How to Make the Most of Summer Travel

Dr. Julianne Malveaux
Courtesy Dr. Julianne Malveaux

Host Farai Chideya talks to Julianne Malveaux — author, economist, and president of Bennett College — about affordable summer travel options, temporary work visas and the economics of black hair.

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FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

From NPR News, this is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Farai Chideya.

On today's show, we look at the iconic figure of the black preacher. And does saying sorry make up for slavery?

But first, according to a report by the Minority Traveler, African-Americans made more than 75 million trips in 2002. Florida, North Carolina and Georgia topped the list of vacation destinations. Some folks go further afield. So, if you haven't made travel plans for the summer yet, you might want to consider Japan.

The Japanese yen dropped against the dollar at the close of last week. That's great news for Asia travelers, but if you're looking to break the bank this summer, you might want to try Europe. The dollar is at a 26-year low against the British pound sterling, it isn't doing much better against the euro.

For more we turn to Julianne Malveaux, author, economist and president of Bennett College. Julianne, how have you been?

Ms. JULIANNE MALVEAUX (Author; Economist; President, Bennett College): I've been great, Farai. How about you?

CHIDEYA: Oh, I have been great. And you know I love to travel overseas and there's just a growing number of African-Americans who do take off sometimes for African-American themed destinations like the continent of Africa, Bahia, the Caribbean, sometimes for Europe, et cetera. But, how's the dollar holding up?

Ms. MALVEAUX: Well, the dollar is at an all-time low. It's at a 26-year-low. It really is quite startling especially if you're going to Europe. I think, where you'll really see the difference is in Europe. Go to the Continent, folks. There are some deals to be had there, but the dollar is not doing as well as it once did, and part of it is a slowing of demand here in the United States. Part of it is the rising influence that China and other countries have. We're decoupling the dollar from any number of currencies, which is good for the world but not necessarily good for the United States.

So, people who have been accustomed to going abroad and thinking that they get deals might find that if they're going to buy leather or Dolce & Gabbana, they do better at Saks.

CHIDEYA: So, if you go to the Continent for example, you are going to pay a lot of money to get there. Once you get there, things are not that expensive. Where else do you think folks might be looking at?

Ms. MALVEAUX: Well, Asia - certainly Japan is a good place to look. But it's tricky to look at the decline in the yen over the past two months versus the decline in the dollar over the past two decades. And I'm not sure how - costs in Japan are very high, even with this recent devaluation of the yen, Farai. You find hotel rooms, you find meals, you find every - any number of things at a different standard and at a different price than people are accustomed to in the United States. So, instead of the room with two beds that you might expect at the Hilton, you'd pay the same amount of money in Japan for something that's substantially smaller.

CHIDEYA: Oh, yeah.

Ms. MALVEAUX: So don't be fooled by just the dollar. There are also terms and conditions of travel.

CHIDEYA: I've been to Japan. I love it, and yeah, you're going to be in a little tiny closet. But what does this all say? We're talking about vacations and tourism which can be mind expanding, but what is the real significance of the dollar going down against international currencies? Does it mean that we're in trouble here in the U.S.?

Ms. MALVEAUX: Not necessarily. Actually, it means that we can expect a lot more tourism here. We can expect people from Europe, frankly, and from other parts of the rest of the world coming to the United States. We - despite the decline in our status - and we have to be frank about it - there has been a decline -we are still perceived as a culture to copy, the culture to catch on to.

People come here just to look at our shopping malls, you know, which is amazing to me. So, it's a boost for our economy when we get off the artificial altar that we are on and look at our currency exchanging freely with those of others. We'll find that we're more attractive to other countries. So, look for a burst of Europeans to come to the United States this summer.

CHIDEYA: How important is tourism, whether it's people in the U.S. going around the U.S. or people from other countries coming here to our overall economy?

Ms. MALVEAUX: In the United States probably 10 percent - 10-12 percent of our GDP is based on tourism. There're whole sites - as you've seen cities revitalized, Farai, you certainly seen people create these tourist kind of traps or tourist attractions. You've seen in various cities, the downtown is being revitalized with malls and other things to bring tourism in - both domestic and international tourism. And parts of the rest of the world, you've seen the same thing, even to my horror on parts of the African continent - you've seen the old slave castles being refurbished as a way to bring tourists in to look at those things. I think they should just crumble and go away.

But you know, people want to bring people, people who have surplus dollars, use their dollars for leisure purposes, and tourism is one of those purposes, and it pumps some money into the economy. It generates employment. It's a boon for cities - many cities in the United States, and in Europe, other parts of the world.

If you pay a hotel bill you'll notice there's 15 to 25 percent tourism tax. So, they basically are capitalizing on the fact that if you go to New York City for example, there's relatively inelastic demand for New York. People want to go to New York. I don't care how much it cost, they'll figure out a way to get there. And there are other parts of the world where that's true as well. So, these cities not only serve a vital, economic purpose because of the commerce that they deal with, but they are also vital because they bring dollars -extraneous entertainment dollars into the location.

CHIDEYA: You mentioned the GDP, the gross domestic product - 10 percent. Is there - what else is kind of in that range in terms of other industries?

Ms. MALVEAUX: Well, the health care industry is 14 percent. So, it's right up there as a major...

