Ever curious about the latest innovations, especially when it comes to pursuits surrounding my favorite niche communities of travel and entrepreneurism, I first heard about Travel Noire – an online website offering “resources for the unconventional traveler [by featuring the stories of individuals from the African diaspora, residing all over the globe, and sharing their love of culture and exploration” – over a year ago.
Since then, I’ve stayed in the mix, following Travel Noire and their founder, Zim Ugochukwu, on Twitter and Instagram, and even witnessed first hand Travel Noire’s scoop of the decade – when according to The Daily Beast, the site shared an “unbelievable fare glitch [which] priced round trip flights on Etihad Airways from select U.S. cities to Abu Dhabi as low as $187, nonstop, taxes and fees included.”
Although I didn’t take advantage of the offer, it was still exciting to hear from all of the lucky travelers who did, and watch in awe as the beacon of light illuminating travelers of color began to shine even brighter than before.
(Having an intimate discussion with Travel Noire Founder Zim Ugochukwu)
Needless to say, when I attended the RISE Women’s Empowerment Tour in Los Angeles last week, I was excited to catch up with Zim and have a conversation about the travel industry’s increasing interest in travelers of color, the future of digital nomads, and other related topics concerning entrepreneurs and freelancers.
Read ahead to check out our interview, and leave your comments below! I’m curious to hear your thoughts as well.
Bella: I’m glad that we got a chance to finally catch up. I’ve been following Travel Noire for awhile, and I was actually up on Christmas Eve right when you guys posted the glitch fare to Abu Dhabi. That was incredible!
Zim Ugochukwu: Did you get it?
Bella: No, I tried but as soon as I would enter all of my information, the flight would sell out. I kept searching for different dates, but I’ve already made plans to do some traveling this year, so it’s only a matter of time before I reach Dubai. However, that brings me to my first question. Within the past few months, I’ve noticed a huge increase in media and brand attention specifically on Black travel. Do you think that’s something the corporate travel industry is now specifically aiming for – in terms of ads and trying to get the Black community to spend dollars? I haven’t noticed much of this type of targeted marketing for people of color until recently. Have you noticed this trend?
Zim Ugochukwu: You definitely see targeting in other areas of media. Right? How many of the leading cast members in a lot of these reality shows are people of color? You think about clothing, you think about shoes, you think about music, and you think about how influential people of color are. But when it comes to travel, there’s a stereotype that people of color only travel to the Caribbean Islands, or Miami, or Atlanta, or Las Vegas, and what I really wanted to do (with Travel Noire) was show these brands and advertisers that its about representation. It’s all about representation. If I don’t see anybody who looks like me in an ad for a country that you want me to come to, its not at the top of the list for me. You know for Greece… Look at that balloon, just hanging in the sky, isn’t that cool. You see it?
*Editor’s Note: Earlier during the RISE Empowerment Tour, every woman that attended was asked to write her purpose/ intention of a sheet of paper, and then tie it to a balloon. Later on, we went outside and had a ceremony “releasing” our intentions into the universe. Zim was pointing to one of the balloons that was still floating in the air.
(Pictures by Love & Biscotti contributor, Asha Catling)
Bella: Oh it is!
Zim Ugochukwu: Yeah, its cool. Anyway, so last year Greece was named as one of the most racist destinations for people of color.
Zim Ugochukw: And I mean Greece is a great place, its a great country, but a lot of people just cancelled their tickets based on that one article that came out. So what we did for the entire year of 2014 was to send writers out, and we had them chronicle their experiences in Greece. We launched Travel Noire TV with video from Zakynthos – which is an island in Greece. Now, to this day, Greece is one of the top destinations for people of color simply because they see people who look like them living there – living daily life on the Greek islands or in Athens – and that one article about Greece being a place that is not welcoming people of color is absolutely obsolete.
With what we did, you’re seeing somebody in real time, and you’re seeing an image of them living it up. You’re asking them about their personal experience, and it’s something that you know they talk about, and they reflect on, and I think a lot of brands are recognizing that if they’re not going to step up to the plate, and if they’re not representing different types of travelers, they’re going to loose.
Zim Ugochukwu: Its a 50 billion dollar market. And you know what? Marriott, who has a huge market share in the African American community, is one of the ones who wants to keep that up because they have to stay authentic, and they want to stay relevant. But, if The W Hotel or Star Wood wants a piece of that pie, then they know where to come. You know they know how to talk to influencers and things of that nature, but a lot people are just coming into the fold when they think about travel – and that it’s not only America.
