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Meet the Activists Reshaping the Travel Industry for the Better

Whether it’s pushing for representation or increased diversity, these activists are paving the way for a more inclusive travel industry.

A few years ago, a quick Google search of the word “travel” resulted in nothing but images of white faces. The blonde woman wearing a long dress on the edge of a mountain, the picture-perfect white family on a cruise, and a cute cis couple holding hands on a beach are all examples of photos you’d see in marketing and travel publications. In actuality, people of all races, families of all sizes, and couples of all genders and physical abilities have been traveling the world.

Luckily, the face of travel is changing thanks to activists, advocates, and thought leaders who are doing the work to help diversify the travel landscape. The economic impact of diverse travelers is undeniable—data from MMGY Global and nonprofit Travel Unity show that Hispanic Travelers Spent $113.9 Billion on Domestic Travel in 2019 alone. Slowly, HR and Marketing executives are starting to recognize how crucial it is to say and show how important diversity is to their organization.

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As we all become more aware of the world’s social injustices, many of us become more solution-based. The best way to find a solution is to ask marginalized people and actively listen. Through my work as a “Fat Activist” and the leader of the fat-positive community, Fat Girls Traveling, I’ve been able to meet other activists who are doing incredible things. I will introduce you to some of the change-makers doing the work, many of which are intersectional and have already made a huge impact. From lawmaking to award-winning, these activists are changing the narrative on what it means to be travel, all while diversifying the landscape of the travel industry.

The Rise of Halal Travel

Islam is the fastest-growing religion globally and the youngest of the major world religions. By 2070, Muslims will outnumber Christians, according to the Pew Research Center. Since 2016, several French municipalities have outlawed “Burkinis,” a swimsuit covering the whole body except the face. Although France has a Muslim population of over 4 million, last year, five female activists were fined for wearing burkinis in a swimming pool in Grenoble, France. This is just one example of the discrimination and Islamophobic treatment that make Muslim travelers hesitant to travel.

Some of the top concerns for Muslim travelers include halal food, segregated prayer spaces for men and women, and alcohol-free activities. Many of which are finally starting to be addressed, especially in the most halal-friendly travel destinations, including Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, and Japan. The Global Muslim Travel Index 2021 (GMTI), produced by Mastercard and Crescent Rating, showed that international Muslim traveler arrivals grew from an estimated 108 million in 2013 to 160 million in 2019.

Elena is the brains behind Muslim Travel Girl, the largest Muslim travel blog. Muslim Travel Girl is not only the go-to website for Western Muslim-friendly travel. This award-winning blog is the largest website covering Muslim and Halal travel. Elena helps Muslims find Halal travel destinations, provides advice on DIY Umrah, and expert travel tips.

“As a person with a multicultural background, I consider myself a citizen of the world. I was born in Bulgaria, raised in Greece, and settled in the UK,” says Elena. “I became Muslim 7 years ago. Coming from such a diverse culture, I realized that not many Muslims travel.”

Elena’s passion is to help the Halal travel industry blossom into a great opportunity for more Muslims to travel and explore the world and be confident in their Muslim identity. As the first woman to become a Chartered Islamic Marketer (CIMA) in the UK and with over ten years of marketing and branding experience, she’s had no problems making her passion a reality.

Elena has traveled around the world at very little expense by using travel hacks. She and her husband did an Umrah, or pilgrimage to Mecca for £2,000, saving approximately £18,0000 using loyalty programs, tips, and tricks.

“For the past seven years, I have helped over a million readers go for Umrah by assisting them in understanding the Umrah visa fees and procedure,” explains Elena. “My goal is to help Muslims explore the world that Allah SWT created without breaking the bank and for non-Muslim to see that we are pretty cool people.”

Kareemah of Hijabi Globetrotter is the Nigerian-American encouraging other Muslims to explore. She hasn’t stopped since the age of six when she took her first international trip with her family to Amsterdam. This sparked the love of travel that motivated her to move to Spain solo in 2015.

