Martinique Lewis has created a brand for herself in diversity travel with The ABC Travel Green Book and the Diversity Travel Scorecard. As the industry confronts the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter global reckoning, Lewis is poised to help businesses become more inclusive and welcoming for all travelers.
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At travel conferences held around the world, Martinique Lewis always makes sure to arrive early to secure her seat in the front row directly facing the powerful CEOs on the stage. Dressed to the nines in her signature hat, scarves and gloves, Lewis patiently waits for the question portion to stand up, introduce herself and ask the chief executives: What are you doing about diversity and inclusion in your company?
It’s a question she still asks because, she says, it’s her passion. It’s also the reason Lewis walked away from her lucrative career in fashion in 2017, using her savings to travel the world attending industry conferences after noticing something was lacking in the travel industry.
“This was what I really said made my heart beat at night and it was sharing the black narrative and making sure I advocated for travelers that looked like everybody and I was dedicated to it,” Lewis said.
That first year Lewis admits was tough, but she made it work using her expertise in content creating in exchange for hotel rooms and getting comps as a first time conference attendee. According to Lewis, she started by creating a website letting people know of her services and continued making noise, certain that people would soon understand there was a problem in the industry and she’d soon land some clients. Her persistence and hard work paying off and getting Lewis noticed.
Making People Uncomfortable
“They started saying oh, that’s the girl who’s always talking about diversity and inclusion, who’s making people very uncomfortable on stage because they don’t have any answer for us, so then people started asking me to speak,” said Lewis, whose current role is president of the Black Travel Alliance. “To speak about diversity and those same CEOs who couldn’t answer my questions, were asking me to come in and do diversity training so that their companies and their brands could be more reflective of inclusion communities.“
She went from living off her savings and not producing an income in 2017, to quadrupling her income last year to six figures, while making a lane for herself as a diversity and travel consultant, speaking at conferences, advising clients on inclusiveness in the workplace, campaigns and catering to the plethora of travelers including 50-plus, plus-size, multigenerational and LGBTQIA voyagers that don’t fit the traditional norms or see themselves reflected.
After launching her successful business, Lewis became the creative lead of NOMADNESS Travel Tribe, the first black travel movement to start in America, after hearing its founder Evita Robinson’s TED talk. She started considering putting her experiences into a book based on the annual “Black Travel History Facts” she was producing through NOMADNESS.
“So every February I was doing these Black Travel History Facts where I was teaching people about black people in certain spaces because I’m meeting these people and I’m thinking if I’m having these experiences then how can I make it so that other black travelers have these experiences,” Lewis said.
A global traveler since childhood, Lewis grows animated as she describes her trips around the world, the same trips she wants to put in a book. Her three favorite places are London, where she left her heart, Amsterdam where she first learned about the history left out of the history books and the joys of the Black global diaspora, and Trinidad where she attends Carnival every year and totally disconnects from the world.
The ABC Travel Green Book
Ask her about any place on a map and she’ll probably give you little-known facts about it. Want to get your hair done in Scotland? She knows a place. Thinking of becoming an expat and moving to Amsterdam? She can connect you with the Amsterdam Black Women who will come and make sure you’re all set. Lewis is similar to a walking travel encyclopedia.
As Lewis pondered what to do next with her wealth of information, Robinson introduced her to the “Negro Motorist Green Book” by Victor Hugo Green, published annually during the Jim Crow era for African-American travelers.
“Essentially it was the traveling bible for Black people to not to lose their lives,” Lewis said.
This gave her the idea of creating her own green book on a global scale and “The ABC Travel Green Book,” a resource for African-American globetrotters was born. She’s presently working on a second edition, an accompanying app, which she calls a mixture of Facebook, Yelp, and Tripadvisor all rolled into one. And she’s hoping to bring some of these stories to life in a show soon.
In 2019, she set the industry afire with her diversity travel scorecards, grading companies on their lack of diversity in brands, marketing, promotions, influencer trips and traditional media. The 2020 edition of the scorecard featured industry case studies that others could emulate.
Lewis’ Diversity Travel Scorecard seems to be making a difference, Visit Maine campaign received a less than stellar grade in 2019 related to a video of just white travelers shown at a conference. The Maine Office of Tourism Director Steve Lyons told Skift that “Maine is producing marketing materials that ensure cultural diversity and inclusion. We work with people from many cultures and lifestyles to portray Maine as the welcoming destination that it is. We continue to add diversity to our marketing materials as we schedule photo shoots and execute digital influencer, paid and earned media campaigns.”
A typical day for Lewis starts at 4 or 5 a.m. so she can reach her clients in Europe, then on to interviews, lunch-and-learns, or panel discussions while still working a 9 to 5 in travel technology. And while the pandemic has seen many businesses struggle, Lewis, who is splitting her time between Oakland, California, and London where her significant other resides, continues to offer her services virtually to her clients globally.
Lewis admits that if it hadn’t been for #BlackoutTuesday, her business might be struggling too. But she said, everything changed since the deaths of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd and even more since June 2, 2020, the day designated on social media as BlackoutTuesday.
“Blackout Tuesday, that’s when all the travel brands wanted to post their blacked out squares as if Black Lives mattered before Blackout Tuesday. And I was like no, no, no, you don’t get to post this. We’ve been trying to work with you for years and you don’t return any emails, answer any phone calls,” Lewis said.
The Tough Love Connector
Lewis, who prides herself on using tough love with clients, said the reason she’s so effective in this industry is because she comes with a network and is known in the industry as a connector, someone who can always connect the dots to make sure that inclusivity happens across all the scales. #BlackoutTuesday showed her another need waiting to be filled, so she launched the Black Travel Alliance putting together a pull up to travel campaign and ever since she says her phone’s been ringing off the hook.
Lewis who like everyone else looks forward to resuming global traveling, sees Covid-19 as a time for herself and others in the industry to pivot. At NOMADNESS, they’ve done just that with Audacity Fest and Audacity Digi, replacing their one big festival a year with three virtual ones that have been extremely popular.
She sees the industry turning around and has already started seeing recovery campaigns. She said now is the time to start working on next year’s Black History Month campaigns, and not two days before as a household name in the industry did this year scrambling for appropriate content.
“This is the time to do it correctly and make sure that everybody is represented in your recovery campaigns.”
Photo credit: Martinique Lewis in Oakland, California. Jen Siska