well. And they are bringing their own unique perspectives to the industry; augmenting the visibility of underrepresented groups; and demonstrating that people of color can not only have exceptional travel experiences, but can curate them, too. As these companies continue to change the face of the industry, travel advisors should consider utilizing them in the future.
Black Cultural Heritage Tours by Cultural Heritage Alliance for Tourism
Cultural Heritage Alliance for Tourism (CHAT) is the only Black-owned receptive tour operator in the U.S. offering a strong focus on sustainable tourism. CHAT provides single, multi-day and private group tours and itineraries that highlight Black culture and heritage throughout the U.S.
The company partners with small Black tour operators to help facilitate its itinerary experience, driving foot traffic and revenue to these partners to help them sustain and grow their businesses while providing transformative experiences for culturally curious travelers. CHAT also amplifies those businesses through various national and global media opportunities.
In addition to its existing tours, CHAT has several new offerings in the works for 2022, including a trio of six-day itineraries: Experience Gullah Geechee Culture + Heritage; South Carolina to North Carolina Cultural + Culinary Experience; and South Florida Off the Beaten Path Cultural Heritage Experience. The company will also be offering six new day tours centered around culinary experiences, Black cultural heritage and the arts.
Founded in 2016 by Stephanie M. Jones, CHAT is headquartered in Miami, and has a nonprofit affiliate organization, Cultural Heritage Economic Alliance, in Washington, D.C. CHAT typically offers 10% commission to travel advisors.
Salamander Hotels & Resorts
Salamander Hotels & Resorts is a privately owned and operated hospitality company based outside of Washington, D.C., in Middleburg, Va. The company owns, manages and develops hotels and resorts, including the Forbes Five-Star-rated Salamander Resort & Spa, a 340-acre equestrian-inspired property in Middleburg; Half Moon, the iconic luxury resort in Montego Bay, Jamaica; Hotel Bennett, a 179-room hotel in Charleston, S.C., overlooking the city’s historic Marion Square; and Innisbrook resort in Tampa Bay, Fla., which hosts the PGA Tour’s Valspar Championship each year.
Salamander was founded by entrepreneur Sheila Johnson, who is renowned as the co-founder of Black Entertainment Television, and is also a partner in Monumental Sports & Entertainment, which owns the Washington Wizards, Capitals and Mystics. When Johnson founded Salamander in 2005, she wanted to establish a modern, welcoming luxury brand where guest and workforce diversity were guiding principles. As such, Salamander’s version of luxury focuses on inclusiveness and diversity — from both guest and employee perspectives.
The company’s next big project will be its first in the Western U.S., as Salamander is partnering with the Aspen Institute to manage the iconic Aspen Meadows Resort in Aspen, Colo. Set in a prime mountain location just minutes from Aspen’s downtown, the 40-acre property was established by industrialist Walter Paepcke as the Aspen Institute’s original headquarters. Today, it welcomes guests from around the world.
Salamander will leverage its extensive knowledge of repositioning resorts and work on a plan with the institute’s leadership before and after it assumes management of the property on May 1, 2022.
As part of the resort’s evolution, a multimillion-dollar renovation project to upgrade all guestrooms and elevate the arrival experience is under way, with expected completion by early 2023. At that point, the property will be branded as Aspen Meadows By Salamander.
Local Guest is a women-powered travel company dedicated to co-creating and promoting authentic tourism experiences by working hand in hand with local communities and entrepreneurs. Founded by Carmen Portela, Monica Perez and Iris Landrua in 2017, the Puerto Rico-based company is building a new tourism ecosystem based on sustainable development practices.
The company prides itself on supporting local economies through authentic and regenerative experiences, as well as creating a positive impact and a memorable cultural exchange for both the traveler and the local communities. In 2022, Local Guest is launching a wellness program in the El Yunque Rainforest in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service. Activities will include restorative hikes, forest bathing, sound healing and yoga for families.
Local Guest is also expanding its distribution channels to make sustainable and impact travel more attainable to different segments of travelers. In 2022, the company is also looking to build a network of like-minded travel advisors and a fair-trade commission with agents. Currently, Local Guest provides commissions ranging from 15% to 20%.
