Black Business Blown Off In Tourism Windfall

Alphonso Brown of Gullah Tours is one of the few African-Americans to carve out a successful niche in The Charleston tourism market

Shown: A busy summer afternoon in the historic district on King Street. Over 4 million people visit the Lowcountry every year making it one of America’s top destinations for tourists

By Barney Blakeney

The tourism industry produces revenues of some $7 billion in the Charleston region and $17 billion statewide. It has an economic impact of at least $300 million in the Black owned business niche of the industry. But despite that economic footprint, black business participation in the tourism industry still is minimal.

In the past several years, the Wando-Huger Community Development Corporation annually has sponsored the African American Tourism Conference which focuses on growing the African American niche in the tourism industry in South Carolina.

Virtually any Black owned business can carve a niche out of the tourism industry, said Kwadjo Campbell, a partner in the consulting firm of JC& Associates, contracted to produce the conference. It’s important that Black owned businesses realize they should be participating in the lucrative tourism industry beyond the sales of sweetgrass baskets, Gullah cuisine and Black tour guides, he said. Black artists, transportation providers, Black churches and historic sites all should be participating in the industry.

But that hasn’t been happening. National Park Service Community Relations Specialist Michael Allen has focused on African American History and helping the park service tell and interpret that history through a number of initiatives over his 35-year career. In 2006, Congress established the Gullah Geechie Heritage Corridor. President George Bush signed the National Heritage Act establishing the corridor that spans along the North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and north Florida coastlines.

Allen said even the establishment of the Gullah Geechie Heritage Corridor has not significantly increased Black business participation in the tourism industry. There is today more awareness of the significance and contribution Blacks made to American History, he said.

That awareness has generated increasing interest in the role and contribution of Blacks to local history and culture, and many of those who traditionally have profited financially from it increasingly incorporate Black historians and interpreters in the businesses they own. But few Black business owners share that economic windfall, Allen said.

The development of the African American International Museum is an example of the prominence of Black History in the tourism industry, Allen said. And while visitors to the museum that is expected to open by 2018 may engage various aspects of Black History and culture, there are no Black owned businesses within walking distance of the location on Concord Street in Charleston, he said, not even a Black owned restaurant serving prized Gullah cuisine.

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