Atlanta Finds A Welcome Niche

Anytime a destination tops an impartial "most popular" list for visitors, others — including groups — perk up and pay attention. Witness Atlanta, garnering kudos for its particularly welcoming atmosphere for minorities.

The most recent Travel Industry Association of America survey of minority travel trends, conducted last fall, named Atlanta as the most popular city for African-American travelers. Meanwhile, a survey this spring conducted by Black Enterprise magazine named Atlanta as the "top city for African-Americans."

While Atlanta attracts a diversity of groups, those made up primarily of black attendees are discovering its pleasures. Last month, for example, the monumental Megafest religious convention, staged by evangelist T.D. Jakes' The Potter's House church in Dallas, brought some 135,000 attendees to town.

Other mainly black conventions held in Atlanta recently included the Bronner Brothers International Beauty Show, which brought about 60,000 hair stylists to Atlanta in February, and will return next month for its summer show, expected to attract 30,000 attendees.

"Atlanta offers Southern hospitality, definitely," said Janet Wallace, show manager for Bronner Brothers, which is locally based. "This is a feel-good city. People greet you, they say hello, even perfect strangers. You don't get that in many other places."

Wallace also stressed another Atlanta quality, echoed by others: The city is a showcase for black upward mobility. A large proportion of elected officials are black (including Mayor Shirley Franklin), there's a vibrant black merchant sector and professional class, and there's a visible presence of African-Americans in hotel management — not just housekeeping.

"You feel extra welcomed when you see faces in high places that are familiar to you," Wallace said.

According to the most recent U.S. Census, Atlanta has the highest number of black middle-income households in the country. Further, during the 1990s, the number of black homeowners in metro Atlanta increased 97 percent, compared with 38 percent for whites.

"In many cases, particularly among meeting planners of color, they like coming to a city that is empowered," said Kathleen Bertrand, vice president of community affairs with the Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau. "The feeling is, when I'm bringing my dollars into a city, it will help in a number of areas in the community."

When groups get to Atlanta, they'll find the largest concentration of historically black colleges and universities in the country, and the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site.

An Historical Mecca

Add in such group-friendly, minority-oriented facilities as the Herndon Home, the 96-year-old Beaux Arts mansion of an early black millionaire; the Apex Museum, which highlights the achievements of black Americans; the similarly oriented Hammonds House Galleries; the African-American Research Library and Cultural Center; and the annual National Black Arts Festival, and you've got the makings of a minority mecca for Atlanta-bound groups.

"Atlanta has a very rich African-American history, and there has been very intense interest in learning about it," said Cathy Keefe, spokeswoman for the Travel Industry Association of America. "People are looking for enrichment travel, to learn about one's culture."

Southern cities figure prominently in the association's top 10 favorite destinations for African-Americans. Behind Atlanta were, in order, Orlando, Washington, Dallas, New York, Chicago, Norfolk/Virginia Beach, Las Vegas, Charlotte and Philadelphia.

Contact Christopher Hosford at [email protected]