Drawn to the South in Droves

Travel

June 05, 2005|By Rasheim T. Freeman | Rasheim T. Freeman,SUN STAFF

For many years, African-Americans have migrated South to live.

Now a report shows that African-Americans are making the region a top destination for business travel and vacations as well.

According to the Travel Industry Association of America, a not-for-profit group based in Washington, D.C., that tracks travel, Atlanta is the top travel destination for African-Americans, followed by Orlando, Fla., Washington, Dallas and New York City.

The five destinations are part of a new list of the top-10 cities preferred by traveling African-Americans. Industry experts say the list reflects the evolving and eclectic tastes of the African-American traveler. These tastes are influenced by an area's cultural diversions, such as movie and music festivals, and proximity to African-American historical landmarks, African-American-owned restaurants and roadside attractions, such as the monuments and museums in Washington, among other things.

"You have a smorgasbord of black-owned restaurants, hotels and businesses in cities like Atlanta that draw African-Americans who want to visit some place that they can identify with" says Andy Ingraham, a black hotelier and president and founder of the National Association of Black Hotel Owners, Operators and Developers, which is based in Miami.

Rounding out the top-10 list are Chicago, Norfolk, Va., Las Vegas, Charlotte, N.C., and Philadelphia. These cities, and others, are vying for the attention of African-Americans travelers who are spending more money and going to more places, more often than before, and even traveling more than the national average.

According to the 2003 Minority Traveler report, African-American travel was up 4 percent from 2000-2002. The national average increased by 2 percent. Travel increased for African-Americans despite a national recession and increased travel restraints. The report also concluded that more than one in five trips by African-Americans (22 percent) were for business purposes, including combined business and pleasure trips, while 74 percent of African-Americans took purely leisure trips.

On these trips, the report said, the average household spent $428, excluding transportation costs, and the rate of car rentals by African-Americans was more than three times higher than the national average.

The top-10 cities, specifically Atlanta, Orlando and Washington, make above-average efforts to attract African-Americans - and their wallets - with niche advertising, enticing campaign ads and one-to-one Web marketing efforts. An example of the latter is the "My Atlanta" campaign at www.atlanta.net.

Most of the top-10 cities are trying to emulate the success of the hugely popular "I Love NY" campaign, industry officials say.

Many black mayors have taken notice of the increase in African-American travel and want to cash in on the trend. They invited Ingraham to speak at the 31st National Conference of Black Mayors, held in Columbus, Ohio, in April.

Ingraham's message was simple: "There's [an] industry called tourism and multicultural tourism that is a $50 billion dollar industry annually. You [mayors] need to take advantage of that."

Locally, the $240 million dollar Maryland crab industry has produced offshoot businesses that are attracting tourists from Philadelphia, Dover, Del., New York City and beyond.

Entrepreneurs such as Greg Dawson are offering crab feasts on land and at the waterfront. Dawson, who owns a Pikesville tour, travel and special-events company called J.O.B. Marketing & Travel Consultants, lures visitors every summer to the Inner Harbor with his Music Crab Feast series, which has been featured in Upscale and Ebony magazines, as well as on CNN. This year, he also will host a crab feast at Artscape. (See cover story on things to do this summer.)

"During the summertime, maybe about 20,000 people come down from all across the country," says Dawson, "We like to highlight all of the things that Maryland is known for, [including] good food and good music."

The series has attracted patrons from as far away as California. "It's not just the crabs ... it's the experience," says the marquee on his Web site, www.crabfeast.com.

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