Now, when you’re talking to like… For instance, I was just in Thailand telling this same story – its a different kind of experience. I was sitting in the room with the government, and they a had a beautiful video laid out, with all these people, and all of the tourists were white men. It’s just getting to that level where you understand that there’s a different kind of traveler, and it’s something that we’re working on every single day. In the next five to ten years, you’re definitely going to see a shift in the way that things are marketed.
(Balloon/ Intention Releasing Ceremony during the RISE Women’s Empowerment Tour)
Bella: That’s a great lead in to my next question. I’m marketing consultant, and I’m also a writer. So for the past couple of years, what I’ve basically seen – even in myself – is a gradual transition into “digital nomadness.” At this point, I’m about eighty percent digital nomad, which means I don’t need a physical location, and I read in Forbes that by the year 2020, fifty percent of the U.S. workforce will be freelance workers or independent contractors. Keeping this in mind, and the way business is transitioning, how do you think that this will effect young people that are traveling?
Zim Ugochukwu: I think that… I’m such a huge fan of the movement. I think Tim Ferriss, when he came out with the four hour work week, and some of the other people that I really admire and look towards, I think that in order for corporate companies to keep younger talent – millennials – they’re going to have to be flexible. You’re going to have to build in remote days, you’re going to have to build in flex days, you’re going to have to build in vacation days, and you’re going to have to come up to fold because if you have two jobs that are paying the same rate and the other only requires you to be in the office twice a week, I’m taking that. I’m taking the twice a week job so I can travel, so I can live my life, and so that I can create balance between my family and my work life.
You also have a lot of the hubs that are popping up like Columbia, Chiang Mai, and Thailand that are hubs for digital nomads because the cost of living is so low. In Chiang Mai, you can get an apartment for $300, and the internet is super fast, and people are transitioning to other countries because the cost of living is lower, and they’re able to do more. However, when you’re thinking about working with teams, Asia isn’t as conducive because its a twelve hour time difference. So if you’re trying to communicate with your team, you’re either staying up super late at night, or you’re waking up super early in the morning. So you’re finding that a lot of people who are in that six to eight hour range, the end of their night is the start of the work day. So I think that as we move into this remote workforce, it’s only going to work in our favor.
As millennials, I think there was statistic a couple of years ago, and I don’t know if it’s still accurate today, but by the time a millennial is 32, they will have had nine jobs.
Bella: That’s so true. I read that too.
Zim Ugochukwu: So if we’re already transitioning jobs because we want to live more meaningful and more purposeful lives then travel is going to naturally fit within all of that.
Bella: Speaking specifically in terms of people of color, and in terms of the Forbes’ article, when I brought that statistic up (fifty percent of the U.S. workforce transitioning to freelancers) to one of my mentors, he said the problem is that a lot people of color are going to be left behind or simply out of work when this happens. He said that having to be completely in control of your career and budget, as opposed to getting a job and showing up for work, is going to create huge obstacles for the minority group. What are your thoughts on this?
Zim Ugochukwu: Yeah. I mean, it’s still a new concept. The idea that I don’t necessarily have to be somewhere expected, and I can set my own term and agenda, but at the same time I still have to be responsible for my own work. That’s still fairly new, and when you think about the workforce today, its very roped, its nine to five, clock in, clock out, and this is my job. There’s definitely advantages that haven’t been afforded to people of color and I think that, I don’t know. I mean I could go into the answer for days and days and days. And its not one simple answer. You know it goes way back, its a lot deeper than both you and I realize…
Editor’s Note: Right at this moment, Zim and I had our conversation interrupted (very politely of course), because Zim was needed back at the RISE Empowerment Tour to take pictures for the panelist’s group photos. It’s probably a good thing that we were, because as Zim mentioned, the last topic at hand was and/or is probably a lot bigger than we both realize, and we probably could have talked about the current state of affairs of people of color for hours. Though short, our conversation was very succinct, and I’m glad that we had the opportunity to have a meeting of the minds.
With that said, I would love to hear from you readers regarding what you just read. Do you have any thoughts about the transitioning freelance workforce? Or perhaps the growing worldwide, digital nomad community, or even the travel industry in general? I’d love to hear from you!
xo, Bella Continue reading