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African Tourism Is On The Rise Thanks To These Black-Owned Travel Agencies

By Sharelle Burt

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In recent years, African tourism has been rising at a rapid rate. We can thank black travel agencies for that, but it wasn’t always that way.

Back in 1955, black-owned agency Henderson Travel Services wanted to put a dent in African tourism for Americans. Claiming to be the first black-owned, fully-appointed travel agency, Henderson still found a way to make it work. Famous for the African “Roots” tours before Alex Haley’s classic book and TV series became popular, the agency is still in business as one of the pioneers of tourism on the continent. With a boom of ancestry exploration, the travel agency has no plans of stopping anytime soon.

“I had planned on semi-retiring last year, but I kept getting all these requests for travel to Africa, so I’m still at it,” Henderson Travel owner Gaynelle Henderson Baily said. Baily is the daughter of founders Freddye and Jake Henderson. While she works from home, the travel agent still maintains office space in Silver Spring, Maryland and has a staff of outside sales advisors.

Mandala Research conducted a study on the rise of tourism in Africa, and the numbers are quite impressive. Tourists spent $63 billion in 2018, a huge increase from 2010 when only $48 billion was spent. The numbers are set to go up this year. The president of Ghana has set 2019 as the Year of Return, celebrating the launch of the first slave ship departure 400 years ago, and agencies are teaming up with the country to hosts hundreds of group tours. Henderson is one of them, putting together a package during Ghana’s Panafest, a bi-annual festival celebrating traditional arts and culture.

RELATED: The Most Affordable Travel Destinations In the African Diaspora 

The 64-year-old travel agency is big on celebrating the culture where a majority of their clients come from. They also host tours in South Africa, with the main focus on Nelson Mandela and safari experience. Dubai is also a big market for them as well. Last year, Henderson hosted a group of 130 tourists to the Middle Eastern city.

“African Americans have tremendous interest in seeing the world and many have the discretionary income to do so,” Baily said. “As is true of the general market, there are a lot of Baby Boomers who are retiring and have a huge interest in traveling all over.”

Henderson isn’t the only black-owned travel agency making moves in Africa. Palace Travel, headquartered in the city of brotherly love, Philadelphia, is an expert in African tourism. Starting in 1991, Palace is a full-service, locally staffed travel agencies with offices in Ghana and Mali.

“We started to specialize exclusively in Africa travel after 9/11 when there was a drastic reduction in travelers going anyplace,” owner Lloyd Murray said. “Africa was one of the few destinations that did not see a significant drop in travel.”

Palace has sent travelers to every country in Africa including places like Eritrea, Djibouti, South Sudan, Niger, Madagascar and Comoros. They also provide services as a wholesale tour operator, paying commission to other travel agencies. The Philly-bound travel agency is also sending clients to the Year of Return, with a busy 10-day itinerary to Ghana in August.

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