CHIDEYA: That's huge for tourism.

Ms. MALVEAUX: It's a major contributor to our economy both domestic and international. I mean, you talked about the money that African-Americans are spending on travel when you introduced the piece, and it's interesting to see African-American travel, rise to see the rising influence that family reunions for example, have played in getting people out of their state and into other places. You're seeing differences in the way people travel in terms of whether it's plane, train, bus, car, and how things like gasoline prices have an impact on those.

Again, fairly inelastic demand, but we're seeing more elasticity and people making decisions with maybe I won't take that road trip because gas prices are higher than I expected them to be, or taking one less road trip. But, this is a prime season - this summer - for people to travel, to spend money traveling, and to pump money into the economy for that. And so, you're right, it is a major contributor to the economy.

CHIDEYA: Now, I want to transition to something that's related. You have tourism, you have resorts, you have people who work at tourist resorts. And apparently, the U.S. is relying more on H2B work visas to get people to work at these resorts. Some of the people who employ at those resorts and hotels say well, we can't find workers here in the U.S. But other folks question where are you looking? Are you going to the cities? What - how does that play out?

Ms. MALVEAUX: Well, that's such a good question because the H2B visa is supposed to be for industries and for jobs where there are labor shortages. You can't tell me that you need a Ph.D. in thermonuclear dynamics to pour a drink in a resort. I know a whole lot of homies who can do that very well, but I don't think those homies have been asked to have those opportunities. So, it seems to me that there's some profiling and I won't call it racial but I will raise the question, that's being done about what kind, put quotes around the "kind" of workers some of these people are looking for.

I think it's a very inappropriate use of the H2B visa to get resort workers, lifeguards, hotel cleaning workers, maids, casino dealers on those H2B visas. Technically and initially they were to be used for technology workers, for people who had those technical skills that seemed to be hard to come by.

So, there's a lot of questions to be raised. But of course, in a global economy we do have to be clear that just like students from the United States who want to go and work in Europe, in China, and other places, there's folks from other countries who want to come work here. There's got be a reasonable balance and that balance doesn't come from suggesting there're no domestic employees that will hold these jobs.

CHIDEYA: Well, I'm sure part of the problem is cost of living. And a lot of these places, you know, the places that you would think of as the best places to go visit even if, you know, you can't afford them, are the places where, of course if you work there, it's so expensive to find housing, and all sorts of different areas have had that problem.

Ms. MALVEAUX: Well, you know, if you're bringing someone in from Europe or Australia, you're providing housing from them, why not provide housing from someone from Harlem or San Jose? You know...

CHIDEYA: Good point.

Ms. MALVEAUX: You know, if you made the same kind of accommodations, you might find more workers domestically.

CHIDEYA: Well, I want to transition to something else that we sisters have, all the time, conversations about - so when you have summer, you got heat, often humidity. And you also got swimming, and that means that our hair does some strange things sometimes.

I have locks, so all it means is that my hair is extra heavy when I swim. But some folks, with the press and curl, the bump, et cetera, et cetera, how expensive is it to redo your hair during the summer, maybe when the humidity and the water is getting at you?

Ms. MALVEAUX: You know, Farai, sisters make choices. I'm a member of the happy-is-nappy school myself so it doesn't take very much for me to recover from a swim, a dunk in the water, or anything like that. But you're right. The press and curl crowd has a problem, and people have to just budget that like they budget everything else.

One of the low points of my life was the point when I had that long hair and went to Jamaica and swam, and then took two hours for my hair to dry. And the whole party was furious with me because it took so long for my hair to dry. So I don't look back on those days fondly.

But, again, it's a budgeting thing, you know? Braid it, put it up in some in, you know, a head rag - I think there's a more elegant word for that. Do something like that. But summer has its pros and its cons economically and, some folks find themselves in the beauty shop once a week as opposed to once a month because of the humidity.

CHIDEYA: I just have to ask what do you think is the cost to many women -there's no blanket statement. But sometimes, I see folks who may get their hair done once a week and at $60 or $70 a week.

Ms. MALVEAUX: Well, multiply it and do that by 50, it's $3,500 a year. It's not an insignificant amount of money, and I do think, you know, African-American women spend an awful lot of time thinking, talking, obsessing, praying and crying over their hair. And we got to free ourselves from that.

If you like to swim, do something easy, but, you know, it's a personal choice and a personal decision, and we've spent so much time - let's go back to that movie, "School Daze." What was that, straight and nappy? You know, we spend a lot of time talking about this.

Let's talk about what's in our heads, and not what's in our hair, you know, what's in our brains and not on our hair. But it is something, I think, a lot of sisters agonize over.

My freest moment in my - part of my life was the time that I just said, you know, happy is nappy. It's going to be short. It's been that way for about 25 years.

CHIDEYA: All right. Well, thanks for the wisdom, Julianne.

Ms. MALVEAUX: Thank you always.

CHIDEYA: Julianne Malveaux is an author, economist and president of Bennett College. And she joined us from the studios of WFDD in Greensboro, North Carolina.

Just ahead, the charismatic and sometimes problematic image of the black preacher, next in our religion series. And apologies for slavery are downright trendy. Is that a good thing?

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