While in Spain, she noticed that she rarely saw other Muslims doing what she was doing. As she traveled to neighboring countries, she struggled to find Halal eateries and places to pray. This is what inspired her to create Hijabi Globetrotter. The site was initially intended to shine a light on the real-life of a Muslim and to create community with other Muslim travelers. It has since transformed into an online community that shares stories from many underrepresented voices.

As a language lover, Kareeemah writes her social media posts in English and Spanish. Moving forward, the platform will share exclusive resources and videos on travel, lifestyle, and language, all from a Muslim’s perspective. With the goal to connect, encourage, educate, and share content with people from all walks of life.

“My message for potential and current Muslim travelers is to travel as much as you can, even if it’s to a nearby city in your town,” Kareemah said in an interview with Huffington Post. “Do so with an open mind. Finally, don’t let the media, societal pressures, or constraints get in your way.”

LGBTQ+ Travel Activists

One of the largest consumers in travel is the LGBTQ+ community. Spending approximately $65 billion on travel annually, which makes up nearly 10 percent of the U.S. travel market. There’s always a risk while traveling, but members of this community have to be especially vigilant when it comes to safety. LGBTQ+ travelers take about three vacations and an additional 3.7 trips for business or family per year, according to CMI’s 22nd Annual LGBTQ Tourism & Hospitality Survey. According to the U.S. State Department, 77% of the LGBTQ+ respondents own valid passports compared to an estimated 42% of the general public. Unfortunately, there is anti-gay legislation all over the world, which means LGBTQ+ travelers have to do additional safety planning and identify local resources that can help if needed.

Aria Sa’id is a San Francisco-based transgender & body positivity advocate, award-winning political strategist, and founder and the President of The Transgender District—the world’s first legally recognized cultural district of its kind. Aria is a luxury fashion and travel enthusiast and the founder of Kween Culture Initiative, a social and cultural empowerment project for Black transgender women.

In addition to her community efforts, Aria has written and/or led numerous public policy efforts, including co-creating the United States’ first sex worker protection law, Prioritizing Safety for Sex Workers (San Francisco), and The Name and Dignity Act for Incarcerated Transgender People (Atkins-California). Aria shared 5 Travel Safety Tips for Transgender Travelers, which are especially important, seeing that 62% of transgender people travel alone.

Her first tip? Enroll in TSA Pre-Check. “We see time and time again that TSA agents will often misgender trans people during full-body scanning, only for us to be fondled, touched, groped, and/or worst–taken to one of those private screening rooms,” explains Aria. “While it seems we can’t get the Transportation Security Agency (TSA) to evolve, we can pay the $100 that gets us a bit more ease oêdesecurity screening.”

Jenny Bruso is the queer fat femme taking body liberation outdoors as the founder of Unlikely Hikers. This diverse, anti-racist, body-liberating outdoor community is expanding our ideas of who is outdoorsy, how we’re getting outside, and how to make the outdoors more accessible to all.

“I love that Unlikely Hikers is challenging people’s perceptions of who is outdoorsy and how they’re being outdoorsy, but my intention is not about challenging those perceptions; it’s about creating space for the people who are affected by those perceptions,” Jenny said in an interview to National Geographic UK.

Increasing Disability Awareness in Travel

One billion people—or approximately 15% of the global population—experience some form of disability. Some can be seen, while others, like mental health conditions and chronic illnesses, are invisible. Comparative studies on disability legislation show that only 45 countries have anti-discrimination and other disability-specific laws, according to the United Nations. The world’s largest minority is underrepresented and unprotected.

“Everyone will become disabled if they’re lucky enough. Aging is a privilege. Far too few of us get the opportunity to live to a ripe old age. And if you do get the opportunity, you will likely become disabled,” says Maria Town, President and CEO of the American Association of People with Disabilities.

Corey Lee is an Accessible Travel Expert, author, and blogger behind Curb Free with Cory Lee. From travel guides to hotel and product reviews, Cory proves that travel can be accessible to wheelchair users. Do you know which beaches are wheelchair accessible or have powered beach wheelchairs available? What about wheelchair-accessible hiking trails?

