Outdoor Afro Founder, CEO Rue Mapp wins Bessie Awards

Outdoor industry entrepreneur and globetrotter Rue Mapp won the 2023 Bessie Awards in San Juan, Puerto Rico’s electrifying tapestry of African, Spanish, and indigenous culture. “When I heard my name, my team and I were completely elated and squealing with gratitude,” said Mapp, founder and CEO of national not-for-profit Outdoor Afro. “My fellow nominees are so extraordinary. It was an honor to simply be in their company.” She joined filmmaker/explorer Céline Cousteau and sustainable luxury expert Juliet Kinsman in the lifetime achievement JourneyWoman category. Mapp earned the fifth annual award at the 10th annual Women in Travel (WITS) Creator Summit held May 20 at Caribe Hilton. Global lifestyle brand Wanderful hosted the traveling marketing summit and evening ceremony.

Hundreds of Wanderful’s international collective of travelers and travel content creators rooted Mapp up to the stage to receive the first-ever win for her and her organization. The Bessie Awards honors women of impact in travel – particularly influencers, creative entrepreneurs, marketers, and other representatives who have contributed unique voices and work to the travel industry.  As the JourneyWoman winner, Mapp joins a new community of travelers who have demonstrated a long-term commitment to making the travel industry better. The category commemorates the late Evelyn Hannon, who founded the world’s original solo travel publication JourneyWoman in 1994. With more than 60,000 subscribers, JourneyWoman became the largest publication for women over the age of 50 who travel across the planet. It’s co-created with and represents the voices of mature women for almost 30 years.

During 2019, now CEO and Editor Carolyn Ray acquired JourneyWoman. Travel trade platform TravelPulse named Ray as one of the most influential women in travel March 2023. Unable to attend the awards to present the honor, Ray shared a virtually recorded message to JourneyWoman finalists. She thanked Mapp, Cousteau, and Kinsman for their contributions to the travel industry. JourneyWoman also conducted a recent study that showed 70 percent of women above age 50 don’t feel seen or understood by the travel business. A missed opportunity for the trade to build relationships with these women and improve the types of travel experiences offered worldwide.

The JourneyWoman Award celebrates travelers proving long-term commitments to make the travel industry better. Photo by Tatianna Muniz of Ghost Edits.

“While I’m grateful for this prestigious recognition, I’m hopeful that this win will inspire other women to embrace the unprecedented opportunities we have today,” Mapp said. “These opportunities make it possible for more women of all ages and backgrounds to embrace a fulfilling and impactful career in the outdoor, travel, and tourism industries.” These findings are why women like this year’s sisterhood of finalists are significant to both travel and tourism conversations. The Bessie Awards uplifted these 2023 category winners spanning the globe as well: Collaborator of the Year: Switzerland Tourism x The Wanderlust Within; Creator of the Year: Olivia Christine Perez; Social Impact Award: International Black Women Travel Jubilee; Trailblazer Award: Jessica Serna (My Curly Adventures); Travel Startup of the Year: Fora; Most Impactful Piece of Writing: “Why You Shouldn’t Cancel Your Upcoming Trip to Puerto Rico” by Jen Ruiz; Wanderful Award: wmnsWORK; and Inclusion Award: Together Outdoors, Grant Program.

Together Outdoors won the Inclusion Award, which was a category shared by finalist Hurtigruten Group’s Black Travel Advisory Board. Mapp became a founding member of that board. Through it, she embarked on an 18-day Antarctica voyage February 2022 to help drive change and new opportunities for Black people in the adventure cruise industry. Its goal is to continue to increase visibility and inclusivity of Black travelers while heading to Norway summer 2023. Along with a successful Bessie Awards experience, Wanderful celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. As its Puerto Rico summit concluded Sunday May 21, Founder and CEO Beth Santos shared a toast with participants and surprised them with WITS 2024 destinations: Salt Lake City and Park City, Utah, from April 12 to April 14.

Wanderful reaches more than 100 million women worldwide each year. Its hybrid online/offline membership community launched in 2020. The community offers women the chance to make lifelong travel connections both at home and abroad through an exclusive 24/7 member app; a global hosting network; local chapter events in cities around the globe; and professional and travel webinars hosted by resident experts. The following figures about women travelers prompted Santo to build the brand: women make up 80 percent of travel decisions; two out of three travelers are women; the number of women-only travel companies has increased 230 percent in the past six years; 11 percent of the travel industry includes solo women; and $800 billion is spent by solo women on their travels.

An international explorer, Rue Mapp is founding member of Hurtigruten Group’s Black Travel Advisory Board. Cover photo and dock photo by Aspen Cierra Photography.

And the late Bessie Coleman knew exactly how it felt to trail blaze the travel and aviation industries alone in early 20th-century America. She became the first Black woman to earn a pilot’s license. Because flying schools in the United States denied her entry, she taught herself French, moved to France, and earned her license from France’s well-known Caudron Brother’s School of Aviation in just months. Mapp is an awarded and inspirational leader, speaker, public lands champion, outdoor gear designer, and published author. The Oakland, California, native pioneered for-profit venture Outdoor Afro, Inc. in 2021 and subsequently launched a 22-piece hike collection with outdoor retailer REI Co-op. Her first national book titled “Nature Swagger: Stories and Visions of Black Joy in the Outdoors” released with American publisher Chronicle Books during November 2022.

Over the years, Mapp has been recognized with many distinctions. She became a 2021 AFAR Travel Vanguard Award recipient, National Geographic 2019 Fellow, Heinz Awards Honoree, and National Wildlife Federation Communication Award recipient (received alongside President Bill Clinton). The White House also invited Mapp to participate in the America’s Great Outdoors Conference, which led to her participation in the launch of former First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” initiative.

Mapp’s career and community impact through Outdoor Afro aims to lift up the natural world and those who connect with it. Her advocacy for conservation continues to earn international media attention, including Essence, EBONY, The New York Times, Good Morning America, NPR, NBC’s TODAY, Forbes, Oprah Winfrey, and “MeatEater” with Steven Rinella. “In the spirit of Bessie Coleman – a trailblazer and pioneer – let us remember that our work is far from done,” said Mapp during her Wanderful acceptance speech. “Together, we can conquer the skies, overcome challenges, and realize our dreams. With unwavering determination and a commitment to helping communities thrive, we can make a transformative impact.”

The Bessies became a first-time win for Mapp whose life work within the outdoor industry travels the world. Photo by Aspen Cierra Photography.

ABOUT OUTDOOR AFRO: Outdoor Afro is a national not-for-profit organization that celebrates and inspires Black connections and leadership in nature. What started as a kitchen table blog by Founder and CEO Rue Mapp in 2009 has since grown into a cutting-edge nationwide movement with 100-plus volunteer leaders in 60 cities with network participation reaching more than 60,000 people. Outdoor Afro reconnects Black people with the outdoors through outdoor education, recreation, and conservation. Follow Outdoor Afro at outdoorafro.org and @outdoorafro today.

ABOUT WANDERFUL: Wanderful is a global lifestyle brand that specializes in helping all women travel the world. Reaching more than 100 million women worldwide each year, Wanderful connects travelers through a thriving membership community, meetups in 50 global cities, group trips, global events like WITS Travel Creator Summit, and the first major outdoor travel festival for women, Wanderfest. More here.

ABOUT WITS TRAVEL CREATOR SUMMIT: WITS is the premier event for travel’s top marketing talent. Creative entrepreneurs, influencers, DMOs, and industry come together to discuss future innovations, build dynamic collaborations, and change travel worldwide, all while supporting and empowering a dynamic community of women and gender diverse people. Details here

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