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For our Viewpoint series, Skift invites thought leaders, some from the less obvious corners of travel, to join in the conversation. We know that these independent voices are important to the dialogue within the industry. Our guest columnists will identify and shape what global trends and through lines will define the future of travel.
I would love to tell you about the catalyst the led to me choosing to leave my very stable 9-to-5 job at a national agency and go on my own, only to be met with new challenges.
I think two of the biggest challenges for me have been funding my travel business, which as many of you know, has always been challenging for minority business owners. The other is marketing. I always knew my marketing would need to be inclusive and representative of me and my community and also of the communities that travel impacts.
The problem is that white people and their comfort levels of seeing what they may consider to be too much brown. People like to see people who represent them so this is an area I’m not willing to compromise.
I’m also aware that my name is VERY European sounding so I posted on my business home page my stand on social justice to make it very clear where I stand. I know that this may further alienate potential clients. However, as a mother of six (four of which are male), I cannot afford to be silent.
Can I afford this in the midst of a pandemic? The short answer is yes. I already have to figure out how to build this business (as does every other agency and independent contractor in the industry) and I am unwilling to compromise who I am as a human for a dollar.
It has been challenging. It’s challenging when the industry isn’t as inclusive or diverse as it should be. It’s frustrating when I am looking for images to reflect the broader travel community and they are next to non-existent.
It’s frustrating when I reach out to colleagues for help and they offer little to none. When I first went on my own, I needed help getting clients so I reached out to my host agency, which paired me with a mentor whose only suggestion to me was to sell airline tickets and charge a fee. I told the host that I didn’t get anything useful from the relationship and I wanted to end the mentorship. They offered to place me with a new mentor and never did. I have tons of other experiences like this from being in a retail setting prior to starting my business.
The travel industry is another industry to be made to feel invisible and voiceless.
I would (and I’m sure every other black person in this industry) would love to see more representation at every level. I would love to see major organizations DO MORE to welcome minorities in the travel industry and give them some resources to help them be seen and grow their businesses.
I would love to see organizations hosting webinars or seminars the same way they do for luxury travel, only with a focus from African American, Latinx and other minorities who have had to strategically navigate to get to where they are either as a successful agency owner or as an executive with a brand, that has a specific focus and goal of giving black — and minority — people voices, tools and inspiration to grow their little corner of the industry into thriving businesses.
I don’t know where Angela Gathings Bespoke Travel, LLC will be in a year. Between the pandemic and the protests surrounding the murder of George Floyd, the business has the real potential of not surviving. However, I also know that my community has the potential to thrive. And that is the greater good.
Angela Gathings is the owner of Angela Gathings Bespoke Travel, LLC based in Greensboro/Winston-Salem, North Carolina. The mobile/virtual travel company focuses on luxury travel planning.