Passion for Cape Town turns into Black travel business
About 20 years ago Maurice Foley visited Cape Town and fell in love.
The people, the seemingly endless beauty, the culture – it all fascinated him so much he began making an annual pilgrimage to the South African city.
Five years later, feeling guilty, he decided to invite a few friends. Before Mr Foley knew it, strangers were asking to join the adventure.
In June he quit his corporate job, committed himself fully to the travel company he’d launched 15 years earlier, and began planning his next step forward.
“The Black Travel Alliance, along with MMGY Global, came out with research on leisure travellers. Black American leisure travellers in 2019, pre-Covid, spent over $110 billion in travel,” Mr Foley said.
“[It hit me], why don’t we have our own conference, our own expo, our own platform where people can come together to find out who are our players in the travel industry that are people of colour.”
His idea was the Black Travel Expo, which Mr Foley has organised for June 2 to 5 at the Atlanta Marriott Marquis in Georgia. Stakeholders will share the latest “travel news, trends, and inspiration for future travel”. Travel products and services will also be on exhibit.
“I found out there are a couple of luggage companies that are Black-owned; there are a lot of Black travel businesses out there and we don’t even know who they are.”
The problem, Mr Foley said, is that the marketing world is so wide that companies aren’t reaching everyone in their targeted audience.
“My job here is to provide a platform for consumers to meet the Black travel enthusiast, the Black travel owner, travel companies, luggage companies – anything to do with travel, anything that’s travel-related.
“And this is not just getting on an airplane. We’re talking about getting into your car, exploring your local area, exploring another state, exploring another parish. The idea is to really get to know where you live, the history about where you live. I thought that the Black Travel Expo would be a great platform and opportunity to bring everyone together in one place for one weekend. Not just consumers, not just business owners, but also get corporations involved as well – because if we’re spending over $100 billion in travel we need some synergy.”
Passionate about travel, Mr Foley has visited “every continent except Greenland”.
He was introduced to South Africa by his great uncle and great aunt, missionaries who travelled the world helping others.
“That prompted us to go down to South Africa. It was [about a decade] after Apartheid ended and a lot of things were opening up for the locals [there]. Long story short, we had an opportunity to build a church, a community centre in this town called Bisho which is outside of East London, South Africa.”
Mr Foley, who left Bermuda for university and stayed in the US after he graduated, spent a month there with his family.
“I fell in love with South Africa,” the 51-year-old said. “I just could not get enough. I went every year to visit the people and the town and I got to know Cape Town and then in 2012 I started inviting some friends. It had been, kind of, my secret hideaway but I decided to share why I loved it so much.”
At the time, African Americans weren’t travelling to Cape Town in great numbers. According to Mr Foley, many were put off by the long flight. Others had a preconceived notion of the country.
He found 12 people who were excited to go with him and his curated, small-group adventures “just caught on like wildfire after that”.
“I have always had a corporate job working in finance,” said Mr Foley who has a bachelor’s degree in communications and a master’s degree in human resource management. “The last job I worked at was as a financial specialist for a non-profit organisation for almost ten years.
“But I’ve always had a passion for travel. About 15 years ago now I launched my own travel company and it just grew – from taking a few friends to two or three trips a year where I’m taking 10 to 20 people. Now it’s a staple, Cape Town to Johannesburg.”
Mr Foley, who lives in Atlanta, initially planned to hold the Black Travel Expo there next month but rising Covid numbers led him to move the event forward to June.
About 1,200 people have preregistered for it. He’s hopeful that number will reach 2,300, the maximum the Marriott can accommodate.
Aside from introducing consumers to products and services there will be panel discussions on hot topics such as how to safely travel.
“I’m getting doctors in to talk about that and how you can protect yourself post-Covid. Even if you’re vaccinated, even if you’ve been tested, what happens next?
“Experts will talk about leisure travel: How to travel smart, how to pack. People tend to over pack. It’s just about becoming a more modern, savvier traveller.”
For more information on the Black Travel Expo visit www.blacktravelexpo.co