MOVERS: Dash Harris
A series on Black men and women making moves in the travel industry
All images courtesy of Dash Harris and AfroLatino Travel
This Panamanian-born sister is the driving force behind a tour company emphasizing the Black side of the Latin American cultural family.
Four years ago, Dash Harris got together with a group of friends and an idea, to bring tour groups to the Caribbean and South America, starting with her native Panama and Cuba.
But not just regular, plain vanilla tours. She had something specific in mind. She wanted to introduce travelers to the most neglected side of Latin America’s cultural house. The African side.
“That’s pretty much our focus,” she says. “Afro everything. We’re connected to what we speak about.”
Thus was born AfroLatino Travel. The company formed in 2012 and began launching tours three years later.
With Cuba finally opening up to American tourism as the US-imposed trade embargo against Havana is peeled away bit by bit, Americans are increasingly flocking to the island nation to see what they’ve been missing for the last half-century and change.
That’s where you’ll find the AfroLatino Travel crew, arranging not just tours in Cuba, but also homestays for visitors with Afro-Cuban families.
But Dash isn’t doing this solely for the sake of cultural awareness. She wants to make sure that Latin America’s Black populations get their fair slice of the coming boom in North American tourism.
Toward that end, she wants to provide home repair grants to Afro-Cuban families, to help them get in on the airbnb action that has already spread to Havana and beyond.
“They might have an extra bedroom, but the house is falling apart, so you can’t really rent that out to people. Most of these could be fixed up with less than $1,000, but they’re not going to see $1,000 in ten years. So the access to the tourism industry is just completely blocked off to them.
“So that’s one of the bigger goals, to get a program with that started, so you can actually see Black people on airbnb and say, “All right, I’ll spend my money here. You can have that choice.”
There’s another reason Dash and company want to help turn Afro-Cuban families into tourism entrepreneurs. If you’re Black, she says, Cuba’s hotel scene can be pretty discouraging:
“First of all, the hotel prices have tripled in the past year. You end up paying a lot for basic things, even less than basic, limited supplies. And also, the hotel are the main culprits of discrimination. You’re only going to see Afro-Cubans cleaning. I don’t think we want to direct dollars to the hotels.”
But Dash and her company aren’t just looking to hook up Afro-Cuban families for airbnb stays. She plans to offer her own.
“We’re looking at buying a house in Portobelo, (Panama) and Havana and hosting people ourselves,” she says.
But if Dash wants to make one thing muy claro, it’s that she’s not in this purely for the money. For her, this is as much a cause as a business.
“The (Afro-Latino) community has just been taken from for hundreds of years. I can’t be part of that. I don’t see the business being a success if other people aren’t benefiting from it.”
Just so you know, AfroLatino Travel is my official Cuba tour provider. Tours are available from Sept 1. through the Christmas-New Year’s holiday. If you’re interested in booking one of her tours, send an email to Trips by Greg and we’ll hook you up.
Your first authentic mojito is on me.
Greg Gross is the Publisher/Sr. Editor of “I’m Black and I Travel!,” and the owner of the Trips by Greg travel agency, specializing in cultural and heritage travel worldwide.