*By Rogéria Pinheiro
This is a question that very few businessmen in the tourism market have ever asked themselves. Even though Brazil is the country with the second largest black population in the world – more than 79 million people of African descent – it is still very unusual to come across campaigns, actions, packages, and trips that are really focused on this public.
Of course, three centuries of slavery, the undeniable social inequality, and the only recent (but growing) emergence of blacks in a prominent position in the consumer market all combine to mean that this not a natural question in the tourism industry. But it is necessary to talk about it.
There is an invisibility both in the question regarding thinking of a black client as a potential consumer of luxury travel, as well as in the destinations, because few travel agencies put any emphasis on those that focus on populations and cultures of African descendants. And it should be borne in mind that we are talking about ignoring a public that makes up more than half of the Brazilian population.
What is noticeable today is that representativeness is taken seriously in marketing: there is a great deal of concern in relation to having a black person in campaigns. But black people are not regarded as a target audience in sales or in the selection of products. So how can we talk about this, try to change this scenario and make this feasible inside a travel agency?
Also called ethnic tourism, afro-tourism shows up as a strand of traditional tourism, including and highlighting the black culture of the places visited. It is the whole combination of Afro-centred tourism experiences that attach value to black history and culture all over the world. This model has been singled out as one of the major trends in world tourism precisely because it offers these immersion experiences.
If you are still unable to look at the black population as being one of your main clients, you can, for example, give priority to destinations with an African tradition in the agency’s portfolio, such as quilombos, communities of African origin, and the issue of religion. Presenting the African culture and history of a place to people who, sometimes, without traveling, would never see history from black people’s perspective, already represents a start, an introductory way of showing people how important it is.
It is also worth pointing out that Afro-tourism is not just for black people. In fact, it is vital that people who are not black experience it as well. This is because everyone ends up winning when they learn more about the history of African people, particularly here in Brazil. For example, when you visit Alagoas, apart from the amazing beaches, why not also find out about the history of the quilombos? Why isn’t Palmares, which is located in the state and represents one of the greatest symbols of resistance during the slavery era, a destination to be included in the itinerary? It is worth taking the time to think about this.
Or, if your client is going to visit Bahia, what about increasing the itinerary and suggesting that he or she learn a little bit about the typical foods or about candomblé from the point of view of the black population, who were the ones who brought all of this here? This is also Afro-tourism.
In relation to the hotel chain, valuing black clients and really showing that you care about them encompasses everything from the service to the choice of products and amenities inside the hotel. For example, how many hotels do proper research and, upon finding out that silk pillowcases are better for guests with frizzy hair, make the effort to put them in the rooms for these customers?
Of course, all of this involves dissecting an entire historical process – one more! But, like any change in habits and learning, you have to make a start, even if it is only bit by bit. Among other things because valuing black people does not just mean valuing a huge part of the population that desires and can afford luxury services, but also exclusive and remarkable immersive experiences. More than that, it is valuing our own history.
Bearing in mind that many travel agencies operate on automatic pilot, we should not overlook the fact that attractions linked to identity, culture, and the history of a people are always the essence of the most memorable trips. And that although the Brazilian State owes a historical debt to black people, they have always been a population that has had their own voice, dreams and demands – and one that deserves visibility.
The opinions expressed in this text are the author’s opinion and do not necessarily reflect the position of WTM Latin America.