Nez Perce Tourism
Based in Lewistown, Idaho, Nez Perce Tourism was founded in 2018 by Stacia Morfin after she received a vision from one of her ancestors while hiking atop a mountain with her daughter, Kalila. Nez Perce Tourism is a community-based organization and the only tour company that connects travelers to Nimiipuu culture. Morfin sees tourism as a platform to increase Nimiipuu representation externally, as well as to mentor and develop individuals from the tribe who can add to its cultural and ecosystem protection.
One of Morfin's philosophies is to include Nimiipuu children in all aspects of the business — from planning to implementation — in order for them to gain a deeper connection to the culture, land and water of the Nimiipuu tribe. The company offers tours of Nimiipuu places through guided excursions on weetes (homelands), as well as mentorship opportunities and interactive workshops.
During the pandemic, Nez Perce Tourism expanded to include Nez Perce Traditions, which includes Traditions Gift Shop — a seller of authentic native and local goods. In 2022, the company is expanding its tourism offerings by accommodating customized group tours that include water- and land-based tours, as well as traditional arts tours. Travel advisors receive 20% to 30% commission on packages booked with Nez Perce Tourism.
Soca Caribbean Yacht Charters
Headquartered in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area, Soca Caribbean Yacht Charters is a travel company that provides personalized, all-inclusive yacht vacations in the Caribbean. The company’s service includes luxurious yacht accommodations, black car airport services, customized excursions, gourmet cuisine, premium liquor and a personal yacht crew including a chef, as part of its weekly private charters in the Bahamas, the British Virgin Islands, Grenada, St. Lucia and the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI).
The company also offers day charters in Miami and Washington, D.C., and plans to expand its day charter service to Jamaica and St. Martin in 2022. The company’s “door to dock to door” service ensures stress-free planning, and the inclusion of gratuities and fees in the weekly charter rates adds another level of convenience for travelers.
First setting sail in 2019, the company’s name derives from soca music, the soundtrack of carnivals throughout the Caribbean, including St. Thomas in the USVI, where founder Sheila Ruffin worked as a lawyer before starting her company. Ruffin, who grew up on the Eastern Shore of Virginia, dedicated Soca Caribbean Yacht Charters to her grandfather, an avid boater who influenced her love for boats and water. Now, she is charting new territory of her own in a male-dominated industry.
Soca Caribbean Yacht Charters offers 10% of the total yacht price as commission to advisors.
Great Exploration Tours
For more than 25 years, Great Exploration Tours has provided travel services worldwide and tours that include travel packages, cultural heritage tours, family excursions and concierge services in the U.S. and the Caribbean. One of the few Black- and women-owned tour operators in the U.S., the company’s offerings provide comprehensive overviews of the history, culture and cuisine in the destinations it serves.
Great Exploration Tours was founded by Hamblet Williams, a native of Dominica, and is co-owned and operated by his wife, Shelley Williams. Headquartered in St. Thomas, USVI, the company has an office in Atlanta — Great Exploration Tours Atlanta — with current plans to open a new office and retail space in the city later this month.
Prior to the pandemic, Great Exploration Tours operated tours in South Korea, due to Shelley Williams’ love for the country and the growing market of English speakers there. The company plans to resume tours in South Korea in 2023. It offers travel advisors a minimum of 15% off its retail rates, with higher rates for groups of 25 or more people.
Underground Tours of Savannah
Underground Tours of Savannah is a Black-owned, woman-owned tour operator providing cultural heritage experiences that include walking tours, Gullah-Geechee culinary tours, riverboat tours, day trips and family reunion heritage planning services in Savannah, Ga.
The company was founded in 2017 by Patt Gunn — a.k.a. “Sistah Patt” — with a mission to provide truth-telling about the redacted history of the Transatlantic slave trade in Savannah. Through local Gullah-Geechee tour conductors, the company takes visitors on a journey from slavery to freedom through historical walks, freedom songs from the Underground Railroad and authentic slave narratives.
Sistah Patt also hosts weekday buffet luncheons and a Sunday Gospel Brunch featuring folk artist group, The Saltwata’ Players, as well as Gullah-Geechee foods including Savannah red rice and hot wata’ corn muffins. The company recently added a new 90-minute walking tour entitled, Walking on Sacred Ground, which pays homage to the Black burial grounds near Whitefield Square, where hundreds of free and enslaved Africans were buried.
The company provides a 20% commission on its walking tour, square talk tour and culinary tour.