When we asked Stephanie M. Jones what inspires her interest in creating diversity, equity, and inclusion in the Travel & Tourism industry, the self-proclaimed serial social entrepreneur told CheapOair, “I’m passionate about using my voice and my platform to remove barriers to create opportunities so that other people can realize their full potential.”

Born in Detroit and the youngest of 13 children, Stephanie knew early on in life that she wanted to be her own boss when she grew up. She was raised, and grew up, in the back of her mother’s beauty salon, where she had a front-row seat to watch entrepreneurship in action. “My entrepreneurial spirit, and that of my siblings – most of us are entrepreneurs – came from my mom. She is my greatest role model.”

Stephanie’s oldest sister, who worked in HR at a big chemical company, was one of her role models too. “I loved watching my sister put on her business suit and her high heels before going to the office every day. Throughout high school, I wore business suits, dresses, and high heels just like her. I even carried a briefcase! I knew well before I graduated high school that I wanted to be an entrepreneur before I turned 30.”

After earning her Bachelor of Science in Business Administration and Marketing from the University of Detroit – Mercy, Stephanie began her career at one of the world’s largest advertising agencies. “This is where I experienced racism for the first time in my life, and this is when I realized more than ever that I wanted to be in a position where I would never have to work for anyone else ever again.”

But Stephanie is much more than an entrepreneur. She’s a leading cultural heritage tourism thought leader who has introduced award-winning innovations and sustainable tourism initiatives that leverage cultural heritage as an economic driver in underserved communities. She’s the founder of some of the most innovative tourism initiatives that are designed to create diversity, equity, and inclusion in the travel industry, such as the Cultural Heritage Economic Alliance (CHEA), Culture OnShore, the National Blacks in Travel & Tourism Collaborative, and the National Cultural and Heritage Tourism Summit.

“Cultural heritage is everywhere in this country and the U.S. Travel & Tourism industry has an incredible opportunity to do a better job promoting it.”

Stephanie also started the Cultural Heritage Alliance for Tourism (CHAT), an organization that creates tangible opportunities for minority business owners and entrepreneurs to access the multibillion-dollar Travel & Tourism industry. CHAT’s mission is to ensure inclusion and diversity thrive in the industry. “Often, when a person travels overseas, they visit establishments where the locals go so that they can have authentic local experiences. Cultural heritage tourism highlights the different cultures within destinations through its people, food, music, and art. For example, Miami is a cultural heritage melting pot. Haitian, Bohemian, Cuban, and Black cultures coexist throughout the city and they can be experienced through their history, heritage, music, food, and conversations with locals about their experiences.”

Stephanie’s cultural heritage work has afforded her a spot on the United States Travel and Tourism Advisory Board. She’s very clear on the point that “this is not just my seat at the table. I’m there to represent not only Blacks in the Travel & Tourism industry. I’m representing Hispanic Americans, the LGBTQ community, and the many multicultural audiences that typically don’t have seats at the table where public policy for the Travel & Tourism industry is being made. I will advocate very strongly for public policy that removes barriers against minority-owned businesses in Travel & Tourism. I will also advocate strongly to leverage cultural heritage tourism in the U.S. to drive tourists into underserved communities in destinations throughout the country. Cultural heritage is everywhere in this country and the U.S. Travel & Tourism industry has an incredible opportunity to do a better job promoting it.”

Her work to create diversity, equity, and inclusion in the Travel & Tourism space led her to see that the industry still has much to learn about minority-owned businesses. To address this, she spearheaded the National Blacks in Travel & Tourism collaborative, which is dedicated to ensuring Black Travel & Tourism businesses are full participants in the industry and to helping build more diverse and inclusive destinations. “There’s power in numbers,” Stephanie remarked, “and National Blacks in Travel & Tourism is a collaboration that’s designed to implement sustainable change in this industry and advance opportunities for Blacks. It’s all about how we create opportunities on our own, and how we partner with industry allies to create opportunities that will advance Blacks in Travel & Tourism.”

These initiatives are incredibly successful, too. “The tremendous response we’ve received from the industry has been one of our greatest wins to date,” Stephanie told us. “To have this incredible diversity on a grassroots level, where everyone is working on one accord to help advance Blacks in Travel & Tourism, is a huge win because it shows there’s awareness, commitment, and an acknowledgment to help Blacks advance in the industry.”

She continues by saying, “One other huge win is the support we have from some of the top industry leaders. So many individuals have stepped up to lend their time and talent to support our projects such as the National Blacks in Travel & Tourism Collaborative. We have been able to work with some amazing allies and to witness people extending their networks and platforms to promote and amplify our work has been nothing short of incredible.”

So you may be wondering, as a traveler, what could I do to support the minority businesses in the Travel & Tourism ecosystem? Stephanie suggests that you be intentional in your travel planning and where you spend your money. “You can seek out minority tour operators, restaurants, hotels, and BnBs. You can do your part to spread the wealth when you’re traveling by taking a little extra time to find those small minority-owned businesses and communities that offer authentic local experiences. By patronizing these establishments and neighborhoods, you will create prosperity for all.”

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About The Author

Rafael is a New Jersey-based writer, DJ, and producer. When he's not writing articles or making beats, he's usually researching destinations for his next travel adventure or places to score a great slice of pizza. Check him out at www.rafahq.com.