Around the World: Cultural Travel Entrepreneur Stephanie M. Jones’ Favorite Things

As a leading social entrepreneur in the travel and tourism industry, Stephanie M. Jones is making a difference in the way people explore the United States. Jones works with a myriad of destinations to develop programs that leverage cultural heritage tourism while engaging and positioning local community assets to attract multicultural travelers to businesses in underserved communities.

“Cultural heritage tourism is one of the fastest growing segments of the travel industry,” Jones says. “Local and authentic experiences are often found in underrepresented communities and are sought after by domestic and international travelers looking to engage in personal and transformative experiences by immersing themselves in diverse cultures.”

Jones is the founder of innovative tourism initiatives designed to foster diversity, equity and inclusion, such as Black Cultural Heritage Tours, which enable guests to create memorable experiences by meeting locals, learning about the history of black people and celebrating black culture in American destinations.

“Our single and multi-day tour itineraries are intentionally designed to level the playing field for underrepresented black-owned businesses to actively participate in and benefit from the travel and tourism industry,” Jones says. “When travelers book these tours, they are helping to support these small businesses. Additionally, the routes provide transformative experiences through engagements with locals in off-the-beaten-path neighborhoods.

Jones is also the founder and CEO of the Cultural Heritage Economic Alliance (CHEA), which works in partnership with destinations, governments, travel brands and businesses to create inclusive and equitable opportunities for small minority businesses to become economically viable participants in the travel and tourism industry.

“There is a strong demand for various tourism products and experiences,” says Jones. “These create great economic benefits for small businesses and tourist attractions when marketed and amplified through destination marketing and media organizations so visitors can find and drop into these businesses and communities. “

As the founder of the National Blacks in Travel & Tourism Collaborative (BTT), a Washington, D.C.-based initiative whose goal is to level the playing field for small black and brown travel and tourism businesses, Jones helps participants to access equitable opportunities through the Black Tourism Talent Directory and Diversity Tourism Academy.

“BTT’s mission is to facilitate the development of a thriving Black tourism ecosystem to ensure that Black travel and tourism businesses are full participants in the travel industry,” Jones said. “We organize and implement initiatives designed to increase diversity, equity and inclusion; eliminating racial inequalities; and creating economic opportunities to advance black people in travel and tourism.

Jones, who lives in Florida with her husband, recently spoke with penta about his favorite things.

The best book I’ve read in the last year is… In every mirror she’s black by Lola Akinmade Åkerström. There was so much in this book that I could relate to, and I look forward to its sequel.

The only place I can’t wait to see again is… Antarctic. As a member of Hurtigruten’s Black Travel Advisory Board, I had the wonderful opportunity to visit a place I never thought I would visit in my lifetime. It was truly transformative in so many ways! I had the most spiritual, majestic and memorable experience on the white continent.

Something I do to relax is… the hot tub! It’s the only place where I can really get away from work and worries. Everywhere I travel there must be a spa.

The person I admire the most is… my mother, now deceased. Her tenacity and strength as a single mother and entrepreneur inspired me to pursue entrepreneurship and taught me that failure is never an option.

The one thing I travel with to make my hotel room feel more like home is… Lysol wipes. As a germaphobe, cleanliness has always been a priority for me when traveling. Before the pandemic, I traveled with wipes to clean all surfaces once I checked into hotels. This will never change for me! I also travel with a candle to make hotels feel and smell more like home.

What wakes me up in the morning is… knowing that my actions and efforts can have a positive effect on the lives of others and change the world for the better.

The one thing in my kitchen that I can’t live without… my air fryer. It’s the only thing I use to cook, and every dish is healthier and cooked to perfection.

The one travel product/item everyone should have is… hydroalcoholic gel. There is still a global pandemic, people!

The most underrated place in the world is… where we reside. People often overlook and underappreciate the variety of unique experiences and attractions found in their own backyards and neglect to invest in maintaining local businesses and attractions.

The advice I always give on travel is… be intentional to leave the resort and venture into off-the-beaten-path parts of the destinations for local and culturally immersive experiences that can be transformative and enable opportunities to support local businesses and communities.

On my personal travel playlist, you’ll hear…
Bob Marley is my favorite travel music and anything considered old-school 80s and 90s R&B is my Pandora favorite.

My favorite thing to do on long flights is… sleep and meditate and plan my next power moves.

I will not fly without… my neck pillow for the best sleep on a plane, and a Remarkable notebook to capture my thoughts in flight.

The most inspiring place to look at art is… in local communities walking through neighborhoods, looking at murals and street art, which tell a multitude of stories about important people and events in the community. I enjoy admiring the art of unknown or little known local artists who tell creative stories through their work.

The biggest misconception about travel is… it is not affordable. Anyone can travel both domestically and internationally, depending on your travel expectations, style, flexibility, and ability to research or plan. Experienced travel consultants can often help you plan within your budget. Whether you plan it or someone else does, travel!

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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