When asked about the most accessible destinations by Intrepid Travel, Corey said: “Barcelona in Spain is amazing because, in addition to the public transportation being accessible (and the option to eat paella and churros for every meal), there are also accessible beaches in the summer. They have beach wheelchairs and trained staff to help wheelchair users transfer into the beach chair and get in the water. Beaches can be difficult to access, so when I experienced the beaches in Barcelona, I was thrilled!”

To date, Cory has visited 39 countries and writes about it all on his award-winning blog. He recently published his first children’s book, Let’s Explore With Cor Cor. Co-authored with his mom Sandy Gilbreath, this children’s book shows that the possibilities for all children are limitless, regardless of their abilities.

Sassy Wyatt is a Disability Awareness Consultant, vlogger, podcaster, TikToker, and the babe behind Blind Girl Adventures. She has a great way of challenging stereotypes through education and humor. Just take a look at her TikTok, where you’ll find videos on how a blind girl goes for a swim, applies lipstick, or reads her TikTok comments. Sassy has also created videos on how NOT to help a blind person and how blind people high-five.

“I’m passionate about changing the landscape of accessible tourism imploring destinations, brands and tourism boards to consider the needs and requirements of disabled travelers,” writes Sassy on blog. “Living with both arthritis and blindness, I give a very unique perspective of my local and international explorations.”

Sassy has a bold personality and colorful hair to match. On her podcast, she breaks down ableism, discusses how ADHD in Women and girls presents differently than in males, introduces revolutionary accessible apps, and shares her experience of being blind.

Activists for Black Travelers

Black Americans spent an estimated $109.4 billion on leisure travel in 2019, representing roughly 13% of the U.S. leisure travel market. That same year they took an average of three overnight vacations and spent an average of 13 nights in paid accommodations, according to The Black Traveler: Insights, Opportunities & Priorities report, created by MMGY Travel Intelligence

A survey commissioned by Airbnb and conducted by Morning Consult found that 50% of Black adults are likely to travel to locations or landmarks associated with their ethnic or cultural heritage, which is 16% higher than the general population. 2019 was The Year of Return to Africa and Ghana was a top trending destination, with double the amount of guests arriving from the United States than in 2018.

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Leah Vernon is an award-winning author, a plus-size Hijabi model, public speaker, and inclusive content creator. She’s never afraid to be honest and vulnerable, discussing everything from her eating disorder recovery and experience with white supremacy to ways she’s felt othered by the Muslim community based on her size, personality, and personal style.

“In society today, whether Muslim or Christianity or anything else, we’ve all had these issues where we’re policing woman’s body and we’re using religion as a means to do so,” Leah shared in an interview with Nylon. “My body, my movements, my shape, and the way I wear my hijab have all been policed by Muslims, unfortunately. And it’s very, very hard that I choose to do what I want with my own body yet still ascribed to Islam.”

In her memoir, Unashamed: Musings of a Fat, Black, Muslim, Leah shares milestones on her journey towards self-acceptance. Opening up about her faith, childhood, mental health, and the end of her ten-year marriage. All the while disrupting the idea of what a “good Muslim” looks like.

Tyler Janeé is a blogger, an inclusive travel and study abroad advocate, and the founder of Study Elsewhere. This LA Native is also the Co-President of the Baldwin Hills chapter of the Black Girls Social Group. When she is not creating a travel guide for Los Angeles, you can find her planning an HBCU (Historical Black Colleges and Universities) event or creating programs for her Study Elsewhere students.

“When I was growing up, I didn’t see any female travelers of color,” Tyler Janee told VoyageLA. “This idea that traveling was more of an activity for men with lots of money was a barrier that caused me not even to picture myself abroad until I was in college.”

Her nonprofit Study Elsewhere is an international education organization dedicated to diversifying travel through education abroad. Their partnership with Veritas University in San Jose, Costa Rica, makes education abroad accessible to underrepresented students. The organization also provides support, scholarships, and more to students throughout their study abroad experience. Study Elsewhere aims to create inclusive programs honoring diversity, collaboration, and community.

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