By Tracy E. Hopkins, The Root
African Americans love to travel, and according to a research study, we spend nearly $50 billion a year on U.S. travel alone.
During our explorations, however, we don’t always make it a priority to support black-owned hotels and bed-and-breakfasts.
“Like any industry, we’re stronger when we operate together. But beyond the economic reasons, and the pride we feel in supporting our family’s success, it’s also a matter of perspective,” says Kalisa Martin, co-owner of the Runaway Jamaica.
“When I go abroad, I’m genuinely interested in the local culture and getting an authentic view of it. But I’m also especially interested in the black experience of that place. The Diaspora is everywhere we are, and staying at black-owned hotels and B&Bs automatically taps us into that scene,” she adds.
According to Andy Ingraham, president and CEO of the National Association of Black Hotel Owners, Operators & Developers, out of 58,000 hotels in the U.S., African Americans own approximately 700.
But that number is increasing.
“Most of the major brands are making an effort to attract diverse ownership,” says Ingraham. “We [also] have a large and growing African-American business community looking for opportunities, and the hotel business is an attractive investment.”
So when you’re planning your next trip, add these four new and popular black-owned properties in the U.S. and the Caribbean to your itinerary.
1.) The Ivy Hotel
Tucked away in Baltimore’s historic Mount Vernon neighborhood, the Ivy Hotel is co-owned by Eddie C. Brown—chairman, CEO and founder of Brown Capital Management, the second-oldest African-American investment management firm in the nation—and his wife, Sylvia.
“We weren’t originally seeking to be in the hotel business, but the sun and moon aligned to have the opportunity to purchase a historic mansion, literally across the street from my firm’s corporate headquarters,” says Brown.
Housed in a renovated 19th-century mansion that was formerly the site of the award-winning Inn at National Place, the 18-room Ivy opened in 2015. The luxury boutique hotel prides itself on the highest level of cuisine, service and ambience, and it is distinguished by decor that marries modern amenities with one-of-a-kind antique pieces. Each guest room and suite has a customized layout with a fireplace and canopy bed. The hotel also boasts an intimate spa and the acclaimed fine-dining Magdalena bistro. As a complimentary service, guests are transported in style to nearby art galleries and music venues in a classic London taxicab.
2.) The Runaway Jamaica
A couple of years ago, Brooklyn, N.Y., couple Jeff Belizaire and Kalisa Martin escaped the daily grind and winter weather and returned to their tropical Caribbean roots (Belizaire is of Haitian descent and Martin’s family is from Jamaica). And in late 2015, they launched the Runaway Jamaica—a luxury, adults-only B&B located in a scenic residential community on Jamaica’s north coast. Transportation is provided from Montego Bay.
“Because of this endeavor, Kalisa and I are more mentally balanced and [spiritually] centered,” says Belizaire. “Our priorities in life and love are focused.”
Thanks to a creative Kickstarter campaign, the Runaway became the first and only successfully funded B&B in Kickstarter history. Funds were used to design, renovate and decorate the bright and airy property with an organic rooftop garden, a private beach and pool, and handcrafted furniture in each of the four guest rooms with en suite bathrooms.
A graduate of the French Culinary Institute in New York, Martin does double duty as chef and head of operations. In addition to breakfast, she treats guests to freshly prepared lunch and dinner options made with locally sourced ingredients.
The Runaway is booked for 2016, and Belizaire and Martin are exploring opportunities for global expansion, which would include a location in upstate New York. Martin is also set to publish a cookbook in the fall.
3.) Salamander Resort & Spa
Black Entertainment Television co-founder Sheila C. Johnson made her mark in the entertainment industry and now has a burgeoning hotel empire. As the CEO and founder of Salamander Resorts & Hotels, Johnson owns and operates four properties in Florida and one in Virginia.
The company’s crown jewel is the Salamander Resort & Spa, a sprawling resort that opened in 2013 in Middleburg, Va., less than an hour from downtown Washington, D.C.
Set in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, the 340-acre, equestrian-inspired property has 168 guest rooms and suites and a world-class spa. Several wineries along Virginia’s wine trail are nearby.
“It has been nearly three years since we opened our doors, and the reviews have been amazing,” says Johnson. “I wanted to create the finest resort and spa experience on the East Coast. The project was a decade in design and development, but it was well worth it.”
4.) Rock Cliff Jamaica
Scheduled to open in fall 2016, Rock Cliff Jamaica is a high-end, all-inclusive resort near Ocho Rios. The 13-room property had been unoccupied for many years until entrepreneur Stephanie M. Clark and business partner Kez Ford—the former owner’s son—took over in 2015 and created Dreamers Resorts, LLP.
“I feel honored to be one of very few African-American women to own and operate a hotel,” says Clark. “My plan was to open a small B&B within five years, but God’s plan was much bigger than mine.”
Rock Cliff boasts a waterfall swimming pool, tennis court and a private beach. The 7,000-square-foot main house, perched on 1.5 acres on a cliff, offers an idyllic backdrop for weddings and retreats. All rooms have en suite bathrooms and kitchenettes, and 10 of the guest rooms are built into the cliff with stunning views of the Caribbean Sea.
Tracy E. Hopkins is a Brooklyn, N.Y.-based travel, lifestyle and entertainment writer. Visit her blog, Everything She Wants, and follow her on Twitter.