Travel and Tourism PR redefined

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I’m not sure at which point the humble travel and tourism PR professional joined the ranks of estate agents, used car salesmen and politicians as one of the most despised professions in the world. I’m not even sure why.

What I do know is that to work in some semblance of a public relations role, you have to have thicker skin than an elephant and the charm of Disney princess – neither of which I possess in great abundance, which is why there are talented people in our organisation that are much better at Travel Industry PR than I.

I hope that when I worked as a journalist and editor for the travel industry, I was kinder to my PR colleagues than some of the disdainful dismissive comments I read on social media about people who work in the PR industry today.

I remember the five-page press releases with no news hook and the desperate phone calls asking if I had received a story and whether I would deign to use it. I admit it was slightly irritating, but with the shoe on the other foot, I almost understand why they did it.

While the perception may remain for some that PR professionals are nothing more than hacks, I’m delighted to see that the role of travel and tourism PR specialist is evolving.

As someone who writes about travel and tourism, as well as writes for travel and tourism brands, I still receive those long press releases that will never get picked up by the media and those phone calls begging me to use their news on our Inside Travel platform. But those are becoming fewer and farther between.

Rather, PR agencies specialising in travel and tourism are starting to see PR as only one component of their efforts to promote their clients. Some, more than others, have also managed to convince travel brands of their expertise as communications professionals.

They have advised their customers against creating content that is so entirely promotional in its nature, it will add no value to the end reader. Their customer has thankfully seen the light and agreed with this approach.

Travel and tourism PR, like any form of marketing for any industry, has to put the customer at the heart of its efforts to show any success. Much like a publication, we would hope, would put their reader at the centre of their decisions around content.

Anything that fights for people’s attention by “interrupting them”, as renowned marketer Seth Godin puts it, is not going to work anymore. As Godin says: “There’s too much going on in our lives for us to enjoy being interrupted”.

Travel public relations done well seeks to inspire its audience – both the media and the end customer – to volunteer to learn more about what you’re ‘selling’. The long road to getting that right lies in fully understanding what they want, what they need and then building a “mutually beneficial learning relationship”.

That doesn’t mean you can create a content strategy which features one blog post and press release a month and think that you’re going to get hundreds of enquiries. You’ll still have to pay, and probably a lot, to get their attention even for a moment. Only then will the door have opened to allow you to start building a longer-term relationship.

I see this so often with travel brands – especially smaller ones. They’ve bought into the idea of providing content that’s useful to their audience, but they haven’t got an audience with which to share it or with whom to build the relationship. Sadly, most of their efforts are there to tick a box but they’re not very effective in putting bums in seats or bodies in beds.

I’ve also been really surprised that bigger travel brands – ones with a large owned audience at their disposal – may not always realise the opportunity they have to start building a mutually beneficial learning relationship, instead focusing their attention on pure PR strategies and relying on media to get their message out to customers.

Travel and tourism are such widely contested sectors when it comes to fighting for your share of the customer’s attention, you can’t afford to create a press release for the sake of a press release. In fact, it’s probably much worse being the person in the room that says a lot, with very little substance, than the person who says a little, but when they open their mouth has something captivating to say.

With that in mind, I have always admired the approach that Discover Africa Safaris has used with their content. Andre Van Kets and his team have focused their content strategy on finding stories with great news hooks that hold interest and relevance for their audience instead of being purely brand-focused.

The secret to their success is finding the right hook that’s going to get the attention of their end customer and then building great content around that hook in different content formats – infographics, blogs, maps, etc., This content is then distributed across a range of owned and earned platforms, so yes there’s an element of PR, but it’s not the be all and end all.

Each content hook is seen as its own project in its own right.

That takes real commitment, smart planning and great execution. It’s a strategy that doesn’t happen overnight and one that won’t work for everyone. You have to really commit to knowing your end customer, be interested in building that long-term relationship instead of a quick sell and think like a publisher or an editor. You have to be an expert and a thought leader in your field – travel and tourism.

And I believe that’s the future of travel and tourism PR. Start thinking like a publisher or an editor who creates content, not for yourself, not for the travel brands who are paying you, but for the customers of that travel brand so that you build a long-term and mutually rewarding learning relationship.