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  • Writer's picturemarty_sandiego

Trust in Tempe

Trust in Tempe : Why EVERY Black traveler should have Tempe on their list

One of the questions I get asked the most as a Diversity in Travel consultant is, “Tell us a brand that is getting it right in the industry when it comes to DEI.” Without hesitation, the destination I speak about the most is Tempe, Arizona. The year is 2019 and I’m in Billings, Montana for the TBEX Conference. A place where 5% of its attendees are Black content creators, but where diversity isn’t really discussed, only celebrated when made aware of the issues about the lack of it. I was a panelist on a discussion about DEI in the industry and there were two women in the audience who I saw actively taking notes. I can remember being grateful for their presence as the session should’ve been filled, but wasn’t. This gesture alone showed who really cared about connecting with inclusive communities to change a narrative that historically has only catered to able-bodied, white travelers.

Those two women happened to be Toni Smith and Rachel Semik of Tempe Tourism. Women I had no idea how much I’d come to love and who’d support me for EVERYTHING in the travel space. At the time I pitched to them an all Black press trip and they received it with no push back or hesitation. As a Black creator, up until this point, brands wanted to work with me but not to promote the Black travel narrative’’ – even though studies at that time showed Black travelers injected $63 billion dollars annually, a number that just 3 years later is now $129.4 billion and growing.

Within months we were actively planning for this trip to take place in April of 2020. As time drew near myself and my fellow colleagues were excited to explore Tempe! Unfortunately, we had to postpone the trip due to Covid19, but regardless of the uncertainty in travel, Rachel and Toni kept in touch with us and were determined for us to visit. I’m so happy to say in November of 2021 we were finally able to make the trip!

From the moment I stepped off the plane, I was in love!

The weather and the people were warm, the surroundings were iconic and breathtaking, and the wide range of flavors of mimosas every morning at their fantastic eateries were truly memorable! I loved that no matter what direction I stood in on “A” Mountain I could see other cities well known in the state. Gilbert was 15 miles southeast, Mesa was 5 miles east and Phoenix was right next door. I realized quickly that the Copper Corridor was a prime location in proximity to everything you as a traveler could need.

When creating the itinerary I specifically asked for Black-owned businesses we could visit and tell the rest of the community about. To my surprise, they were open to this and actually knew Black businesses and entrepreneurs that were residents of that area. Why was I surprised? Because normally destinations come to me and ask can I help them locate Black businesses. This ask has always perplexed me as it shows the lack of connection between brands and destinations but this was never the case with Visit Tempe Tourism.

They put multiple Black- owned restaurants on our itinerary like Monroe’s Hot Chicken which provided my taste buds with the BEST chicken sandwich I’ve ever had. The Sloppy Toppy fried chicken, mac and cheese, and hot Cheetos combination did not disappoint! They also connected us with Black entrepreneurs like Kurt and Deanna of Coupley Fit. We enjoyed spending our morning with them and being able to discuss their involvement with the city and how much it has evolved in terms of diversity and offerings.

Although I specialize in Black travel, my favorite part of the trip was visiting Koli Equestrian Center. A horse back riding experience filled with the joy of the unknown! You don’t know what to expect or what you’ll learn but I promise it will be memorable. During our ride we ran into a pack of mustangs. I had never been so close to wild horses and to see them in their natural habitat was intriguing. I’ll admit that I didn’t know the definition of a mustang until then and now I use it as a conversation starter 😂.

The portion of the experience that moved me the most was learning about the Gila River Indian Community Reservation we were on. Over 300,000 acres filled with mountains of every earth tone and an unbeatable view of the sunset. I loved learning the history of the reservation and how they’ve been successful in preserving their culture and civil rights. Indigenous tourism is incredibly important and I was so grateful to be able to indulge in that activity and support a community of strong people who have pristinely preserved their home and invited us all to partake in its beauty.

Tempe is a destination that others can learn from. They are committed to change in the industry and have not only put action behind their words but have physically shown up time after time to understand what the Black community expects from destinations.

They have attended Black travel focused events, met with Black content creators and implemented our ideas and suggestions to make sure their city is inviting and reflective of people who look like me. I’m forever grateful for my wonderful experience and encourage Black travelers to spend their travel dollars in a destination that has curated experiences specifically for us. Thank you to the Tempe Team for treating us like family and being true leaders in this space!

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