For the Soul: Tomiko Harvey of the Black Travel Alliance

photo: Eric England

This story is a part of our For the Soul series: a collaboration between the Nashville Scene and local culture website Urbaanite that uncovers local gems in Nashville.

Tomiko Harvey, the creator of Passports + Grubs wants to amplify the voices of black travel. Given Nashville’s reign as a top tourist destination for people from around the world, it is only fitting that one of the country’s newest tourism organizations’ senior leaders calls our city home. Tomiko is the vice president of the Black Travel Alliance,(BTA) an organization formed in response to last summer’s racial justice movement and poised to be a true voice for Black travel writers, broadcasters, podcasters, and more around the world.

Says Harvey, “We saw a lot of travel brands posting black squares, saying they’re in solidarity with Black people, yet those same brands were not working with Black content creators, posting them on their Instagram feed or reflecting diversity in their leadership positions.” Nearly 20 travel and tourism writers and creators agreed, and they decided to come together for a common purpose — pushing for diversity and inclusion in travel media — and the Black Travel Alliance was born.

The alliance’s first initiative was the #PullUpforTravel campaign. After seeing all of those black squares, BTA put out a call for travel brands and organizations that used the #BlackLivesMatter and #BlackOutTuesday hashtags to share their 2019 key performance indicators for diversity measures. The alliance created the Black Travel Scorecard, which assessed Black representation in employment, conferences and tradeshows, advertising and marketing campaigns, and media and press trips — as well as charitable contributions made to Black charities and community groups. Sixty-seven brands and companies replied. Findings suggested that the travel industry has a long way to go. “It’s about economics and revenue,” says Harvey. “Can brands afford to say they do not want to be a part of the $129 billion tourism dollars spent by the African American consumer?”

BTA is a fresh new resource within the tourism industry, directly connecting brands with Black media makers, and connecting media makers with grants, scholarships, and opportunities for employment and professional development. Brands can also benefit from joining the alliance, whether they are owned by Black entrepreneurs or not. BTA’s mission includes conducting research about Black travelers that will help brands to improve revenue, image, and diversity strategies.

At just over a year old, BTA has already partnered with several leading travel and tourism organizations. With the multi-university and interdisciplinary research and outreach initiative Tourism RESET, BTA created the History of Black Travel (historyofblacktravel.com) project that includes a timeline of significant people and events in Black travel. The timeline dates back to 1492, when the Afro-Spanish explorer Pedro Alonso Niño and his brothers helped lead Christopher Columbus’ first voyage to the Americas, and chronicles the growth of Black communities in the U.S., trailblazing pilots, the Great Migration, and much more. BTA worked with marketing strategy group MMGY Travel Intelligence to publish “The Black Traveler: Insights, Opportunities, and Priorities,” a report that aggregates and analyzes spending habits of Black travelers worldwide. The Alliance was among the recipients of Travel + Leisure’s 2021 Global Vision Award, which recognizes leaders in the industry.

Harvey has been a travel writer for many years, managing her online publication Passports & Grub, “a luxury lifestyle publication for Black women.” Scrolling her website, you will find beautiful pictures and thoughtful storytelling that takes you on the journey with her to places as near as St. Louis, Mo., and as far as Italy’s Amalfi Coast. Harvey is focused on encouraging family travel and creating lifelong memories, so it was a natural fit for her to join the BTA family and advocate for other Black media creators.

BTA is actively looking for amazing travel professionals, bloggers, journalists, and podcasters to join the alliance. “Our three pillars are alliance, amplification, and accountability,” says Harvey. “We want Black content creators to be amplified, and we want to hold these travel brands accountable. … We are going to continue to train and educate tourism boards and travel brands on the importance of diversity.”

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