Business

Christina Belloge’s new travel start up Melanin Travel Magic (MTM) opens door to African history

As part of our business series whereby ALT talks to new and established WOC entrepreneurs ALT spoke to Christina Belloge a Multilingual Social Media Marketing expert and experienced traveler, she has travelled to about 40 countries in the last 14 years mainly in Europe, Africa, North America, Latin America, and Asia. The 2nd generation ex-pat, Guadeloupean, French Caribbean born was raised in France and has lived in the UK, Guadeloupe, Netherlands, and Germany. A keen lover of Afro Caribbean dances like #salsa, kizomba, Kiduru and Zouk, Belloge’s next big adventure is new business called Melanin Travel Magic.

Having had an international career in Marketing & Media she has worked on Social Media Advertising campaigns for major media agencies which include (OMD UK, iProspect, PHD Media Global) for some of your favorite brands: Gucci, Guess, Max Mara, #Puma, Nike,  #Boots, #Pepsi, Heinz Kraft, American Express, Woolmark, Tommy Hilfiger, Hewlett- Packard, Sandisk, Easyjet, Club Med.

She has also worked client-side in Fashion Retail and e-commerce for C&A, Misguided, #Travel and tourism for PRCO/ John Henry Productions working on Digital projects for Luxury hotels restaurants and Tourism Bureau.

Credit for Ghana images Freelance Nana Tours & Micheal Kunke Photography

She has been traveling extensively in the last 6 years while freelancing as a Social Media Consultant. From reconnecting with her #Caribbean heritage in Cuba, experiencing the Northern Lights in Sweden, to dancing Kizomba in Brazil and Cape Verde under group dance trips, to being blown away by the duality of the traditional & modern Japan, the re-energizing in Playa-del Carmen (Mexico) to and more recently embracing the Year of Return in Ghana in December 2019. 

Belloge is keen on supporting new upcoming talents whether by mentoring younger colleagues or by investing in startups and supporting fellow black businesses. She has been a secretary of MBMB the only French Caribbean charity in London, and is always connecting people with great cultural events and empowering their knowledge of self. She is keen to support more charities in children’s education which encourage the re-insertion of homeless people.

Before setting up MTM what were you doing professionally?

I’ve been a Freelance Digital Marketing Consultant for the last 6 years.  I’m still a Social Media Marketing Consultant while transitioning to managing MTM on a full-time basis and developing a team around it. 

I’ve been working on various industries Fashion, e-commerce, Luxury fashion, Technology and Travel. My initial background prior to Digital Marketing was in Market Research.

When did you set up MTM and what is the concept?

I’ve set up MTM about 7 month ago in September 2020, during the pandemic and we’ve launched the website in November 2020.

The initial concept is to be a leading tour operator agency based in Europe but operating globally and to offer Black heritage group tours to the whole Caribbean & African descent diaspora. 

As we have to adapt with the pandemic, we are proposing other services such as holiday planning for diaspora outside of UK/Europe and less affected with travel bans and more unexpected smaller scale music festival in Ghana, for example.

We will soon propose Virtual tours too as the lockdown duration seems to be extended longer than expected and there is still a huge appetite to travel globally in a safe way.

Who are your customers?

They are male and female from the afro descent diaspora, whether expats like me, young professionals and families looking to connect with their black heritage or curious about exploring the variety of the history and culture of the afro descent diaspora in The Caribbean, Africa and Latin America.

Tell us about some of the places your tours can take us?

Our first tour for 2021, From 26th December 2021 to 4th January 2022 we will take you to a Black Heritage & Leisure tour in Ghana. 

Since the Year in Return in 2019, Ghana has become a destination for the whole afro-descent diaspora to meet up and converge. It has been booming due to the variety of actives on offer: from Ibiza/ Miami like party scene in Accra, to amazing culturally blended Afrobeat music festivals such as #Afrochella and Afronation, to visiting Cape Coast & Elmina Slave Castles, to experiencing hype water sports in the Volta Region, surfing in Busua, hiking or exploring nature around Aburi Gardens, Afodjato Mountain and Shai Hill Wildlife Reserve or swimming by Ali Waterfalls.

There is culture, music, sports and history to cater for everybody.

In our particular Tour you will be experiencing a variety of places and activities from touring Culture and history in Accra, experiencing a floating village of Fanaa, reconnecting with your ancestors in Assin Manso and Cape Coast and Elmina Castle, showing some legwork in Kakum Park and be amazed by the rich cultural heritage of Kumasi.

Here are some highlights of the tours that Melanin Travel Magic can take you on below:

• Accra Exploration

• Entry to Afrochella Music festival

• Faana Village

• Visit of Assin Manso Slave Market & River

• Visit of Cape Coast Castle

• Visit of Elmina Castle

• Kakum Canopy Walk & le Slave Market

•  Naming Ceremony

•  African Drum & Dance Performance

•  Visit of Kumasi

We had to unfortunately re-schedule, our Brazil tour to February 2022, as it’s been placed on the banned countries list by the UK government, since February 2021.  In February 2022, we will then immerse you culturally in both Rio and Salvador de Bahia and around the Carnival which is the Largest in the world in terms of attendance.

Where does Black history meet travel give us an example?

Black History meets travel everywhere you go, if you are curious to research any destination you visit and look for activities, you will find the emergence of black heritage tours at least in main cities like Lisbon, Paris, London, New York, Amsterdam and New Orleans.

Those tours are mostly led by historians and passionate of black history and they will empower you to find out the black descent contribution to today’s great nations.

As an example, when I went to Rio, I booked as an Airbnb experience called “Get to know Little Africa and its heritage” and for 2 hours was immersed in visiting the neighbourhood called Little Africa where the slave market used to take place, all the black owned restaurants are located and the place for gathering for singing and enjoyment was located. 

