For those unfamiliar with Black & Abroad, it is a cultural resource that caters to African American travelers. The mission is to elevate world exploration through the eyes of urban culture and communities. Serving as a resource for exploration and inspiration, Black & Abroad is committed to providing a platform that educates minorities on world travel.
The African American community spends roughly $40 billion on travel each year, but there are relatively small numbers of Black professionals within the industry. Black & Abroad is committed to bridging the gap and bringing forth a desired change in the travel industry. Rolling out had a chance to reflect with founder Kent W. Johnson and co-founder Eric Martin on Black & Abroad’s success and promising future, here’s what they had to say:
What separates you from others in your field? What is unique to the experience that you create?
Kent W. Johnson: One of the bigger things that sets us apart is the fact that we are men. The Black travel movement is dominated by incredibly dope and inspiring women, but there are few men doing their thing. It works for us because we get a chance to speak to things from a male perspective and be a complement to the work that the women have been able to accomplish.
What’s also unique about Black & Abroad is the fact that we were generating a profit immediately upon entering the Black travel market and built our following along the way. Other brands have attempted to incorporate products and sources of income after establishing their base, but we were very strategic early on about how we would stand amongst our contemporaries, and it worked to our benefit.
Our experience is very insular, but in a positive way. We use our social media presence and marketing campaigns to highlight our customers and their travels. We decided very early on that Black & Abroad wasn’t about us as individuals, but “us” as a community. You rarely see Eric or I in our branding, as we really strived to create a space where both seasoned travelers and newbies could walk away inspired.
Eric Martin: Our core values are what make us unique. Explore the world, embrace different cultures and empower the community. We encourage our travelers to go out not to just get a few good shots for social media — but to actually engage in creating memorable experiences by embracing the cultures of the places they visit. This usually results in a threefold empowerment. For one, the locals of the regions get a dope experience with our people (which sometimes doubles as a first impression), the travelers themselves walk away with a heightened confidence to take on their next journey, and just from seeing a familiar face in an unfamiliar place, many of our followers become inspired to create a similar experience of their own.
How do you stay at the leading edge of your craft?
KJ: By finding untapped experiences and not being afraid to take the risk of failing at it. We’re always looking for the door that hasn’t been opened yet and then making it look as though it was unlocked and in plain view all along. The whole idea of Black people traveling isn’t new, however, the attention is. Knowing that, Eric and I have constant conversations about where we see our business going, where our contemporaries look to be heading, and where the industry as a whole is projected — and sometimes our decision is to do the exact opposite of what’s expected, but those are moments that make great businesses, and we’re not afraid to have them.
EM: We start by taking chances. Experimenting. Combing through the analytics. I stress the importance of analytics. Gaining the ability to predict our travelers’ needs before they even mention them. Researching and implementing the methods that work. Scrapping the ones that don’t.
Why do you consider continued learning important?
KJ: With what we do, it’s necessary. Today we live in these brief, blink and you’ll miss it, Insta-Snapchat-able moments, and those moments never last. We have to constantly push ourselves to blaze a path and find those opportunities to create things people won’t forget after they’ve experienced it. The one upside to being at the forefront of this travel movement is that we have the opportunity to do things that haven’t been done before. You can’t blaze new trails without learning something new. I constantly discover that new ideas often provide the missing link to your old ones, so it’s key to be in a constant state of growth.
And for me, it’s personal. I take pride in constantly evolving into who I am, and that can’t happen without feeding myself new information.
EM: Adaptation is one of my core beliefs about life, so it’s only natural that it would carry over into my business practices. With today’s constant changes in technology, you’ll find yourself lost if you get stuck with fixed mindset. There will always be some kind of update to our smart-phones, social media platforms, and just our lives general, which will require a bit of a learning curve.
What role does technology play in your day-to-day life? How do you utilize it?
KJ: Technology is one of the major reasons why we’ve been able to see such success. Social media allows us to galvanize communities of people far quicker than in the past, and we use that to our advantage. It’s our direct link to our consumer and how we’re able to collectively share these experiences in Black travel with the entire world. Sadly, my connection to technology hasn’t changed much since starting Black & Abroad. I’ve always been a first-adapter for new tech and ideas, and my phone rarely leaves my hands. (It’s a shame … I’m working on that). Now, the majority of the time spent on all of the things I used before are with Black & Abroad in mind.
EM: For me, it serves as a time-saver. Most of us millennials would cringe at the thought of trying to carry out our day-to-day functions without the presence of some sort of technology. Not that we wouldn’t be able to perform; it would just take much more time. Technology for me serves as a multi-tasking extension of myself. Our company also heavily relies on the presence of tech, as we are a digital brand.
What is your favorite vacation destination and why?
KJ: My favorite destination right now, is Havana, Cuba. It’s the one place in the world that felt like I was in a completely different place. There are certain cities and countries that feel incredibly touristy, almost like a Disney-fied version of what it used to be, and Cuba doesn’t have that feel at all. As much as it felt like a different world, it also felt like home. That combination of feelings is rare, and I can’t wait to go back.
EM: I have a few, but I feel most connected when I’m vacationing in South Africa. It’s a completely different experience for me, because as an African American man, growing up, I saw so many negative connotations associated with going to Africa. Through the media, it just seemed like it wasn’t a great place to be. What I find most ironic is there are some parts that are more technologically advanced, and progressive on certain issues than we are! It also doesn’t hurt that it’s home, [has] nice beaches, good people, and good food.
What’s on your playlist?
KJ: A little of everything! I keep my music on a constant shuffle, but at the moment, I’ve been listening to Kaytranada’s new album Heavy, this artist named Snoh Aalegra dropped one of my favorite EPs of this year, and Ro James’ album is dope as well. I’ve also been revisiting a lot of ’90s era Bad Boy albums since seeing the reunion tour earlier this summer and there are certain albums that are mainstays for me, like Jay Z’s American Gangster, Sade’s Love Deluxe and Inc.’s No World.
EM: My musical tastes vary from time to time. You’ll catch me blasting Jay Z’s Blueprint around the house every year during fall. It takes me back to good times. I do have a few other albums on rotation right now:
The Internet, Ego Death; Travis Scott, Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight
Chance the Rapper, Coloring Book; and, of course, the new Gucci …
How do you stay connected with fans?
KJ: We really try to make ourselves accessible to them. We also use our brand’s social media accounts to bring us all closer together. For example, our Snapchat account is all about our following. We allow those in the community to take over our Snapchat account while they are journeying through the world to share it with the rest of our followers. It provides a space where everyone in the Black & Abroad family (including us) gets a chance to have conversations about the world.
Don’t let me see you in the airport or another country with some of our gear on, I’ll come right up and strike a conversation with you! It’s still incredibly humbling to see people support us so strongly, and I go out of my way to let people know that when I see them.
EM: We pretty much try to stay connected by keeping an open platform for our following. We try to keep things transparent by allowing them access to many of our social media channels. Through our SnapChat takeovers, and ambassador program, our followers can document their travel experiences and recommendations. We also push a monthly newsletter, which you can subscribe to at www.weareblackandabroad.com.