Of an estimated 500 tour guides in the local area, only about a dozen are African American. The tourism industry produces revenues of some $7 billion in the Charleston region. It has an economic impact of at least $300 million in the Black owned business niche of the industry. Alada Shinault-Small, a 34-year veteran tour guide, says her experience in the industry has been excellent.
For Shinault-Small, who is a University of South Carolina graduate and majored in journalism, ‘Reaganomics’ pushed her into the industry. She couldn’t find a job, she said. An acquaintance was a guide and suggested she pursue an opportunity. She was hired and primarily has worked in the industry since.
Although tourism has been her mainstay occupation, Shinault-Small is quick to emphasize that the industry, though lucrative, is seasonal. Like many occupations where the individual’s innovation and work ethic can determine how much is earned, various forces such as the weather, economic conditions and even trade boycotts can affect earning ability.
While on average a tour guide can earn about $20,000 annually Shinault-Small said, “It’s important to have other income streams. Everyone I know in the business has other income sources. The job is lucrative, but it’s seasonal.”
Some of those other income streams relative to the tourism industry include story telling and giving lectures, Shinault-Small notes. As a trained journalist, she offers literary services to others in the industry. The opportunities in the hotel and hospitality industry dovetails well into the tourism industry, she said. Servers, bartenders and hotel concierges get front line opportunities to interact with tourists who need services offered by guides.
But other professional opportunities exist as well. Transportation services are an obvious extension into the industry. But also there is catering, photography and a myriad of related visitor services. Shinault-Small said the opportunities really are unlimited.
Alphonso Brown, owner of Gullah Tours, is a retired school teacher who started as a tour guide in 1985 offering tours in his car. He later purchased a van and now uses a bus. He has worked in tourism full time since 1996 and his business steadily has grown. Brown now wants to slow down and is willing to train a younger apprentice. So far he hasn’t had any takers.
Madeline Broderick of the SmartState Center for Economic Excellence in Tourism and Economic Development at the University of South Carolina said the center has been awarded a grant to promote African American tourism in the state. The project will begin with a series of focus groups conducted in select areas of the state.