America is a country that takes travel for granted as a way of
US families live further apart than ever before, and the average
American travels further for their vacations than they have at any time
in the nation's history. It's embedded into the psyche of a country that
was founded on the principals of travel: coming to the US on ships,
building canals to connect ports, creating railroads that crisscross the
nation, traveling on airplanes from coast to coast, and driving along
highways that interconnect cities and states like finely thinned strands
of a spiderweb.
Or so it seemed.
More than any other industry, the $582 billion travel and tourism
business was economically devastated by the horrendous events of
The already weak pre-September economy was dealt a brutal blow by the
terrorist attacks. Over 100,000 people in the industry immediately lost
their jobs, and the Travel Industry Association of America predicts that
453,000 jobs directly related to travel and tourism will have been lost
by the end of 2001.
Meanwhile, consumers turned inward, spending more time with family and
friends, and staying closer to home. Accordingly, the travel industry
has had to shift its message to take into account this more insular
America, where bonding with blood is more important than taking a
holiday vacation to Martha's Vineyard.
This shift reflects Americans' reticence to fly again so soon after the
hijackings, and while the war against terrorism is still raging. The
International Air Transport Association forecasts that the international
air industry may lose $7.5 billion in business during 2001.
International travel from the US dipped a staggering 33% during the
month of October.
Shifting PR gears
As a result of this devastation, US travel destinations have undergone a
radical shift in PR strategy to capitalize on a market where consumers
are more likely to load up in the family car than fly on an
"We're seeing the same shift toward the family travel market that
occurred during the '50s and '60s," says Chris Spring, CEO of Spring
O'Brien, whose clients include the Cayman Islands, New Zealand, and
Northwestern Florida. "People will drive further for their vacations.
The drive market has extended from six to 11 hours."
Spring isn't the only agency working this way. Marketing to the "rubber
tire" strategy has become the most successful and common method of
trying to get people to go on vacation in the post-September 11 world.
Orlando, FL-based Yesavich, Pepperdine & Brown, whose clients include
Resort Quest, a condo retail company with 19,000 units in Orlando,
Colorado, and Utah, has done well with a campaign that emphasizes how
customers can drive to the Resort Quest chain and also maintain their
privacy. Using radio and print campaigns, and widening the drive area
that the agency normally targets, YP&B has seen a big rise in the number
of condo rentals.
The agency has also turned to the more unusual methods of trying to tie
its clients into TV game shows, and is in the process of attempting to
tie another client to a national restaurant chain. "There is a gray area
between advertising and PR that I think a lot of agencies are straddling
right now in attempts to bring in clients from a further drive market,"
says Rod Caborn, SVP of PR for YP&B.
Even Disney World, that Mecca of theme parks, has been relying more
heavily on drive traffic from the Southeast. It originally saw a
downturn in the month following the terrorist attacks, but has entered
the end of the year with a strong publicity campaign that is centered on
the 100th anniversary of Walt Disney's birthday. The in-house PR team
expects a big uptick in January to kick off the celebration, which has
been heavily promoted through ABC shows such as Who Wants to Be A
Millionaire, Live with Regis and Kelly, and Good Morning America, all of
which filmed segments at Disney World.
"Family reconnecting with family is a special emphasis of our campaign,"
explains Linda Warner, EVP of marketing and brand management for Disney
World. "Disney is such a family brand that it has a multigenerational
relevancy." The media team is heavily promoting the year-long birthday
celebration by pushing new parades, theme park shows, and
Special promotions - with partners such as Hallmark - are among other
means being used to encourage families to rediscover Disney World. The
in-house team is also posting daily media updates on its website.
To capitalize on the drive-market shift, Weber Shandwick Worldwide has
launched a campaign for Hilton Head Island, SC, where consumers who fill
up their gas tanks at participating gas stations in the drive area
receive $25 off their next trip to Hilton Head Island. WSW is
pursuing the drive market in Charlotte, Atlanta, Raleigh, and other
areas of the South. The agency campaign is targeting newspapers with
75,000 readers or less, rather than focusing attention on major
drive-area markets. "We're a nation of people founded on travel," says
Rene Mack, president of travel and lifestyle practice for WSW. "We're
not a stationary population. And the longer people don't travel, the
more pent up demand there is to get away."
