Among the litmus tests of culture and enlightenment in modern travel, rests the ability of visitors to chart the tastes, character and richness of their destinations by what they encounter. Case in point, travelers to New York City expect to see yellow cabs, the Statue of Liberty, and a host of other markers when entering its transportation hubs.
For the D.C. metropolitan area, that cultural nuance has been enhanced greatly to not only include various monuments and historical markers, but also the vibrancy of Black culture in the region at its three airports — Ronald Reagan Washington National, Washington Dulles International and Thurgood Marshall Baltimore-Washington International.
Travel research group MMGY Global, which collects data from thousands of people for its annual Portrait of the American Traveler survey, also charts the behavioral patterns and vacationing habits of people across generations, classes and races.
Stephen Cohen, MMGY vice president of insights, said that African-American millennials represent the largest increase in travelers and are traveling both nationally and internationally in record numbers.
“Over the last three years, the increase [in intent to travel] among African Americans has been pretty significant, going from an increase of about 3 [percentage] points, to 6 points, to 19 points this year,” Cohen told Time magazine. “The trend is suggesting that we’re going to see more African Americans traveling internationally.”
According to Deven Judd, director of customer and concessions development for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, creating a sense of place among diverse travelers — including those millennials — has meant incorporating the Black experience into local airports, in addition to commemorating the achievements of African Americans during Black History Month.
“Our passengers come from wide and diverse backgrounds and it is important to have that diversity represented among the Authority, our contractors, and personnel,” Judd told The Informer. “D.C. is rich with African-American experiences history from the home of Frederick Douglass, to the historic U. Street corridor, so it is important that that sense of place is reflected inside the airports.”
And the sentiments have legs. During Black History Month, each of the MWAA introduced a wide spectrum of cultural and historical events to celebrate the achievements of Black Washington, including an Explore Heroes of Aviation and Aeronautics social media platform, as well as live music performances at the airport.
“I was blown away by the efforts of the airport to incorporate Black History Month into my travel experiences,” said Denver resident Mary Sands, who, upon missing a return flight Feb. 14, found herself swaying to the musical stylings of vocalist Gary Mitchell Jr., who performed at Reagan’s National Hall. “It was such an unexpected treat and it eased the tensions I was feeling about ending my vacation with my daughters and missing my flight.”
Judd said the overall response from passengers has been similarly positive.
“It is always important that our airport customers are relaxed and feel at home,” Judd said. “We know it can be a stressful time going through security and screenings. Passengers experiencing a city the first time when they get on or off the plane — having that welcoming experience lends to their feeling at ease and happy. Additionally, for Black History Month, we wanted to use different channels of reaching people, including social media, online content, banners inside the airport, make sure customers and contractors, getting into a mood of reflection the importance.”
Part two of the series will examine the Black-owned businesses and franchise owners whose efforts undergird the airports’ $23 billion economic impact on the District of Columbia.