ONEs Sarah Greaves-Gabbadon was sitting on a private island off the coast of Belize for her next travel story. She found it strange that more and more passengers were wearing masks at the airport. When trips were suddenly canceled, the Jet Set Sarah blog owner accepted that coronavirus had created a new reality for travel.
“It was a shock, the old normal has completely disappeared and will never return,” she said, doubting “being back on a plane before October”.
A global shutdown can harm not only governments, hotels, and travel companies, but the writers and entrepreneurs whose blogs, businesses, and livelihoods are supported by travel to distant destinations.
“When reality and consistency hit them all, it’s almost a second feeling of sadness,” said Greaves-Gabbadon.
As with many other parts of the impact of the virus, it has been a heavy blow to African Americans in particular and an emerging boom in the black travel industry. Almost 17% of African Americans who take one or more international trips a year now stay at home. According to a study by Mandala, a market research group, the economic value of African American travelers rose from $ 48 billion to $ 63 billion between 2010 and 2018.
Losses particularly threaten Caribbean and African nations, where black American travel had become an important and growing industry, largely fueled by cultural and historical ties. The African Development Bank estimates that in some countries their economies could shrink by an average of 3.3% this year. Popular tourist attractions like the Seychelles, Cape Verde, Mauritius, and Gambia could shrink by up to 7%.
In the Caribbean, the canceled Crop Over Festival in Barbados could be the final blow to a region already devastated by the outbreak. Many had hoped the Caribbean would be spared if the virus surfaced at the end of the high season, but most travel destinations have since canceled their summer carnivals.
“It’s not just about not being able to go to Barbados to see Crop Over and see Rihanna,” said Greaves-Gabbadon. “These trips mean so much to us on a cultural level that it’s difficult to take them away.”
Cultural and genealogical travelers spend the most money. The average traveler in this group spends $ 2,078 per trip, up from $ 1,345 for all African American tourists.
Barbados also postponed its promotion of family history tourism to encourage descendants to visit in 2020, modeled on Ghana.
Ghana is regarded as the home of many black Americans and in 2019, with its marketed “Year of Return”, recorded a record of 1 million foreign visitors. The campaign attracted people of African descent to visit 400 years since the Atlantic slave trade began.
“It’s hard to put into words what happens to us when we visit, but it activates something in our DNA,” said Diallo Sumbry, Ghana’s first African American tourism ambassador. “It helps reconnect an identity, the freedom to express that inexplicable feeling that lies beneath all of our skin.”
This year’s Back to Africa Festival, advertised as a “birthright trip” for African Americans, narrowly missed the US travel ban. However, cultural expeditions across the continent remain at risk as the world confirms more than 2.5 million cases of coronavirus.
Where some are losing revenue, Sumbry sees opportunities. He pleaded with black nations to “understand the power and resilience of black travelers.”
“African Americans are a huge missing part of the cleanup of Africa,” he said. “Every African country should take this time to analyze its data on African American travelers and translate them into a policy.”
Thousands of independent operators, entrepreneurs, and bloggers who have succeeded in growing the black travel industry now have to plan a way through the crisis.
Zim Ugochukwu sold the popular Travel Noire blog in 2017 but said it was vital for aspiring entrepreneurs to stay engaged during the crisis.
“This can only be a setback,” she said. “There is an opportunity to build a loyal market by showing that you are still committed to them, not just the revenue.”
Campaigns are already running to bring visitors back.
Tourism ministers from across the African Union met via video conference to discuss action plans to mitigate the effects of the pandemic The Caribbean Tourism Organization launched a “Caribbean Dreaming” campaign to encourage travelers to postpone their vacation instead.
“People will travel again. What the industry can do now is say, “Here’s what we’re doing to protect you when you do,” said Greaves-Gabbadon. She is now posting where tourists can buy masks all over the Caribbean.
Ugochukwu said the key to keeping the industry going is to provide ways for the public to get inspiration without worry.
“Remind people that we will always be here when they’re ready to travel because we’re as resilient as they are,” she said.