During the cocktail hour, we were served light bites and delicious cocktails courtesy of the hotel's Blue Duck Tavern. I was immediately a fan. So much so, that I plan on going to Blue Duck Tavern in the next few weeks for a full-sized meal. I.can't.wait.
After Jessica's opening remarks, Norie Quintos, Editor-at-Large of National Geographic Travel Media, gave the keynote address about why travel is important and how the passport is the 'new diploma.' "People of color are always the locals when you open a publication. Ads are even worse," Norie stated in reference to travel media marketing to people of color.
After Norie's speech, Mel Burgos of Rock Yo Rizos talked about growing up in New York and her first travel experience being on the subway. She joined the United States Navy to travel and hasn't stopped since. Bren Herrera, media personality, was up next and discussed how travel was important to her parents who passed their love of travel to her.
Next was the panel, consisting of Metanoya Webb (The Globetrotting Stiletto), Bethany Manimbo (Visit Montgomery County), Talia Salem (Brand USA), Robin Bennefield (Marriott Traveler), Tanvi Rastogi (Tanvii.com) and me.
Moderated by Jummy Olubanji of ABC7 News, the panel was asked a series of questions about our favorite destinations, how and why we started in the travel media business, some of the challenges we've encountered as women of color and problems with representation of women of color in the media.
Each attendee received gift bags with items from Soul Amenities, Yuk-B-Gone travel antibacterial sprays, US Virgin Islands Tourism, Miami CVB, Roam Right Travel Insurance, Visit Maryland, Brand USA, and NatGeo Traveler Magazine.
This was my first time being on a panel and I'm happy that it was to discuss a topic I am passionate about. In my opinion, women and people of color are oftentimes overlooked and not marketed to because many destinations do not feel we are interested in visiting. And this couldn't be further from the truth.
In the past almost 2 years since Will Drink For Travel's inception, I've been to the New York Times Travel Show and more recently, TBEX, a conference for travel bloggers. At these conferences, I've noticed that most media are white but there are journalists and bloggers of other races present. In an effort to be transparent, I will share that I have been given the freezing cold shoulder from representatives of Greece and Israel at these conferences. And I believe it was because I am Black. But is that surprising? And will that stop me from visiting Greece or Israel? No and no.
As I said during the panel discussion, I think diversity is reflected in a destination's marketing when it is a priority to the destination. When diversity is not a priority or the country has heavily imbedded racial turmoil, diversity will not be reflected. It's just that simple to me. But that doesn't stop my desire of wanting to visit because I know there are people of color there. We are everywhere.
I do not write this blog specifically for people of color. I want people of all races to read and love my blog just as much as I hope they do. However, I do not shy away from the topic of race when it rears its sometimes ugly head, as can be read here and here. I can name several bloggers and media representatives of color who feel the same. However, it seems we have a tougher time having our work recognized. We are here and we want our narratives to be heard.
Black Americans spend close to $50 billion dollars on domestic travel and 17% of Black Americans take one international trip a year, according to 2011 research by the Mandela Firm. It is time for travel media to open its arms and welcome people of color. I have been to Romania, Turkey, and Iceland...all countries that are not exactly known for their Black populations. However, those trips have been some of my greatest travel experiences.
I believe travel is important for having an open-mind and not putting limitations on yourself. Not only do I learn about wherever I'm traveling, but I learn more about myself. And those sorts of experiences are priceless. I will continue to go to off-the-beaten path destinations and discuss them on my blog so that travel media can see that travelers who look like me will indeed visit. And if destinations increased diversity in marketing to show it is important to them, they would see increased patronage from more travelers who look like me.
Thank you to the Park Hyatt Washington D.C. for being such amazing and accommodating hosts. And special thanks to Jessica for conceiving a great idea and actually seeing it through. This is an issue that needs to continually be brought to the forefront. Event attendees, including me, left inspired and will continue to travel and represent women of color well while doing so. The narrative of travel is changing and it's time for destinations and brands to take notice.
The Women of Color in Travel group will continue to have monthly Twitter chats on the 1st Wednesday of each month. To join the discussion, visit #womenofcolortravel.
*Updated* Thanks to Tanvii.com, we have video of the entire panel. It's about 40 minutes of the 2-hour event and while it's not the highest quality, you'll get to hear some of our discussion!
Check out more pictures from the event below!
Photo Credit: Jessica van Dop DeJesus