AFRICA: A different kind of Visa

With a little imagination, a new Visa card being sponsored by an East African bank and Kenya’s national airline could serve as a model for promoting black American travel to Africa.

Kenya Airways Boeing 767
Kenya Airways Boeing 767

In Sunday’s IBIT Travel Digest, I mentioned the new Visa card from Kenya Airways, backed by Barclay’s Bank of Kenya.

That raises some intriguing possibilities.

On this side of the Atlantic, many black Americans would love to visit Africa if only they could afford it, and black-owned banks that could use an infusion of capital to invest in Black America.

On the other side, many of Africa’s 54 nations are eager to welcome black American visitors. There are credible African airlines that would love to bring us there. There also are some African banks that could benefit from building business relationships in North America.

What would happen if all these folks started talking to one another?

Maybe something wonderful.

Suppose those African airlines were to offer a credit card in this country, through a cooperative agreement between black-owned US banks and an African bank. The cardholder could choose between building mileage credit toward free flights on the sponsoring African airline, or a cash rebate.

But why stop there?

The airline could work with hoteliers and tour operators in the host country to put together an all-inclusive tour — lodging, meals, transport, tours, transfers to/from airports, everything.

Tours could be designed around different themes, keyed to a visitor’s interests:

  • EDUCATION — language, African history, Diaspora history and heritage, science, conservation
  • CULTURE — art, music, fashion, food, nightlife, religion
  • RECREATION — hiking, bicycling, boating, surfing, diving
  • BUSINESS — investment opportunities
  • NATURE — conservation, safaris

The possibilities are as varied as Africa itself.

But the card simply would be part of the bank’s package to its new customers. The principal feature of that package would be a savings account, to which you commit to making monthly deposits.

No minimum starting balance. Deposit as much or as little monthly as you want, as long as you deposit something. In effect, it would be a monthly bill, with one critical difference: You’re paying yourself.

Once you build up enough cash, you log onto the bank’s Web site and select your Africa tour package. Within seconds, your trip is paid for, your flights and hotels booked. Travel insurance would be included automatically as part of your credit card account &mdash just as it is with the Kenya Airways card.

The remaining money in your account becomes your spending money in Africa, cash you can withdraw from the ATM machines of the US bank’s partner in Africa.

Next stop: The Mother Continent.

Upon your trip, start saving for your next trip to Africa. Or South America. Or Europe. Or any other purpose. It’s your money.

Putting all this together definitely would be a challenge, and not just on the banking side.

Currently, only six Africa-based airlines make direct flights to the United States — Nigeria’s Arik Air, Ethiopian Airlines, South African Airways, Cape Verde Airlines, Egyptair and Morocco’s Royal Air Maroc. But all either have or are capable of making codeshare agreements with US or European airlines that fly between the US and Africa daily.

Ethiopian Airlines already is a member of Star Alliance, the world’s largest alliance of codesharing airlines.

This could work. The key to making this work is saving.

Consider the amount of money annually estimated to be floating around in Black America, — currently about $1.1 trillion. How do financial experts describe all this money we collectively have? “Black wealth?…”Black economic strength?”

No and no. It’s invariably referred to as “black purchasing power.”

And brother, do we ever purchase. We spend money as if it were about to evaporate, caught up in a society that pushes us 24/7 to BUY! BUY! BUY! The word “bling” used to represent the sound of a bicycle bell — until we got hold of it.

Now look at China. The country pays some of the world’s lowest wages, and yet Chinese tourists are fanning out across the globe. The Chinese are known as the world’s most ferocious savers.

Coincidence? I think not.

Some, like this long-winded financial wonk, say it’s a matter of government policy. The Chinese themselves say it’s a cultural thing. Either way, they put their money away.

Imagine what we could achieve if we did the same with just 1 percent — one penny on every dollar — of that $1.1 trillion. That would put $11 billion into banks that we own, money to invest on homes, on creating businesses and jobs, paying for education. Paying for travel.

You can do a lot with $11 billion.

Am I dreaming? Sure, but why not? Small dreams are a waste of sleep.

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