How Travel Noire District Turned Sour

Travel communities are becoming increasingly popular, and I think it holds more value for for people of color. These communities allow us to come together, and get further educated about traveling the world. There is an existing stereotype that black Americans do not travel, and that couldn’t be further from the truth. Contrary to popular belief, when we do travel, we do not only go to Miami, Las Vegas and New Orleans. We are worldwide – hiking, biking, and wandering.

I use several online resources to assist in my travel needs – communities within GroupMe, Facebook, and Slack. These help me find glitch fares, learn more about cities I would like to visit, strengthen my travel hacking, and more. Out of all of my experiences in travel communities, the absolute worst has been Travel Noire District. The District left such a bitter taste in my mouth that I won’t consider any of this company’s business ventures in the future, and cannot fully recommend it to friends.

I assume that most people are lured into Travel Noire because of their images on Instagram. Look at all of these beautifully filtered images of black people traveling to exotic locations across the globe! I never followed them on the gram, and I still don’t. I stumbled upon the company through its website as I was searching for information about an upcoming trip to the country of Panamá. That put me on alert to learn more about the company, and their offerings.

At some point in April 2015, Travel Noire offered what was called TN District. On the website that no longer exists, it was labeled as “an on-the-go chat community for travelers.” The purpose was to “connect with travelers, instantly access the best travel deals, discover new destinations and build your itinerary 24/7.” What attracted me to TND was the instant glitch fares, which was clearly labeled as an expected service. It was supposed to be “our tried-and-true method for spotting dirt cheap airline fares up to 70% off.” Being a novice to  finding glitches, I felt that the price of becoming a member was worth it because I would save so much from using the glitches. The price was $8.99 per month or $60 for an annual membership. I was still weary about it, so I did not join the summer rollout of TNdistrict.

When a new rollout was announced in fall 2015, I decided to pay the $60 annual fee, and become a member. The community is hosted on Slack. At the time I knew nothing about Slack, the services it provided, and how it worked prior to TNdistrict. I logged into TND’s Slack for the first time in October, eager to learn more about hunting for travel deals. There were several channels related to places I had plans to travel, recommendations for Airbnbs, photography, how to use mileage points, and etc. The channel in which I was most interested was called #glitchfeed_noposting. This was where all of this wonderfully cheap flights were supposed to be available.

So from October to December, I tried to learn things. It seemed as though the most useful resources didn’t even come from TND. Instead, it came from the posts of other members. Slack itself didn’t appear to be the best platform for in depth travel discussions. Travel Noire’s tried and true method of finding dirt cheap airfare was by using not-so-secret sites like Secret Flying and The Flight Deal. I already had this information available to me for free. The glitchfeed channel was furthermore useless because it didn’t even offer many of the same sites I followed regularly.

Now, an important feature about Slack is the @channel button. The @channel button alerts all of the users in the channel to the message one is posting. For example, if I want to alert everyone in the channel about a flight deal to Dubai, I would post the information and add the @channel button so that everyone in the channel could be notified. Regular members did not have access to the @channel button because it was abused in the past, and people were sending out alerts about things that weren’t alert-worthy (i.e., “How’s the weather in Portugal right now, @channel?”). One way to get the information out was by asking one of the administrators who had access to the button to use it. That didn’t occur often because they were busy.

In December 2015, shit hit the fan because of the @channel button. It all started from a really good flight deal to Sri Lanka, Cairo, Abu Dhabi, and several other cities after Etihad Air had sort of a glitch in their system. Because only certain people had access to the @channel button, unless a member just so happened to log in and look into the group at that time, they missed it. There wasn’t a true way to be alerted to the flight deal, and the administrators who could have used the @channel button to send out a notification were nowhere to be found.

When people eventually logged in and discovered that they missed a really good deal because no one could use the @channel button, all types of feelings started to show. That was the straw that broke the camel’s back. It seemed like things had been festering for a while, and now was the point of explosion. People had things they wanted to get off their chests.

