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Travel app aims to amplify Black-owned hospitality businesses

Martinique Lewis turned her modern-day “Green Book” into an app, connecting travelers with Black-owned hotels, communities and destinations across the globe.


By: Jenna Walters • Published June 15, 2023



June 2020 started with Blackout Tuesday: the day that people across the world posted black squares to social media to show their solidarity with those protesting racism and police brutality toward the Black community. 


That same year, Martinique Lewis, a diversity in travel consultant and president of the Black Travel Alliance, released her ABC Travel Greenbook. Inspired by Victor Hugo Green’s The Negro Motorist Green Book — which provided safe travel recommendations for Black American road-trippers during the Jim Crow era — Lewis’ book features hundreds of Black-owned businesses and travel destinations in the U.S. and abroad, updated for our modern era. 


Martinique Lewis.

Permission granted by Martinique Lewis

 

Earlier this month, on Blackout Tuesday’s three-year anniversary, Lewis launched the ABC Travel Greenbook app. 


The app helps travelers locate Black-owned hospitality businesses, which stand in the minority in the U.S. Last year, the National Association of Black Hotel Owners, Operators and Developers said less than 2% of U.S. hotel owners were Black. 


The app also aims to keep Black travelers safe while vacationing, Lewis said. “When [Black people] travel, we still come across those microaggressions, and sometimes that safety net is just going to an African restaurant where you know ‘Okay, at least I’m safe here.’”


A digital Green Book

Within the first 10 days of its launch, the app was downloaded 3,000 times, exceeding Lewis’ original expectations of 2,000 downloads in the first month.


The app features more than 20,000 Black-owned businesses in the U.S. alone, including hotels and other lodging, restaurants, recreation centers, transportation companies, Black history tour companies and even barber shops — practically any resource a traveler may need, Lewis said.


Among the 217 listed Black-owned hotels in the U.S. are The Downtown Clifton in Tucson, Arizona; The Gabriel in Miami; Hotel Dryce in Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas; and Wanderstay Boutique Hotel in Houston. The app also features 76 international hotels, including Black-owned properties in Morocco, Kenya and Canada. 


In addition to spotlighting businesses and travel destinations, the app allows users to create a profile and connect with other travelers, build trip itineraries, find recommended events and post reviews. Users also can suggest additions, expanding the map of Black-owned businesses. 


It took roughly three years to transform The ABC Travel Greenbook into an app, but Lewis said now is the perfect time for it, as travelers hit the road (and skies) following the pandemic and are looking for digital resources to guide their journeys.  


“Because we know that travel [planning] is moving over to being digital in its entirety, what better time than now to release an app that also helps to amplify Black-owned businesses, and if you’re not a Black traveler, helps to make sure you’re finding out about new things [in this space],” Lewis said. 


The app helps Black travelers “know how to find places and communities of people that look like us,” she added. “Because when we travel, there’s still a safety issue.” 


The changing climate

Lewis’ app launched the week after the NAACP released a travel advisory for Florida, warning travelers that the state is “openly hostile” toward “African Americans, people of color and LGBTQ+ individuals.”


Following the advisory, the Black Travel Alliance, along with Future of Black Tourism and Blacks in Travel & Tourism, issued a joint statement that said any disruption of visitors to Florida could “cause devastating financial losses considering many Black businesses are still trying to fully recover from the impact of the global pandemic.” 


The joint statement, signed by Lewis, also asked: “Does the NAACP understand how small Black businesses in [the hospitality] industry have had to work extremely hard to become better positioned to be sought out by Black travelers and others seeking diverse, authentic local experiences?” 


While Lewis believes the motivations behind the travel advisory are laudable, she said it would be better to encourage visitors to patronize Black-owned travel businesses in Florida and beyond. 


Building a global travel community

Deidre Mathis, hotelier and owner of Wanderstay Hospitality Group, has already seen a positive response from being featured on the app. 


Lewis was Mathis’ first guest at Wanderstay Boutique Hotel, which opened just five weeks ago in Houston, Texas. When Lewis posted on the ABC Travel Greenbook Instagram page about her stay and experience, Mathis saw an influx of social media followers to the hotel’s page. Mathis believes traffic from the social media post boosted reservations in recent weeks. 


The Wanderstay Boutique Hotel.

Permission granted by Deidre Mathis

 

The app is a “great thing for the Black travel industry,” Mathis said, noting it will make traveling easier and more enjoyable and, in turn, promote Black-owned businesses. 


“[The app] just makes the entire process of planning a vacation so seamless and easy,” Mathis said. “Especially for those adamant about putting their dollars in Black-owned businesses.” 


“One of the biggest reasons why people say they didn’t get to Black-owned businesses is that they didn’t know they existed, because Black-owned businesses don’t get the attention or the press and so people don’t know about them,” she added. “This takes the legwork out of it.”


Meryanne Loum-Martin owns the Jnane Tamsna Hotel in Marrakesh, Morocco. She has also seen a significant number of travelers patronizing her business because they found it through Lewis’ book — some just visiting the pool for the day, others stopping by the restaurant, and many staying the night. 


Loum-Martin said the app goes beyond helping Black travelers — it can connect travelers of all kinds, from all places, with diverse experiences. 


“An app like this can also be a real [help] for people who are not people of color because it will lead them to cool places, period,” Loum-Martin said. “We have guests from all over the U.S., all over the world, and it’s a safe haven for people of color because I’m one of them, and I’m the owner. But it’s also a place where everyone can meet and network, and we’ve had some wonderful friendships [blossom] between people who never had the opportunity to meet before our hotel.” 


Lewis aims to grow that international traveler network this summer, hoping to reach 20,000 users on the ABC Travel Greenbook app by September.  


More than 600 Black-owned businesses from across the globe have already been recommended to be featured on the app since its launch. With downloads exceeding expectations, a list that once was limited to a book’s page count now has the opportunity to grow far beyond that.


Article top image credit: Permission granted by Martinique Lewis


Original Article by Jenna Walters can be found here...https://www.hoteldive.com/trendline/technology/394/

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