By Herb Sparrow
African-Americans are traveling in increasing numbers, and one of their most popular ways of traveling is in extended-family groups.
“The African-American market is definitely growing in the group travel market,” said Charlie Presley, founder of the African American Travel Conference (AATC), which annually brings together representatives of the group travel industry and planners of African-American travel. “Group travel is the No. 1 preference in the African-American market.
“The African-American community participates twice as much in group travel as the U.S. population as a whole.”
Presley said AATC, which meets April 18-20 in Baltimore, tracks some 3,500 African-American travel groups, which purchase $437 million of group travel each year, with the average group spending $125,000 annually on travel.
Even with this, Presley thinks the travel industry is missing a key point with African-Americans.
“African-American groups are the perfect affinity market,” he said. “They are community driven and possess a strong network of communications inside their social groups.
“African-American groups are truly multigenerational. It is common for a group to contain an age range from 30 to 80 on the same trip. They travel as a community family, and age restrictions are a nonfactor.
“African-American groups are social organizations within the community. They are unique in group travel and are the portal to vast amounts of group bookings.”
Presley said a key to reaching African-American groups is the group leader.
“The group leader is the heart and soul of the African-American travel community,” he said. “The group leader is the trusted and known commodity to the traveler. Virtually all group travel in the African-American market is group-leader driven.
“The average AATC group leader is a Pied Piper, an independent that has a following of travelers. They might not have an affiliation with what the travel industry recognizes as a group. The African-American group may draw from a half-dozen social organizations, and as many as 25 percent of the people on the trip may be a result of knowing another traveler.”
Presley said that although the majority of African-American groups are Pied Piper-led, church groups and social organizations also represent segments of the market.
“These three — Pied Pipers, church and social organizations — make up around 75 percent of the market,” he said.
Another surprising aspect of the African-American market is that it is value driven. “The African-American group is much more upscale driven than the travel industry realizes,” said Presley. “While willing to pay for service and product, a return of value is expected.”
And African-American groups are loyal.
“Once successful in the African-American market, word of mouth spreads rapidly,” said Presley. “This free advertising is a result of the members of the group who travel with a number of other groups and passing on good travel results to that group leader.
“Above all, African-American group leaders value knowing who they are doing business with. Once a relationship is built, it will last for decades.”
Presley said that where an African-American group travels is not as important to them as is the trip’s activities. “Theater, culinary and culture are the big three,” he said.
Top destinations with AATC members are New York City, Toronto, Florida and Las Vegas.
“Cruise participation is much higher in the African-American community,” said Presley. “Sixty-five percent of AATC groups report actively cruising.”
Presley said the African-American community also is plugged in, with 80 percent of AATC groups reporting that they use the Internet for travel research.