At an annual sales meeting at the Fortune 500 company where she works, Claire Soares found herself face-to-face with a Trump supporter just before the inauguration. The white man at the overwhelmingly white meeting came right over to her and, out of the blue, shared his excitement about the upcoming ceremony.
To others, that admission may have sounded like regular office banter, but Soares felt targeted. As a black, female executive — and one of the few women of color present at the meeting — was it not obvious she wasn’t excited about an election in which 94 percent of black women voted for Hillary Clinton?
Lucky for Soares, she can turn to her side-hustle for solidarity. She runs a travel company, called Up in the Air Life, that plans elaborate trips specifically for people of color, many of whom share her same feelings of political and social anxiety. In the wake of Trump’s election, Soares said her trips have been selling out faster. She filled three international mega yachts in less than one week and found an “influx of people wanting to move abroad” seeking her advice.
Four other black-owned travel companies also told VICE News they’ve seen an uptick in business or interest in their services since Donald Trump’s surprise victory. In the last year, in fact, African American travelers were more likely to travel abroad than the average person, according to a survey conducted by MMGY Global, one of the world’s biggest hospitality and travel research firms.
“There’s been a realization that has occurred with black people since Trump came to office,” Soares explained, referencing white supremacist groups and sympathizers, some inside the White House. “We may have thought things were good, but I think we realize things are not as they seem. People that we thought were our friends and we cheer for, they are not really cheering for us.”
While President Trump may have given the black travel industry an accidental boost, the market existed years before he ever came down an escalator with rock music blaring to announce his run for the White House. In the last several years, companies like Soares’, led primarily by black women — Travel Noire, JetBlack, Black & Abroad, Women of Color Healing Retreat, to name just a few — have sought to help African Americans build safe spaces and connect with their heritage while traveling the globe.
Studies have suggested the travel industry’s growth would plateau in 2018. But within the black travel community, that’s not a concern. While 15 percent of all trips taken by Americans were international last year, 19 percent of trips taken by African Americans were international, according to MMGY’s survey. And 40 percent of black travelers who went on international vacations intended to take another, compared to only 29 percent of American international travelers as a whole.
Kent Johnson, one of the co-founders of travel company Black & Abroad, a cultural collective aimed at encouraging black travel, said traffic to his business’ website increased after November 2016.
“We saw an increase in people looking for safe spaces, looking for ways to be unapologetically themselves with the changing of the guard with this maniac in office right now," he said. "If you remember there were all these articles like, ‘Where would you move if Trump got into office?’”
Jessica Nabongo, the CEO of JetBlack, a boutique travel firm that encourages travel to countries of the African diaspora, agreed that some of her clients are motivated to “escape given the current political climate,” as she put it. From 2016 to 2017, for example, her firm saw a 300 percent increase in attendance on group trips, despite the fact her team had made fewer outreach efforts.
Cherae Robinson, the CEO of Tastemakers Africa, which connects travelers with local insiders in African cities, saw an even bigger jump in subscribers since the start of the year: 935 percent. In addition, she found a 131 percent increase in requests for help moving to the continent of Africa.
“We believe it's a combination of weariness on the current state of the U.S. and a general sense that people are looking for things that are authentic right now,” Cherae said.
Surveys suggest that black Americans flock to black-owned travel firms because representation and familiarity are crucial. Eighty percent of black millennial travelers are more likely to plan trips to places they believe are accepting of their race and ethnicity, according to a 2017 survey from DigitasLBi, an international marketing and technology agency. And 56 percent of black millennials would pay more if the messaging around trip services was more relevant to their personal identity, while 38 percent said safety related to their race is one of the most important factors in their choice to book accommodations.
"Safety and how we’ll be related to abroad are huge concerns. It was easier under Obama."
“The last couple of years, I've come to really feel extra unsafe with white people,” said Rebecca Hall, a black professor from Salt Lake City who teaches a seminar on race and politics at the Women of Color Healing Retreat. “I think a lot of the contradictions and conflicts are so intense, and that being able to take a break outside of our country is a particularly poignant need right now.” Organizers of the black women-only retreat in Costa Rica said that followers and trip sign-ups have increased rapidly in recent years but did not share internal data with VICE News.
The dynamic is not as simple as Trump single-handedly sending African-Americans running for the hills. There’s been a larger culture of racial exclusion at play. Black travel firms said that their clients have long felt alienated by mainstream travel services failing to market to diverse audiences and stereotyping black people as unable to appreciate or afford worldly experiences.
“Safety and how we’ll be related to abroad are huge concerns. It was easier under Obama,” said Evita Robinson, founder of Nomadness Travel Tribe, one of the first travel and lifestyle brands to focus on black and brown travelers specifically.
In public presentations and conversations, Evita frequently reminds people of “The Negro Motorist Green Book,” a travel guide that was crucial to the survival of African-American travelers during Jim Crow. The book helped African-Americans find friendly rest stops and lodging at a time when unabashed hostility and hatred put black travelers at physical risk. The black travel movement is a logical response to an industry that has systematically excluded black people, an industry in which travelers of color continue to report prejudice. Evita put it plainly: “Our representation matters, and right now you’re all doing a piss-poor job of showcasing us.”
“Fortunately, you can't be president for life in America, which is a good thing,” said Christine Donnelly, a black businesswoman from Chicago, who went on a healing retreat in Costa Rica. “But this is a tough season for a lot of people. So we're looking for coping mechanisms, you know, and ways to take care of ourselves, because we're not on the agenda."