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Campfire Chat: Stephanie M. Jones

5 Minute Read

The  ATTA Campfire Chat series brings inspiration and vision from dynamic thought leaders whose areas of expertise inform and guide the adventure travel industry. Along with other efforts to regularly engage the global ATTA community in your remote settings, these short virtual interviews hosted by ATTA executives are designed to provide a brief but thoughtful reflection on issues you are facing now that will affect tourism tomorrow.

In our most recent campfire chat, Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) CEO, Shannon Stowell, hosts Stephanie M. Jones of the National Blacks in Travel and Tourism Collaborative (BTT), an organization leveling the playing field for Black and Brown owned travel and tourism businesses to actively participate and profit in their local tourism ecosystem. 

With the start of Black History Month in February and the AdventureConnect: Come Together virtual event on 4 February 2021, this timely conversation touches on some key opportunities for industry stakeholders, along with acknowledging some critical challenges to be addressed.

Stephanie and Shannon start the Campfire Chat by diving straight into cultural heritage tourism–what it is and what it means to Black and Brown business owners. They also discuss the Cultural Heritage and Economic Alliance (CHEA), how BTT was formed, and how cultural heritage tourism experiences are a top consumer demand. 

Stephanie is the founder of CHEA, an organization that “works to create broader diversity, inclusion, and engagement of multicultural tourism-related businesses and attractions from underserved heritage, rural and urban neighborhoods/communities in global destinations.” For the last five to six years, CHEA has launched several initiatives to drive support for Black-owned businesses and tour operators.  Stephanie explains, through “foot traffic and dollars,” CHEA partners with tour operators and industry stakeholders like DMOs to raise awareness of their local cultural heritage locations and opportunities as many are unaware of these opportunities in their own destinations and communities. 

As COVID-19 hit the industry, Stephanie decided to convene Black VPs and CEOs in travel to start contributing to the discussions around recovery for the industry as a leadership group. This group is now BTT.  Stephanie says that one of the reasons behind the creation of BTT was so that Black-owned businesses could hear from this leadership group. She explains,  “black businesses were impacted by lack of equity and inclusion in the industry even before COVID, so you can imagine how much more they have been impacted since COVID-19. There was a recent study conducted by the New York Federal Reserve back in April that indicated that more than 40% of black-owned businesses no longer exist because of COVID-19.” 

In addition to providing support and resources for Black-owned travel and tourism businesses and industry professionals, BTT has also facilitated many conversations among industry leaders that lead DMOs and other industry organizations and associations to reach out about improving their diversity, equity, and inclusion practices as well as learning how to engage their local communities and stakeholders. 

A powerful moment of the video, especially as it relates to cultural heritage tourism and Black history, is when Stephanie explains: 

“In the US we’ve been slow to really understand the power of cultural heritage tourism in our country and I think it is because the industry has only viewed cultural heritage through one lens–the white lens.

When you think back, this country was built on the backs of Black Americans or Africans who were brought to America so our history is intertwined and interwoven with every facet of this country. But I don’t think people overall or the general public really value or appreciate Black cultural heritage because our stories, typically, are not easy, you know? They’re hard stories sometimes because you can’t talk about Black cultural heritage without talking about racism, without talking about slavery, without talking about the civil rights movement. 

I think this country and industry has really missed out on some genuine opportunities to really be intentional about telling the full story and showcasing the full cultural heritage of the US.”

In the talk, Shannon and Stephanie agree that the most memorable experiences in travel are when the experience made you feel something, and you connect with the people who made you feel. The cultural element of travel is about interacting with local people, sharing stories, tasting local food, listening to music, and appreciating local art. Adventure travelers want cultural experiences. It is part of the definition of adventure travel, and Stephanie reminds us, “when we talk about cultural heritage in America and we talk about amplifying the history within our country, and there is no history without Black History in America.” 

Watch this Campfire Chat to hear the rest of this important conversation and join us to hear more from Stephanie M. Jones during our Come Together event on 4 February 2021. 

ABOUT STEPHANIE M. JONES

Stephanie M. Jones, Founder & CEO of the Cultural Heritage Economic Alliance, Inc. (CHEA), is a leading cultural heritage tourism thought leader introducing award-winning innovative and sustainable tourism initiatives designed to leverage cultural heritage tourism as an economic driver for fueling local tourism businesses and cultural institutions in underserved communities.

Jones is the founder of some of the most innovative tourism initiatives designed to create diversity, equity, and inclusion in the travel & tourism industry such as Culture onShore (www.cultureonshore.com), the world’s first global marketplace for cultural heritage tours + activities. She is also the founder of the National Blacks in Travel & Tourism Collaborative (www.blacksintourism.org), an initiative leveling the playing field for small black and brown travel & tourism businesses, assisting them in accessing equitable opportunities in the industry through the Black Tourism Talent Directory and Diversity Tourism Academy both launching in 2021.

Jones is the co-founder for the National Cultural and Heritage Tourism Summit. She is a tourism development consultant working with destinations to develop programs that leverage cultural heritage tourism as well as engages and positions local community assets to attract cultural travelers to businesses and attractions in underserved communities within destinations.

Jones serves on the United States Travel and Tourism Advisory Board, Destinations International’s Global Leadership and Governance and Nomination Committees, and the Future of Tourism Advisory Board. She is a Reverse Exchange Fellow for the U.S. Department of State’s Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative and presented a Cultural Heritage Tourism Summit in Montego Bay, Jamaica in July 2019 supported by the U.S. Embassy. She was tapped by the Belize Tourism Board to serve as keynote speaker for the 2019 Annual Tourism Conference. Currently, she is pursuing a Master’s in Business Administration degree from Florida International University graduating Spring 2021.

She is a keynote speaker on diversity & inclusion in the tourism industry, leveraging opportunities in cultural heritage tourism and local stakeholder engagement through community tourism.

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