When it comes to Africa travel and the African-American travel market, it takes two to miss a golden opportunity.
On one side of the Atlantic, you can find a lot of Black Americans who say they'd love to see Africa someday. On the other side, you find lots of African nations looking for more tourism that would love to welcome them.
Among, you find... not much.
Black Americans are traveling the world in growing numbers, but the numbers traveling to mom Continent are nowhere near what they could or should be -- and the reasons why have nothing whatever to do with ebola.
So why haven't the two sides hooked up in the name of travel and tourism?
On the whole, we Americans -- and Black Americans, specifically -- really do not know Africa. What little we do know for sure, we have a tendency to draw from the crisis du jour menu served up daily in main-stream media and the world's single greatest source of misinformation: "I heard. "
YouTube boasts a whole collection of videos devoted to asking people what they learn about Africa, including African-Americans at HBCUs like Howard University. The answers range from head-shaking to embarrassing to downright cringeworthy.
A TWO-SIDED GAP
Africa has always been an afterthoughtin the usa. Our social and business ties to the Mother Continent are sparse compared with all of those other world.
America's schools have never taught young ones about Africa in the same way it teaches about all things European. And while African food, art, music, film are worldwide staples, you discover precious little representation of any of that in US mass media.
The gap of knowledge and understanding between Africans and African-Americans is huge. Nevertheless the blame for that gap cannot be laid entirely with this side of the Atlantic. There are two uncomfortable realities here:
1 . The nations of Africa have put too little effort into developing the US market.
- Safari travel in Africa has been over-marketed and over-promoted, to the detriment of African travel and tourism over all.
You find the best evidence of the first point at travel trade events.
The biggest ones are in Europe, and ITB Berlin in Germany is by far the biggest. We're talking 10, 000 exhibitors from 185 countries -- and about 50 of those countries are African. Government tourism ministries, private tourism boards, tour operators, travel agencies. Africa represents at ITB Berlin.
WHERE ARE THE AFRICANS?
Here in the United States, Unicomm annually puts on the Travel and Adventure Show series -- seven travel trade expositions in Chicago, Dallas, La, Philadelphia, North park and San Francisco.
The perfect window of opportunity for African travel providers and tour operators to connect with travel agents and potential visitors here in the States.
The total number of African tourism bodies, public or private, represented at those seven shows: One. Rwandan Tourism, with whom I met in February at the LA show in Long Beach, CA.
The grand-daddy of US travel expos, the oldest and largest single show in the country, may be the NY Times Travel Show. Their African exhibitors? Nine, maybe. Out of 55 sovereign African nations... nine.
Then, there is the whole safari thing. Pick any ten people at random and inform them you're contemplating a trip to Africa. At the least seven out of ten will ask you: "Are you going on a safari? "
More likely, it'll be all ten.
There's absolutely nothing wrong with safari travel. Done right, with respect for the environment and the area people who depend on it, it can be one of the most unforgettable experiences in your life. Small wonder that safari travel could be the first thing that comes to mind among Western travelers.
The thing is that it tends to be the one thing that comes to mind.
NOT JUST SAFARIS
Talk to Black Americans, especially younger ones, who have a pastime in Africa, and you'll discover that their interest often reach far beyond wildlife. They want to learn about the history and heritage -- not just as it relates to the trans-Atlantic slave trade, but what happened before and what came after. They want a taste of Africa's many cultures. They want to read the music, the meals, the styles. Everything.
And Africa features a mind-boggling level of attractions to supply them in every of those areas. But Africa's nations are not reaching out to let them know about it.
Overall, the African and the African-American are much more culturally attuned to Europe than they are to one another, no surprise given our respective histories. Also it shows in our disconnect when it comes to travel and tourism.
We're like two blindfolded men sitting in a darkened room, each waiting for another to get up and turn the lights on.
If Black Americans are going to just take Africa seriously as a destination -- and if Africa wants a bigger piece of the roughly $48 billion annual African-American travel market -- that needs to change.
On our side, we need to insist our schools and our press do a better job of teaching us about Africa. And if they refuse to do it, then we need to start learning on our very own. We need to reach out to the African expat communities we have in this country and start making some connections. They can teach us much, if we're willing to listen and learn.
Meanwhile, Africa's decisionmakers in the travel industry have to reach out to potential African-American visitors in the same way that they reach up to Europe. They should show up at the industry events here. They need to advertise on Black American media. They have to work with Black American expats in African countries and African-American travel professionals over here.
International travel markets don't build themselves.
It is the right time to close this great divide.
Greg Gross is the Publisher/Sr. Editor of "I'm Black and I Travel!. This is cross-posted from his website. He is who owns the Trips by Greg travel agency, specializing in cultural and heritage travel world wide.