Annapolis taps golden market: black heritage Walking tours, programs seen luring more tourists

November 26, 1995|By Ellen Gamerman | Ellen Gamerman,SUN STAFF

The tourist industry in Annapolis and across the country is tapping into a gold mine -- the $40 billion-a-year black tourism market.

Promoters are developing walking tours and programs that give visitors a chance to retrace the world of slavery, the birth of jazz, the history of the civil rights movement.

"Black-heritage tours are bringing in an incredible number of people to cities that didn't attract these tourists before," said Caletha Powell, chairman of the African-American Travel and Tourism Association in New Orleans. "It's only going to get bigger."

The Historic Annapolis Foundation, a preservation group in the city, is putting together the first walking tour devoted to the city's black heritage.

This year, the city released a free pamphlet to promote visits to historic homes connected to black culture.

Similar guides are available in Baltimore, where the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association is preparing a walking tour featuring costumed guides.

At least seven states are working on the Great Southern Multicultural Trails project, a bus tour that traces the underground railroad from Louisiana to Illinois.

The U.S. Travel and Tourism Administration and Turner Broadcasting System hope to unveil the tour by summer.

Several city tourism bureaus are trying to preserve movie theaters, hotels and other historic sites in once-thriving black neighborhoods overwhelmed by decay.

"We should not shelter visitors from seeing these places," said Romona Riscoeof the Philadelphia Conference and Visitors Bureau. A 1993 Travel Industry Association of America report, the most recent study available, found that more than three in 10 black travelers take vacations to historical and cultural sites.

The study also found that these travelers stay longer at conventions and are less likely to travel alone than whites are.

The study said blacks visited the country's southern Atlantic coast -- an area including Maryland -- more than any region.

Tourism officials hope the drive to highlight black heritage also will help preserve embattled neighborhoods.

In Annapolis, a group of minority entrepreneurs wants to buy a vacant storefront downtown and open a black-owned business in the historic district.

"There's nowhere to go in Annapolis, like a restaurant or a jazz club, where you can enjoy yourself in a [black-owned business]," said Lewis Bracy, a spokesman for the Maryland Forum of African-American Leaders, a local community group. "The waterfront, the boats -- it all seems designed now to attract white tourists."

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