There’s no doubt that African American travelers contribute significantly to the travel industry. In fact, according to a study by Mandala Research, Black Americans spend about $63 billion a year on travel. However, according to the National Association of Black Hotel Owners, Operators and Developers, only about 1 percent of hotels are owned by African Americans.

The disparity is being addressed by at least one hotel chain, reports Black Enterprise. Choice Hotels International has a one-of-a-kind emerging markets franchise development team that began in 2003. The effort has led to more Black women ownership in the hospitality industry. The Bainum family, whose patriarch Stewart Bainum opened his first hotel in 1957, still owns 40 percent of the company and has always recognized the importance of diversity.

A goal was put forth to executives to increase hotel ownership for African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans and veterans. Lester Adams is the director of the emerging markets franchise development program for Choice Hotels.

“We want the dream of hotel ownership to be within everyone’s reach — which is why we’ve dedicated full-time resources and incentive dollars to this program. Our sole mission is to search for, identify, educate and counsel potential candidates to determine if Choice would be a good fit, and usher them through the application and license process,” Adams says.

For most people, the idea of owning and running a hotel is overwhelming. The most glaring barrier to entry is typically the level of investment. “We’re proud to have a brand at every price point — not just for every guest, but for every owner as well. Yes, the financial barrier can be big, as an upscale hotel can require $20 to $60 million in investment dollars. However, Choice offers more moderate investment opportunities, making hotel franchising more accessible to those just starting out,” Adams says. “If you’re purchasing an existing property to convert into a Choice hotel, securing the 30 percent down can be much more achievable. And with the Emerging Markets Program, we offer incentive dollars, as long as the location is adding new rooms to the Choice network, and the ownership is at least 51 percent from one of the identified groups underrepresented in our owner base,” he adds.

Tamara Lang-Allen, Ph.D., is managing director of the Mangrove Eco Boutique Hotel Properties L.L.C. and director of Hospitality & Tourism Management at the School of Business at the University of the Virgin Islands. She is one of the six Black women recently awarded franchise licenses by Choice Hotels’ emerging markets franchise development team. Her Comfort Inn & Suites in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, will be a 72-room hotel, in the eastern quadrant of the island, and is scheduled to open late next year.

“Being in the hospitality industry for many years and being from St. Thomas, I knew what the island needed, and what Choice was looking for. After seeing a Choice Hotels presentation at a convention in 2014, I learned more about the brand and its values and decided it was something that was desperately needed in St. Thomas. It is a really great fit,” Lang-Allen said.