Hero Story - Profiles


Five Minutes With ... Stephanie M. Jones

Founder & CEO | Cultural Heritage Economic Alliance, Inc.
Founder | National Blacks in Travel and Tourism Collaborative

Stephanie M. Jones has been engaged full-time in travel and tourism for eight years as a seasoned business and marketing strategist, DEI consultant, social entrepreneur and a leading cultural heritage tourism thought leader. She has introduced 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 innovative tourism initiatives designed to create diversity, equity and inclusion in the industry, including Black Cultural Heritage Tours, in addition to National Blacks in Travel & Tourism Collaborative—an initiative leveling the playing field for small Black and Brown businesses, assisting them in accessing equitable industry opportunities through the Black Tourism Talent Directory and Diversity Tourism Academy.

Jones' industry involvement is vast, including but not limited to serving on the U.S. Department of Commerce's Travel and Tourism Advisory Board, Northstar Travel Group's Black Travel Advisory Board, and as Hurtigruten's Black Travel Advisory Board Chair. Jones was the only U.S.-based founder selected as a top 10 finalist for the 2021 Social Entrepreneurship Competition in Tourism presented by UNWTO, TUI Foundation, Travel Massive and ITB Berlin.


Since the murder of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter Movement in 2020 during a global pandemic, I've witnessed a shift in how the global travel and tourism industry has been intentional about creating broader diversity, equity and inclusion for BIPOC and marginalized communities in destinations. Many industry brands have prioritized DEI and sustainability as part of their corporate objectives. Responsible travel and sustainable tourism that protects and supports the environment, people and economy are now being tied directly to corporate social responsibility and profit.


Two major challenges facing the travel industry are the COVID-19 pandemic and its new variants, which continue to disrupt full industry recovery, as we've seen recently with airlines having to cancel hundreds of flights due to sick employees. A labor shortage is also severely impacting the industry's recovery. Workers who were let go in 2020 haven't been returning to lower paid service positions due to industry instability during the pandemic, and the lack of transportation, childcare and livable wages.


As travel & tourism works to fully rebound, this is an opportunity for the industry to build back better as more diverse, inclusive and equitable for all to participate and thrive. In addition, as a result of the Black Lives Matter Movement, there's a heightened awareness and interest in the Black experience and culture in the U.S. This creates an opportunity for U.S. destinations to engage local stakeholders and to amplify and tell the multitude of rich Black history stories through authentic cultural heritage experiences for travelers to learn a broader narrative of Black history in America.


To be successful in travel, you must be willing to show up and actively participate. However, this industry is very much a "pay to play" industry and can be cost prohibitive for small businesses and solopreneurs to gain access to sell their products and services to domestic and international buyers. Therefore, it's important to seek out and build key industry relationships locally, nationally and globally in order to become exposed to organizations and events that can position you to not only participate, but to profit.

Edited by Sarah Suydam, Managing Editor for Groups Today.

This article originally appeared in the Mar/Apr '22 issue of Groups Today.


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