Tourism programs target blacks Annapolis joins trend to showcase history of African-Americans

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.

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

Similar guidebooks 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 route of the underground railroad from Louisiana to Illinois.

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

Several city tourism bureaus are trying to preserve movie theaters, hotels and other historic sites in once-thriving black neighborhoods overwhelmed by decay and crime. "We should not shelter visitors from seeing these places," said Romona Riscoe, executive director of multicultural affairs for the Philadelphia Conference and Visitors Bureau. "You have to be able to deal with the authenticity of the site by being able to go into these neighborhoods.

"We have to work closer with community-based organizations," she said. "They have to know these tours are taking place and develop an understanding and pride as to what their neighborhoods offer."

Eventually, tourism can become an economic development tool for those neighborhoods, Ms. Riscoe said.

Travel data

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.

The study said blacks visited the country's southern Atlantic coast -- an area including Delaware, Washington, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, the Carolinas, Virginia and West Virginia -- more than any other region.

Tourism officials hope the drive to highlight black heritage will help preserve embattled neighborhoods. Often, the chance to attract tourist dollars can prompt officials to protect buildings overlooked by mainstream preservation groups, Ms. Riscoe said.

"We still end up losing buildings of value," she said. "We don't know there's a building of value in a neighborhood or we don't know how to raise the money to preserve it, and all of a sudden, it's too late."

In Chicago, Barbara Morris, a former travel agent, was tired of seeing only monuments to white historic figures during her tours of cities rich in black culture. So three years ago she started Black History Tours and organized group visits to lesser-known black heritage sites across the country and Canada.

"Cities are really getting involved in this if only for the dollar aspect," said Ms. Morris, who recently visited Annapolis in hopes of starting a tour of its historic district. "Sometimes, though, there are sites that seem pretty obvious for a guided tour and they're not included. "

Annapolis proposal

In Annapolis, a group of minority entrepreneurs wants to buy a vacant storefront downtown and open a black-owned business in the historic district. No such businesses exist in the pricey Colonial-era neighborhood.

"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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