More than a couple of tragic events in the U.S. these past few years have heightened awareness about racial injustices—and that includes in travel.

After reading the book Driving While Black: African American Travel and the Road to Civil Rights, AAA Travel team leaders invited its author, Gretchen Sorin, to speak to employees. Afterward, the team created a database of services AAA travel partners offer to make travel more inclusive. It includes measures to assist travelers with mental and physical disabilities, as well as efforts to advance and recruit women and people of color. The team also seeks insight from its employee resource groups on how to better serve Black travelers. It’s a travel industry segment often overlooked, according to Evita Robinson, who covered the topic in a 2017 TED talk. Robinson founded NOMADNESS Travel Tribe to serve travelers of color.

According to Black Travel Alliance, Black U.S. leisure travelers spent $129.6 billion on domestic and international travel in 2019. The alliance, a professional nonprofit organization, was formed in 2020 to “encourage, educate, equip and excel black travel professionals in education, media and corporate positions.” The alliance was among a group of organizations that support Black travelers and that supported a study conducted by marketing firm MMGY Travel Intelligence. The study sought to identify the needs, behaviors and sentiments of the Black travel community. The first phase of the study revealed their enormous spending power (in 2019, U.S. Black travelers spent $109.4 billion on domestic travel and $20.2 billion on international travel).

The second phase of the report revealed that Black travelers—particularly those in the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. and Ireland—pay close attention to how the travel industry approaches diversity, influencing their travel decisions. Plus, in the U.S., 54% of Black travelers were more likely to visit a destination if they saw Black representation in its advertising.

Another highly influential factor in travel decisions among Black travelers is whether a destination is perceived as safe for them. Seventy-one percent of U.S. and Canadian survey respondents indicated that safety was extremely or very influential in their travel choices.

“America’s history of slavery followed by repressive Jim Crow laws, segregation, institutional racism and continuing police brutality has made U.S. Black travelers cautious,” says Ursula Petula Barzey, research committee chair for Black Travel Alliance. Barzey says this explains the importance of Victor Hugo Green’s The Negro Motorist Green Book, a travel guide that listed establishments nationwide that served Black patrons. That book was published from 1936 to 1966, but even today, concerns persist. This is one reason Black travelers join online communities such as NOMADNESS, a group of more than 25,000 Black and brown travelers.

Some travelers want to explore their history or learn more about the country’s civil rights journey. Deborah Douglas, a journalism professor, wrote Moon U.S. Civil Rights Trail: A Traveler’s Guide to the People, Places, and Events That Made the Movement to document the story of Black America’s quest for equality and justice. She says the book could also serve as a roadmap to activism. (AAA also conducts a tour along the Civil Rights Trail.)

“In my experience, Black narratives and Black spaces are not automatically curated for cultural tourism or for cultural exploration,” she told The Washington Post last year.

Douglas’ book includes spots like the Old Slave Mart Museum in Charleston, South Carolina and the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, as well as recommendations on where to dine, shop or find entertainment. Many of her suggestions are Black-owned businesses.

In 2018, a number of state tourism boards, from Wilmington, Delaware, to Topeka, Kansas, compiled the U.S. Civil Rights Trail, a website allowing visitors to explore the destinations important to the civil rights movement, as well as plan their journey to cities along the trail. Destinations include lesser-known cities instrumental in the movement, too, such as Farmville, Virginia, and Greensboro, North Carolina, where students led walkouts and sit-ins.

The AAA Civil Rights Trail road trip covers 472.7 miles from Atlanta, Georgia, to Montgomery, Alabama, including the home and resting place of Martin Luther King Jr. in Atlanta’s Sweet Auburn Historical District. AAA Approved Mary Mac’s Tea Room is also on the trail, and the city is home to the National Center for Civil and Human Rights as well.

In Birmingham, some of the city’s most moving markers of the Jim Crow era are found within its six-block civil rights district, such as the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. Elsewhere in Alabama, there’s Troy University’s Rosa Parks Museum and the Freedom Rides Museum in Montgomery.

Visitors can see the places at the forefront of the freedom movement in Montgomery. Recommended stops include the Civil Rights Memorial Center, The Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church and the Dexter Avenue Parsonage Museum.



Follow the Civil Rights Trail

This 472-mile road trip begins in Atlanta and continues through Birmingham and Montgomery, Alabama.