MEDIA ROUNDUP: Hotels: More outlets are making room for hotel coverage

Increasingly, the media is looking at the hotel industry as a barometer for economic and cultural trends. As such, finds David Ward, hotel communicators are rethinking the aspects and the outlets they pitch.

Increasingly, the media is looking at the hotel industry as a barometer for economic and cultural trends. As such, finds David Ward, hotel communicators are rethinking the aspects and the outlets they pitch.

Hotels, or more precisely hotel vacancy rates, have traditionally been one of the more closely watched "unofficial" economic indicators. But as the current hotel exhibit at the Smithsonian in Washington, DC can attest, where and how Americans stay when they're away from home reveals a lot more than the just the condition of their wallets. "If you study what hotels are doing, what they're putting in their rooms, what they're offering on menus, how they're approaching the lobby and their social spaces, it does say something about society in a bigger context," says Patricia Godefroy, CEO of the Los Angeles office of Douglas Cohn & Wolfe. "Even the color palettes or the kinds of designs that they're using can be - if you're looking at a chain that's forward-thinking - indicative of what might happen next in other venues." A recent Wall Street Journal article by Christina Binkley, for example, showcased the Embassy Suites chain's test of "Creativity Suites." These are new rooms for business travelers that feature showers with grease boards for jotting down new ideas, exercise tapes, crayons, and even sectional sofas that can be rearranged so users can put themselves in the best position to think. Expansion of hotel coverage Both business and leisure travel may be in a bit of slump right now, but that doesn't mean there's not a great deal going on in the industry. As such, hotels still get a lot of coverage in the travel and business press, as well as architectural, design, and lifestyle outlets. "So many hotels are doing funky, creative things, that there's plenty of opportunity for coverage," says Stacy Lewis, VP of LA-based Murphy O'Brien, which represents several hotel clients, including the Century Plaza Hotel & Spa. "There's so much attention paid to detail, like the thread count of the linen, what designer products are in the mini-bar, and what bath products are being used." Many of these stories appeal to fashion magazines, adds Lewis, as do pitches centered on the booming spa industry, as well as hotels with interesting fitness programs. Many of these amenities may have been omitted in past reporting on hotels, much of which was done as a sub-segment of bigger travel and tourism stories. But as coverage gets more sophisticated, journalists on the hotel beat now have to work everything from the health of the economy to the global geo-political climate. "From our surveys with editors, they're telling us that they're looking for a lot of Caribbean and domestic stories for the next six months, just in case we go to war," says Laura Davidson, president of Laura Davidson Public Relations in New York. Both leisure and business travel reporting have been affected by the advertising slump, though most of that seems to be hurting general-interest outlets with hotel/travel sections, rather than specialty publications. "Both Travel + Leisure and Conde Nast Traveler have huge November issues," says Davidson. "It's the newspaper travel sections that may be a bit down. The thing with newspaper travel editors is they've never had a lot of staff, but if they cut back pages, it means there will be fewer features and more roundups." Media seeks out value Lou Hammond, president of Hammond & Associates, suggests that any drop-off in coverage seems to be centered on mid-level hotels downward. "We haven't noticed any decline in editorial space - at least none that has affected what I call premium brands," she says. "But there is a huge upswing in value coverage." Hammond notes that value doesn't always mean low price, but getting more for the same price, such as upgrades, free telephones, and good internet access. There's also been a rise in hotel coverage among traditional lifestyle outlets, especially young men's outlets like Maxim and FHM. Lewis says these magazines don't have regular hotel reporters or sections, "but when summer rolls around, they tend to do round-up stories on what are the newest, hottest places to go. So we've been in Maxim, although the coverage was very racy, as you can imagine." Like the travel journalism category as a whole, a great deal of hotel writing is done by freelancers. Many media outlets have tightened their rules on staffers accepting "freebies" of any sort, so freelancers tend to dominate what are known as "destination pieces" where a group of hotels may team up with the local tourism bureau to underwrite a journalist's visit to their location. "Certainly there are ton of freelancers because they're doing destination pieces," says Godefroy, who represent Hilton Hotels. "But if you're representing a major chain or even a major property, you'll still go after the 20% of reporters who lead 80% of the coverage, and those tend to be the staffers at the influential outlets. It's important to have an honest and ongoing relationship with these people." These reporters include Binkley of The Wall Street Journal, Chris Woodyard of USA Today, Joe Sharkey of The New York Times, NPR's Rudy Maxa, Today show contributor Peter Greenberg, and Travel + Leisure editor-in-chief Nancy Novogrod. With many hotels positioning themselves not only as places to stay, but also as nightspots, there continue to be opportunities to pitch hotels to nightlife reporters in major urban markets. Some of these in-hotel bars and restaurants are aimed at the very trendy 20- and 30-somethings. But Godefroy points out that these hotel-centric nightlife stories can be aimed at a variety of age groups and interests. "It really depends on who the target is for that destination," she says. "The Waldorf has been a perpetual nightspot for many years. A lot of these places have become landmarks, so there is always going to be media interest." With consumers increasingly turning to the internet to both research and book their hotel stays, you might think that online media would be on the rise as well. Carolyn Hicks-Marion, PR director for Best Western, says, "They're starting to go more toward the internet, but it's a slow process. People are going to the web to get the deal, but if they want to learn about a location, they still read the feature in the travel section." What's on television The medium that seems to be on the fastest ramp for hotel coverage is TV. "Television has really changed in the past few years," says Davidson. "Conde Nast Traveler has their own show that's launching across the country on PBS." In addition to stalwarts such as The Travel Channel and E!, Davidson says A&E and the Discovery Channel do hotel/travel features. "There are also the morning shows," Davidson adds. "[Today host] Matt Lauer still goes on location a lot. There's a lot of opportunity in broadcast." Hicks-Marion agrees, but says it's not quite as straightforward as contacting the broadcast outlet with a story idea. "Especially with cable, many stories are done by outside production companies, so it's far removed from, say, The Travel Channel," she says, adding that puts the onus on PR pros to find out not only the program's theme, but which outside company is handling the production. ----------- Where to go Newspapers The Wall Street Journal; The New York Times; Chicago Tribune; Los Angeles Times; USA Today Magazines Travel + Leisure; Conde Nast Traveler; Time Out; Business Traveler International; Arthur Frommer's Budget Traveler; Maxim; Elle; Worth; Fortune; Travel Holiday; Town & Country; New York; Travel; Architectural Digest; Departures Trade Titles Lodging; Hotel & Motel Management; Successful Meetings; Meetings and Conventions; Travel Week; Travel Agent Magazine; Hotel Business; Hotels; Lodging Hospitality TV & Radio Travel Channel; CNN Travel; E!; A&E; Discovery; PBS (new Conde Nast Traveler series); Today; Good Morning America; Odyssey; NPR Internet Expedia.com; Travelocity.com; Orbitz.com; MSNBC.com; Businesstraveller.com; Hsyndicate.com; Hotels.com

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