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Does American Airlines’ BlackAtlas.com Feel a Bit, uh, I Don’t Know…Something?

A couple of weeks ago American Airlines launched BlackAtlas.com, a website aimed at African American travelers.  I did a radio interview yesterday about the site, and as I’ve thought more about it I’ve become increasingly torn on whether this is a smart idea.  Magazines targeting specific demographics have existed for years with no fallout, but this is American’s second try at a website aimed at African Americans and each has had its critics.  (Others complained about their somewhat patronizing website aimed at women travelers).  Check out the site.  Something just feels somewhat off.  Is the section helping you find barbershops and beauty salons in a given city helpful, culturally correct, or just a bit stereotypical?  While on the other end of the spectrum, much of the travel content is not at all aimed at a specific group of travelers.  If that’s the way to go, why does this site exist at all?

I’m not Black, so it’s entirely possible I’m missing the point.  But when AA launches JewishAtlas.com and offers sections on bagels & lox, how to save money, and where to find an Accountant in Rome, something will seem a bit off to me.

I appreciate the idea of a targeted, well-written site aimed at a specific group of travelers.  That’s fine.  But something about this one just makes me feel slightly icky.

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  1. Yeah, I agree. The concept of a female-oriented was odd, but OK — maybe some female travellers have special interests and needs. But how does RACE impact your American Airlines travel experience?

    I can understand general travel websites geared toward African-American travellers — just like, to use your example, I can understand Jewish-focused travel sites — because it seems reasonable to conclude that there are certain sights and activities that appeal more to one racial or ethnic group than another. I suspect these are largely “boutique” sites, that will attract a far smaller audience than mass-market travel sites, but they make some sense. But can’t American’s black customers who are interested in such local activities find this information elsewhere — and aren’t those sites likely to do a much better job than American in compiling and updating it?

    As for the flight experience — and a customer’s actual dealings with the airline — it’s hard to believe that African-American travellers are looking for anything different than any other traveller. We’re all a lot more alike than we are different! So I don’t see why AA is headed down this marketing path.

  2. Jared: I am black and I agree with your feeling on this web site. As an Air Force brat and an aviation journalist, I have traveled the world and see myself as a traveler who just happens to be black. It seems to me that this web site is working way too hard focusing on the “black” experience rather than the travel experience. And I want to experience everything a city has to offer – not just the black parts.

  3. I am a someone who travels often. And applaud this site. It’s not putting me in a box as black traveler. In cities I love seeing all the regular places of interest but also love to know where people of my culture have made an impact. The site has a little of both. Cool.

  4. I have my own mixed feelings about the Black Atlas concept, as you can see on my own blog. But ultimately, anything that interest black folks in seeing more of their world is something I have to encourage.

    Greg Gross, editor
    “I’m Black and I Travel!”

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