We have been able to find out about how the favelas are being re-integrated as part of the city life, the contribution of enslaved people in the culture, food and landscape of the city of Rio. Tijuca Forest & Natural park which welcomes over 3 million tourist visits annually and is a completely man made “Forest” planted by the enslaved people originally from Mozambique. After it was completely destroyed by mid 19th century, following up the use of the land as agricultural land by the Portuguese during colonisation.

Tell what it is was like setting up a business during the pandemic what has been some of the challenges?

It’s very challenging because of all the travel bans in UK & Europe and Canada. The only market still travelling is the United States.

But I was carried away both by the Black Live Matters movement following the Georges Floyds death last year and the Black Business renaissance movement happening in UK, where the awareness about developing and strengthening the Black community via business ownership has been popping literally.

I’ve decided to launch Melanintravelsmagic.com with both the vision to leverage my passions for travel and black history as an empowering and healing tool for the black diaspora.

I was also influenced by the Afro American #blacktravellersmovement and the need for African and Caribbean diaspora to uncover their history and culture and for you to love and enjoy the wonders of our unseen worlds.

This is why Melanin Travels Magic MTM was founded.

We have to adapt constantly to the customer needs and launch new products or services based online such as virtual tours or custom holidays/ professional retreats planning.

Black female entrepreneurs are the least funded group and get less than 1% of any finance: what do you say to funders and investors who are missing this fastest growing group of SME’s?

I would say, it’s still sad in this day and age that the Black female contribution to society and in business is not being valued worldwide, while if you go in the Caribbean or in Africa you will notice that most businesses are female owned. Therefore, Black women are at the backbone of society.

There is a long way to go in terms of valuing our own image and capacity globally. We are only been given access to some resources such as education, financial literacy and business skills when growing up in a certain environment. 

While current investors are missing out on the fastest growing group of SMEs, Black women are organising and go through alternative finance resources such as Crowdfunding, grants, incubators, Angel investing and loans in order to scale and grow their business more of less organically.

I myself have been networking heavily and researched what could be future funding options depending on the company stage and also part of female black business owners what’s app group and trade associations which enable you to have access to key information and develop the acumen to put yourself forward to black own business angels or apply for grants.

What support have you had and what support do you need?

As I’ve been networking quite heavily since summer, last year at ideation and research stage for the company name and the size of the global black traveller market, I came across various black business support groups internationally, in the US, UK and in Europe.

In terms of the travel industry, most of them are based in the US, in terms of business directories I’ve been receiving a lot of encouragement and free listing/ promotion online, in newsletter and on social media which gave the company more exposure and visibility since January 2021.

I’ve been welcome by the Black Owned Business Network at the London Chamber of Commerce & Industry since November last year, and it’s great to give you access to more mature business peers, and online meets up and training which give you additional valuable skills to manage your business or meet specialists. 

In terms of support I would need, currently for 2021/2022, I could say some funding and probably will be hiring some support in 2022 such as Virtual assistant, Social Media Manager, to free myself up and focus on the company overall long-term strategy.

I would also be happy to gain more visibility among the diaspora eager to be able to travel with a more conscious mind.

Do you think that Black-owned has more currency now post BLM 2020?

Yes, definitely with initiative such as the Black Pound Day on every the first Saturday of the month, and various Black Business pitched organised online on IG live, Zoom webinars or Clubhouse dedicated rooms.

Name five places that have a strong African cultural influence that not many people know about?

  • I would say Brazil as it has over a population of 97 Million Afro Brazilians, (50.7% of Brazil total population according to 2010 last census) so it’s the largest African diaspora outside of Africa, long before the USA with about 45 million Afro American. The Influence of Afro Brazilian, stems from music, sports, dance and food.
  • France my home country with around 5 Million Afro descendants due to its Colonial past & participation in slavery. France has the largest African & Caribbean diaspora in Europe. They have a large influence in Sports, Fashion, culture and food. Remember the makeup of the last Football’s World Cup winners team.
  • Colombia has an estimated 13 million Afro descent population, according to United Nations (about 26% of its total population) that we rarely see in main media outlet. There are 2 distinct Afro Colombian groups: the Palenqueros and the Raizales, which have their own identity, culture and language. They still play a huge influence on the Colombian society whether through music, food and culture. Unfortunately, they still suffer from societal injustice and poverty.
  • India has a population of 60,000 African descent called the Sidi, they are mainly present in the regions of Gujarat & Karnataka. They have been initially transposed as enslaved but had made an important cultural, political and economic contribution to Indian Society overall.
  • Iran, to this day have still about 10 to 15% of their population of African descent. They live in the regions of Hormozgan and Sistan and Baluchestan and Khuzestan. Their presence in Iran dates from 17th century during enslavement.

I can invite you to go and check out this British London born vlogger, Fayida Jailer, YouTube channel Freedomismine which retrace the history and cultural facts for all the African Diaspora worldwide in all 6 continents.

When do you see yourself starting the tours how do you feel about a vaccine passport to travel? 

We will start the tours in real life in December 2021, with the Ghana Black Heritage and Leisure tour.

At first, I was doubtful of the quickly developed vaccine as a solution, as it seems risky not to have a testing period of 2/3 years prior launching to market.

 But at the pandemic duration seems never ending and keeps on affecting all economies globally, we need to adapt to this new normal and abide by the solution which will enable us to keep safe as a collective and resume our past social life activities.

Where do you call home?

As I was born in Paris, France is my home country and Guadeloupe Island in the Caribbean is my family roots and my heart. I’ve also been a Londoner for nearly 12 years on & off so I’m glad to call it my third home. To find out more about the Melanin Travels Magic go to the website here.

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