 

Here were some of the main complaints:

  • Messages in the Slack were archived, meaning that older messages were unavailable after a certain time. Oftentimes, the same questions would get asked because of this. This archived messaging was because Travel Noire was using the free version of Slack. Let me repeat. We, as paying customers, were using a free version of Slack. The upgraded version is less than $7 per person per month, so it wasn’t feasible for them as a company to upgrade. For those like me who selected an annual membership, the company would actually be losing money.
  • The glitch feed consisted of posts from free sites like Secret Flying. We, as paying customers, were obtaining information that we could have gotten for free as well. Furthermore, the glitchfeed didn’t include a lot of other great sites like Airfare Spot, so we had other members hunting and finding good deals for us when the employees of the company should have been finding those dirt cheap airfares they described on the original website.
  • The level of interaction in the community had died down quickly. With an enrollment of over 2000 members, only a small percentage of those actively engaged.
  • Overall, as paying customers, we weren’t seeing the value in what we paid for, and we felt like guinea pigs as they worked through their growing pains.
  • TND members did not get first dibs on TN Experiences. TN Experiences are overpriced “curated” trips to destinations such as Bali, Bahia, Cape Town, and Amalfi Coast. Those trips are not aimed at me, so I did not have a single complaint.
  • TND members weren’t featured on the Instagram, did not know how to get featured, and didn’t understand why it was always the same people featured. Again, I don’t follow TN on Instagram, but I felt that this was a legitimate question. Anytime I do stumble upon them on IG, I notice one person in particular who gets a good bit of coverage.

When people started voicing their concerns, messages started getting deleted by administrators. Now, you know Americans value our free speech! Most of the messages were not disrespectful in any way, but were still deleted. That made some users irate.

The company’s CEO, Zim Ugochukwu, finally addressed the district and appeared very dismissive and defensive about the communities concerns. The issue with the @channel button was fixed, allowing all users to have access. For any other issue, she basically said if we didn’t like it, she would gladly issue a refund to us. The customer relationship was not a factor at all. I think she felt attacked when it was more constructive criticism of how to improve this community. Instead of listening and attempting to address our concerns, she hit us with the “don’t let the doorknob hit you where the good Lord split you.”

Three months went by without anything happening besides an unnecessary chat about “how to journey deeper in 2016.” No changes and no other communication were made. Then in March 2016, Zim sent out an email to certain – not all – members of TND about changes that would be soon coming. The only problem with that was Zim’s email correspondence was consistently… bad.

It’s a crazy web of long-worded messages spread over multiple emails over multiple weeks. At the end of each email is a cliffhanger If it were an episode of Power, it may have worked. But alas, it is not. In a world of multi-taskers who receive several emails each day, people don’t have time for a season of storytelling. Her failed attempt at building anticipation left me and other members frustrated and wanting to get to the point. Just ask anyone subscribed to her emails what happened in Morocco, and see how they respond.

When this latest email hit everyone’s inbox, it was written in such a confusing manner that people took to the TND to ask how everyone was interpreting it. Basically, people who signed up for annual TND memberships in April 2015 would be going to a monthly subscription in April 2016 at a higher price until a new TND was implemented. This  correspondence occurred on March 24, and they had until March 30th to make their decision or their memberships would be cancelled. All other members had no information provided to them.

Travel Noire was going to revamp TND and charge more, but failed to spell out how they would be changing it and how much it would cost. Talk about confusing. We weren’t getting our money’s worth before, and now we were being asked to pay more for something we knew absolutely nothing about! No one even addressed the initial concerns. but now they wanted more money? Nah! Members became really upset, and started their own FREE communities on GroupMe and Slack. I can guarantee that the requests for people to join Nomadness increased significantly those next few days.

I went to Cuba during that time and wifi is difficult to come by, so I missed much of what happened after the fire. Zim sent out another email after many of us flocked to other communities for free to let us all know that she had heard our concerns. After listening, Travel Noire would be upgrading to the standard version of Slack until they could transfer to a new program at a later date. That meant members would be able to view archived information. They also changed their minds about charging members  a monthly fee, and decided that access to Slack would be free for everyone until late fall when they implemented a new community entitled Compass. Also, the glitch feed would be modified to add more resources. That was a step in the right direction and I respected the effort, but it all happened too late for many members who were sick and tired of being sick and tired.

They changed the focus of TND from airfare hacks and glitches to “meaningful travel” and “traveling deeper.” The only problem with that is the change happened without even telling those members who paid for something that was branded another way. The way Travel Noire went about it was all wrong, and I know they felt the backlash as a part of the growing pains. It felt like they said, “Screw these people. We’re just going to throw them in the trash and start all over with a new group of eager individuals.” They have washed their hands with us and could not care less that we did not get the services we expected. Why should they? They have an enormous following and I imagine that many people outside of TND will register for Compass and show strong loyalty toward a black female entrepreneur who has met Oprah and been on several “best” lists.

October 1st is when TN District will be shut down, and the transition to Compass begins. I will not be in that number when the saints go marching in since I have no interest in “traveling deeper.” I will not be paying for any travel communities or for any travel advice. Not even for advanced travel hacking.

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