New Orleans shifted into drive-market gear as soon as it saw the first
numbers that showed air travel was down in the Big Easy. Peter Mayer &
Associates, the agency that represents the Louisiana Office of Tourism,
extended its drive message further abroad, and also hit editorial
presences in smaller markets. The campaign stressed the beauty of New
Orleans and the French Quarter Choirs strolling through historical
sections of town. With the Sugar Bowl, Super Bowl, Mardi Gras, PGA
Tournament, and New Orleans Jazz Fest coming up in the next six months,
New Orleans expects its travel numbers to be back in the black by
mid-2002. "The most important part has been how the industry turned on a
dime and came together to attract tourists and minimize the effects of
the downturn," says Mark Roming, VP and director of PR for Peter
Tranquility and travel
Some of the more rural or peaceful areas of the country have actually
seen an increase in the amount of travel traffic that they normally
Tom Garrity, president of Garrity/Johnson PR in New Mexico, says that
the state's tourism numbers are holding strong. In fact, he adds, New
Mexico is unleashing a number of new campaigns to draw on the drive
market, and the fact that people seem to want to get away to the
mountains or more rural settings. Seventy percent of travelers who come
to New Mexico already arrive by car, so Garrity says he has only had to
increase the driving market a little further than normal. In particular,
New Mexico is targeting San Antonio, Dallas, and Houston.
Two campaigns in particular stress the uniqueness and peacefulness of
New Mexico. The state is running a "spirituality" campaign that
encourages visitors to come to New Mexico and get back to their roots by
reconnecting with their spiritual nature. The other campaign, for Santa
Fe County, centers on spas and resorts, as well as the Native American
History and haunts of the state. "People are looking to reconnect with
their family and with themselves," says Garrity. "New Mexico is just the
kind of place for people who want a different experience. It's quiet,
with stunning vistas, mountains, and a unique culture. All qualities
that are very desirable in this time of high stress."
Another rural area that hasn't been affected - and may have seen an
increase in travelers - is the Emerald Coast in Northern Florida. It
already drew upon a large drive market from the Southeast. The Zimmerman
Agency, which represents the area, has been using radio promotions and
sweepstakes, as well as regional releases and more grassroots tactics to
stretch the radius from which drivers normally come to include areas of
Georgia, Alabama, Texas, Kentucky, and South Carolina. The agency held
an Emerald Coast lottery, which eschewed customary monetary prizes to
give people free hotel stays to get them moving within the state.
The pinch on the economy has also forced agencies to decrease the scope
of the campaigns, and the amount that companies are spending to promote
their destinations. "Companies are trimming down to the core of media
placement," says Kurt Genden, VP and director of travel and hospitality
industry for Evins Communication, whose clients include upscale hotels
such as Park Hyatt and Regent Wall Street. And while he admits that they
are drawing on more of a drive market, he adds that these upscale hotels
are focusing more on week packages and value-added campaigns. The people
who stay at these hotels are from the top 5% of the income bracket, and
they don't mind spending extra money. But if there are extra perks that
the hotel can deliver, it encourages those who may not otherwise
One package that the firm has been promoting includes a trip to a spa,
VIP tours of museums, and dinner at a restaurant. "Travel and the
mindset of Americans hasn't changed forever," stresses Genden. "We can
sit in a vacuum and guess what consumers want, but if you plan to come
out on top, you must pay attention to consumer trends."
David Paine of Paine PR, an agency that represents clients such as
Blockbuster and DirecTV, both of which have seen a big upswing since
September 11, believes there is healing that people must go through
before they hit the road. "People are wounded right now," says Paine.
"They are doing different things than they did before September 11.
Video rentals are up. People are ordering more pizza. When they do go
out, they're eating locally. When they travel, they're taking trips that
keep them much closer to home, staying at roadside motels rather than
luxury hotels. Part of that is simple economics, but there is definitely
some nesting going on as well. I think people just need more time to
adjust to all that's happened in the last couple of months."
Fortunately for the travel business, PR agencies have already
FACTS AND FIGURES
- Travel spending supports 19 million people in the US
- In 2000, $582 billion was spent by domestic and international
travelers in the US. The $100 billion international travel export
sector supported one million jobs, raising $14 billion in tax
revenue in 2000
- US domestic travel is expected to be down 7% in 2001
- Domestic travel spending is expected to drop $33 billion in
- International arrivals are expected to be 13% lower in 2001
- US hotel industry occupancy is forecast at 60.7%, which is down 4.7%
from the 63.7% percent achieved in 2000.