The adventure capitalist
Global traveler Zim Ugochukwu '11 built Travel Noire to encourage more African Americans to explore and discover new lands
By Lanita Withers Goins, Staff Writer, University Relations
Photography courtesy of Zim Ugochukwu

Ask Zim Ugochukwu '11 how many countries she's visited and she sheepishly chuckles. The jet setter with an inked-up passport has never paused to count.

But ask her what stands out about her collective travels, and a repeated experience resonates: The solitude of being one of the few — if not the only — black person on the journey.

Looking around while in foreign lands — or even flipping through travel magazines at home in the United States — Zim became hyperaware of the lack of representation of black travelers.

“You often think you are one of a few,” Zim says.

That perceived loneliness was the genesis for Travel Noire, a multidimensional platform focusing on travelers of the African Diaspora and designed to guide them through key stages of travel: dreaming, planning and experiencing.

Despite spending $48 billion annually in the travel industry, blacks remain underrepresented by the industry, Zim said. “When I look at travel magazines, and I don't see one person of color on any of these ads, I wonder why. If we're one of the top consumers in America, why aren't we represented?”

A known go-getter during her UNCG days — as UNCG's first Luce Scholar, she spent a year abroad in India post-graduation — Zim decided to do something about it.

“I could have started a blog on my own travels, but with my community organizer background, I thought it'd be cool to get a collection of voices who were inspired by travel,” she says.

The website, www.travelnoire.com, reaches out to savvy, experienced travelers and rookies alike. Sometimes the goal is to awaken a desire to travel. Other times, it's to help would-be travelers with advice to overcome obstacles such as limited funds or vacation days.

A major compliment, Zim says, is when a would-be traveler reads about a destination and starts to dream. “You say, ‘Hey I want to go there.” You see a picture of a girl in Reykjav√≠k, Iceland, on Travel Noire's Instagram and you head over to the blog and type in ‘Iceland.’

“People have booked flights because of what we've recommended. That's HUGE to me,” she says. “That represents a shift… To be able to plant that seed that you can go here, you can do that, there's no stereotype pinning you down, that's huge to me.”

The Travel Noire experience doesn't end there. Travel Noire Academy helps people plan their trip, with advice on topics such as purchasing affordable plane tickets or packing for vacation. “It's like an online travel school for people who are interested in taking their dream — that destination dream — and moving forward,” Zim says.

“We want to get people from this ideation phase to the execution phase.”

The world has taken notice. In less than a year, Travel Noire has carved out a distinct position in the market. “We have our finger on the pulse of this black travel market,” Zim explains. “It's a rapidly growing segment… but brands don't know how to engage that market.”

In addition to sharing her own experiences — such as how she nabbed a flight to Rio for $60 — Zim has curated a virtual community writers to share their experiences. “We have over 100 contributors to the site who live all over the world and are super passionate about traveling and about inspiring people who look like us to travel to places they wouldn't have thought was possible,” she says.

The site has earned national media coverage, with articles on popular sites like Ebony.com, Blackenterprise.com, MadameNoire.com. As the interviewer from Ebony.com noted, “getting featured on the Travel Noire (Instagram) feed has become a major travel status symbol in the Black jetset world.”

Zim said the response has been humbling. “It feels like Travel Noire's been around for a lot longer than it has,” she says. “I have a phenomenal team, we work insanely hard, every single day.”

And, through the virtual community she envisioned, Zim has realized she isn't alone.

“Travel Noire is going to be a leader in black travel. I want us to continue to be aspirational and inspire folks to explore our world.

“The ultimate vision is for people of color to discover their inner explorer, and lead lives they've always wanted to live.”