By Jazelle Hunt
NNPA Washington Correspondent
WASHINGTON (NNPA)–The U.S. Black Chambers (USBC) and the National Association of Black Hotel Owners, Operators, and Developers (NABHOOD) are formally partnering to make sure that a significant portion of the $40 billion African Americans spend each year on travel and tourism remains in black hands.
The partnership was launched last week at the start of USBC’s professional development conference, held at the Marriott Marquis in the District of Columbia. The newly-opened, four-star hotel, next to the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, was jointly financed by Capstone Development, a private, black-owned development firm.
“Today is about more investment in the hotel and travel industry,” Ron Busby Jr., USBC president, said at a press conference. “As African Americans, we have conferences, events, weddings, and vacations, always with white-owned establishments. I think we can bring some that money back to us.”
A Nielsen study conducted in cooperation with the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) found that African Americans spent 40 billion each year on the travel and tourism industries last year.
But Andy Ingraham, president and CEO of NABHOOD, few of those dollars turn over in the black community.
“I’d rate [concerted black patronization] as pretty nonexistent,” he said. “We have to create awareness, because most people who come in contact with this idea think it’s a damn good idea.”
Interestingly, Nielsen finds that black Americans are 28 percent more likely than other groups to read financial magazines such as Forbes and Fortune, yet have low levels of participation with mainstream financial products such as purchasing stock or mutual funds.
Although black Americans have yet to truly wield their power as consumers, prominent brands have taken notice, including Marriott International.
“We see the power of the African American wallet, spending, and economic value,” said Apoorva Gandhi, vice president of Multicultural Markets and Alliances for Marriott. “It’s really important to us that we are consistently authentic in how we employ–through recruitment and developing executive professionals – and also how we market to, and do business with this segment.”
The hotel brand has been named one of Black Enterprise’s top 40 companies for diversity for eight consecutive years. Marriott has also maintained decades-long partnerships with m major black organizations such as the National Urban League, NAACP, the National Black MBA Association.
“One way we try to reach the African American segment is through our multicultural and diversity partners,” Gandhi says. “One, because these are great organizations doing great things. But also, they are gateway groups to their demographic. We work to support their goals because, frankly, they’re our goals too.”
Marriott says it was the first hospitality company to establish a diversity and inclusion program. Today, it is also one of a handful of big-name hotels working to cultivate black executives and owners.
Interestingly, Norman Jenkins, NABHOOD treasurer, and founder of Capstone Development, the company that co-financed the Marriott Marquis in D.C., is also a former Marriott executive. Under his leadership, the brand boasted of at least 500 minority-owned or minority-franchised Marriotts around the world in just three years under its Diversity Ownership Initiative.
Jenkins represents the other angle of black economic power: gatekeeping and ownership. By owning a business, African Americans can solve many of their own community problems.
“Black businesses still struggle to find funding, either through equity or debt, to let them grow to what they could be,” Busby said. “But we know black business is the key to the unemployment that is wreaking havoc on our communities”
As Ingraham explained, more business at black-owned hotels results in more hires and more corporate promotions of other African Americans working within the establishment, who can eventually become executives or owners. More business also means that hotels have to buy more goods from suppliers, and can choose to patronize other black-owned businesses in the process.
NABHOOD counts more than 500 black-owned hotels and hospitality venues in the United States, and nine abroad, mostly in the Caribbean, with the exception of one in Ghana and another in Liberia. The organization has a listing of these black-owned properties on its website, www.nabhood.net.
The two organizations will continue their partnership for the long run, with the next collaboration at the 18th Annual International Multicultural and Heritage Tourism Summit and Trade Show this weekend in Miami.
“We’re trying to sign as many agreements as possible for people to give us a chance to provide the level of service they are accustomed to,” Ingraham explains. “The opportunity exists for each of us to play a role in change the economic tapestry. If we could just revise our conscience level and agree to do business with each other, we can all benefit.”