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Massive public movements are aimed at raising the overall consciousness of the populace. These movements aim to shine a light on the problems or inequities in society in order to bring about the necessary change to fix it. Similarly, brands often tailor their messaging based on public opinion. Brands are extremely wary about putting out any messages that go against public opinion. We’ve seen customers boycott brands in the past when they’ve felt that brands don’t represent their values adequately. As the Black Lives Matter movement gains traction, are travel brands simply cashing in on customer sentiment or are they really serious about being a part of that change? On a more cynical note, are they simply playing it safe by doing the bare minimum required to protect their bottom line? Let’s have a look.

Also Read: Why we love travel, but don’t love travel brands

Travel Brands & Black Lives Matter

Let’s play it straight. Brands are often very reticent in dipping their toes when it comes to citizen driven movements, especially when they have a political tone. In a election year, I’d expect brands to play it even safer. In simple terms, they don’t want to risk taking a stand on certain events in the public sphere. It’s not because they don’t care, but they simply don’t want to risk a public backlash either way by taking a firm stand.

In the current scenario, you’ll see brands prominently take two different approaches:

  • Come out explicitly in support of the movement and put out a statement approved by their PR department which further explains their stand.
  • More risk averse brands will simply sit this one out. They want to focus on protecting the brand and think that by simply not saying anything, they’re achieving that goal.

Travel brands were swift to denounce racism and support the Black Lives Matter movement on Twitter.

The Cynical Angle

Cynics would argue that brands are simply protecting their bottom line. Be it Black Lives Matter or any other movement, brands simply want to genuflect at the altar of public opinion. Brands care about their bottom line and want to protect their brand. A even more cynical view could also be that that brands simply want to jump on to the bandwagon. They want to be a part of any conversation or a hashtag that is trending so that it gives exposure to their brand in a positive way.

The Independent: United Airlines accommodates racist man who doesn’t want to sit next to a black woman

The New York Times: United Airlines Employee Charges with using Racial Slurs toward Passenger

The Economist: British Airways’ franchisee in South Africa throws off two black passengers

The ‘hypocrisy’ in the NFL’s response to George Floyd’s death and ‘Black Lives Matter’ protests

The Pundit’s Mantra

Here’s what I think. Brand managers are extremely protective about the brands they run and often want to take a risk averse approach. However, as consumers who fly an airline or stay at a hotel, how do we evaluate their actions in this moment?

Saying v/s Doing: Every brand talks the talk, but does it walk the walk? As brands use the #blacklivesmatter hashtag, how do we evaluate how they treat their black employees and customers? Also, do they take a strong stand for incidents that do not garner as much public attention? How fair are their hiring practices and how diverse is their workforce?

Demanding accountability and offering a commitment to equality starts at the top. If C level executives at airlines and hotels are really serious about using this moment to bring about a positive change, it will be great opportunity to society to evolve and improve. However, if they’re simply looking to protect their brands and pad their bottom line, things will continue to remain the same.

I’d like to know what you think. Do you agree with the cynical view that this is all about money and making the right noises? Conversely, do you think there’s a certain travel brand that really cares about the cause and does the right thing? Tell us in the comments section.


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