A year prior to my trip I remember my ears burning literally and turning bright red at the tips because I was so upset at a promotional video showed at WITS 18’. They were revealing the location for 2019 and as it played people in the room were antsy as we all eagerly waited for the next city to be announced. As the video played you could see the discomfort and outrage on every person of colors face. Unaware of the feelings of disappointment and frustration because the lack of representation ONCE AGAIN, the representatives from Visit Maine were so excited to be hosting WIT’S 19 but had no idea how we felt. Conversation spread like wildfire immediately and a lot of people made up in their mind they weren’t attending because Maine cared nothing about people of color.
I can’t speak for other people, but for me ‘’traveling while black’’ can cause tremendous anxiety. The judgment you pass on a place because of the judgment you think is already placed on you due to your appearance can ruin your travel experience. Will they stare, will they ask about my hair, will they be so culturally clueless that they’ll make inappropriate references and not think how their verbiage, art, food and overall interactions might offend me? Deep right? Welcome to my world. So I’ve tried not to judge a book by its cover but still be cautious while traveling at all times.
I went back and forth in my head, should I go, should I skip a year? But eventually I came to the realization that if I didn’t show up in that space, my voice and my mission wouldn’t matter, so I made the decision to go. I started looking through the FAM trips and one really caught my eye. It was all about discovery and community throughout the eastern coast of Maine. And I thought to myself you’ll probably be the only person of color, but go anyway. Stand in the gap, be the reason they market to more travelers of color, and be absolutely attentive and authentically you. So I applied and I was accepted!
I remember when the first email came through, It listed all content creators who were chosen and our travel channels. I was shocked that everyone was of color and I said someone, somewhere, did something right! For there to be a press trip where FOR ONCE everyone was of color, I was floored. This never happens, they always ignore us, IS THIS REAL???
Sure enough, it was, and thanks to women like Jenna Howard and Crystal Hitchings on May 6, 2019, the industry changed for the better. Far too often there are no Jenna’s or Crystals. There’s no one to say where’s the representation, there’s no one to say are we reaching all markets? But thankfully MAINE is a state where all are welcome. They are leaders in the industry and have literally achieved something we’ve been asking tourism boards and DMO’s to do for years! INCLUDE EVERYBODY!
For the first time, I wasn’t exhausted from fighting for diversity on a press trip. For the first time, I didn’t hear the word ‘’ positive discrimination’’. For the first time I was chosen not only because I was black and they had to check off a box, but because I was good at what I did.
To be a travel professional in this industry is hard, you can voice your opinion, write a blog post, show up to travel conferences and events and still never be provided the opportunity that other people get because of your race, shape, religion, sexual preference or age.
But today’s a new day, and things are changing. We are FINALLY being heard and we call all tourism boards and DMO’s to SEE, HEAR and HIRE us. So what’s the MAINE IDEA? To treat the terms ‘’diversity’’ and ‘’inclusion’’ as actions and not just buzz words, because who and what you show speaks and attracts volumes. Maine changed my industry experience for life, Maine’s Midcoast gave me hope that things will change. A Chinese Canadian, Jewish Ecuadorian and a Taiwanese Canadian and African American traveled throughout MAINE. No one stared, no one judged we were treated as we should always be treated, as equals.