This is an opinion piece based on discussions occurring in the travel blogging industry on TBEX Zimbabwe.
I recently attended the TBEX North America conference in Huntsville Alabama at which time an announcement was made for the next TBEX International Conference. I was surprised and excited to hear the news: TBEX Zimbabwe. This will be the first TBEX conference held in Africa. Although I have not been to Zimbabwe, I have visited South Africa twice and look forward to exploring more of the continent. Africa is not as popular of a destination as Asia or Europe, which have both held TBEX conferences. I believe their stories also deserve to be told. Their economy and tourism industry deserve to be boosted by a major travel conference. However, soon after the TBEX Zimbabwe announcement was made, there was uproar from a few big names in the travel blogging industry. Due to politics and the current leader of Zimbabwe, they felt TBEX had made the wrong choice. These travel bloggers have made a stance on boycotting the conference next summer and are encouraging others to do the same. But, in their posts they encourage travelers to visit Zimbabwe on their own. Reading the blog posts and social media comments kept bringing me back to one word. Privilege. There are many types of privilege. This argument of traveling to Zimbabwe on your own vs. with TBEX wreaks of travel privilege, white privilege and full-time professional blogger privilege.
First of all, travel is a privilege. Especially if you are going to far away or expensive destinations. Many people simply can not afford to travel far away partly due to the cost of airfare, hotel and transportation. Also, as popular as solo travel is right now, for inexperienced or even some experienced travelers, there is comfort in traveling with a group to distant or unknown destinations. Having travel industry professionals pick a destination and suitable accommodations, plan an itinerary and find tour guides allows people the opportunity to visit destinations they would not normally travel to. TBEX provides these services along with valuable lectures and networking for travel bloggers. For many, Africa is a dream destination. Being at TBEX Zimbabwe could be a gateway to discovering more of the continent. I actually did not plan on attending the recent conference in Alabama because….I am black and it was in Alabama. I was not familiar with the city of Huntsville. However, there is strength in numbers. Since I knew I would be part of a large group of fellow travel professionals and a few friends, I decided to attend. I am glad I did since I gained valuable travel blogging information, knowledge of an interesting and friendly Southern city and new friends in the industry. I feel that travelers are more likely to visit Zimbabwe because of TBEX vs ever going there on their own.
Secondly, being a white traveler offers you privileges that no one else has. I don’t think that anyone can disagree with this. Yes, being American and having USD also offers privilege in terms of how you are treated around the world (although this may be changing soon with our new administration). But, the idea that these particular white bloggers are suggesting-that anyone can just travel to Zimbabwe and discover it on their own-is completing ignoring that blacks, Muslims, openly gay or transgender individuals do not have the same travel experience and are not treated the same from country to country. I actually worried about my safety as a Black woman traveling alone to Alabama and I am also cautious depending on where I am traveling abroad. Many people in my situation feel much safer traveling with a group to international destinations.
Finally, there is the issue of full-time, professional travel bloggers making the casual assumption that everyone can travel to Africa, the Philippines or Israel (recent TBEX locations) on their own ignoring the costs. If you are traveling for a living, you have both the finances to go where you want to go and connections all around the world that allow you to travel for free. “Celebrity” travel bloggers are routinely invited to visit destinations for free with expenses included and often get paid to write about their experiences. Therefore, they do not have to worry about the costs of airfare, hotels, food, transportation and tours that the average traveler has to budget for. TBEX negotiates discounted accommodations, free tours and events that allow you to get to know a city and its surrounding areas. This is a very valuable experience to travel bloggers whether they are “newbies” (I hate the way that word is being used in a demeaning manner) or seasoned writers.
In the end, I feel everyone has to make their own decision, based on their own circumstances, as to where they will travel to and for what reason. However, this is a reminder to check your privilege, all of them.
What is your opinion on TBEX Zimbabwe? Do you plan to attend? Share your thoughts with us below!