Arnie Weissmann

Arnie Weissmann

“Interesting question,” said Laurence Pinckney, president of ZenBiz Travel, as we stood outside a restaurant in New York earlier this week. “The answer is ‘yes’. And ‘maybe.’

The question was, “As a black travel advisor, would you refer clients to black-owned travel suppliers?”

Laurence Pinckney

Laurence Pinckney

He added: “It’s important to promote diversity. And I believe that promoting black-owned businesses is very important. So if it’s top notch and matches my customers, I’ll promote it.

“But, for example, somebody was telling me about a hotel in Cape Town that was black-owned at the time, and he thought it was a great five-star hotel. I looked at it and I didn’t like it. So the fact that it was Black-owned and at five stars it didn’t transcend what I thought would be best for my customers.”

We’re at the end of National Black Business Month, and I brought up the question to Pinckney because I had just spoken with a black business owner who is buying hotels because, in part, he believes that black travelers who want to stay in black Owned properties represent an exploited opportunity.

That business owner is William Huston, co-founder and chief investment officer of Bay Street Capital Holdings, based in Palo Alto, California. After overlapping two data points — that black consumers spend $109 billion on domestic travel, but only 532 of the 91,000 US hotels are black-owned — he saw a market segmentation opportunity.

Acting on his belief that many Black travelers would prefer to stay at a Black property if that was an option, he decided that rather than tie up with a well-known hospitality company, he would start his own brand, Resthaven.

“A lot of black owners go to strong brands. But it’s not immediately obvious who owns the hotel if the name is Hyatt, is it?” he asked.

William Huston

William Huston

After reading that black travelers spend $20 billion abroad in addition to domestic spending, he sent two of his staff who were realtors (one with a degree in hospitality management) to look for properties both in the U.S. and abroad, and they have so far found four — one in Venice, California; Lake Tahoe, California; Zihuatanejo, Mexico; and Sangre, Portugal — which Bay Street has either acquired or is in the process of acquiring.

In last week’s online cover story on luxury travel, Travel Hub 365’s Stephen Scott pointed to the lack of black imagery in suppliers’ promotional materials as a barrier to selling to travelers of color.

Huston looks at the basic assumption behind Scott’s observation—that travelers want to recognize themselves in marketing material—and applies it broadly. It is not his intention to fill his hotels only with black travellers; His first digital marketing strategy uses social media and influencers to target different market segments and serve tailored messages to a variety of demographics.

“Using cookies, we already know a lot about someone searching for, for example, ‘places to stay in Portugal’. If a black person enters that, we’ll show them an image of a person with color on our property in Portugal. If he is a golfer, we will highlight that he is near a golf course. If he is a surfer, we will show that he is near a beach. Some hotel investors approach added value by repainting and refinancing the property and taking advantage of the value proposition. The value we add is knowing how to properly segment the audience.”

Another component of the strategy is the acquisition of trophy properties in prime locations. He is not looking for bargains. “The Venice property is a five-minute walk from the beach; it’s already been used by HBO for location filming. The one in Mexico is stunning; we bought it while it was still under construction, but we immediately had this feeling that we had to have it. The one in Lake Tahoe is very well located and may have a membership component and workspace. The one in Portugal is close to golf and the beach.”

Which brings us back to Pinckney and his desire to support black-owned businesses, but only if they match his clientele. Huston is clearly as focused on product distribution as it is on market segmentation.

Do travel advisors have a place in Houston’s plans?

“Not yet. But we’re open to it,” he said.

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