Representing the hotel industry is known to keep PR execs awake at
night. David Ward takes a look at what publications cover the industry,
and why the small details are the key to great coverage.
Unlike many business segments, the lodgings industry has few dedicated
consumer outlets, and most travel magazines tend to focus more on
destinations in general rather than accommodations.
But in many ways, the lack of a direct consumer market actually works to
the advantage of PR firms representing hotels. "Pitching hotel stories
is easier because there are so many angles," explains Laura Davidson,
president of Laura Davidson Public Relations. "It can be business
travel, it can be spas, it can be design trends. On the consumer side,
journalists are always looking for hotel-related stories."
Cindy Kurman, head of Chicago-based Kurman Communications, says that
most hotels have become fairly savvy about generating coverage. As an
example, she notes that many have upgraded their restaurants, and are
now pitching to food critics. "Restaurants within hotels have become
destinations unto themselves, and in many cases it's the restaurant
that's getting the repeated play nationally," she says. Alain Ducasse at
the Essex House in New York is one such example.
In these tumultuous financial times, hotels, or more precisely occupancy
rates, have also emerged as a key indicator as to how the national
economy is doing. "Lots of reporters have been calling - even those that
don't even cover the hotel industry - asking me whether we are slashing
rates or doing other things to counter the decline in business
travelers," says Vivian Deuschl, Ritz-Carlton's corporate VP of public
Coveted hotel and travel coverage
On the consumer side, the leading reporters covering the hotel business
tend to be from high-profile national publications. They include Salina
Khan and Chris Woodyard of USA Today, Michelle Higgins of the Takeoffs &
Landings column in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times' Joe
Sharkey, and Jane Levere, a freelancer who frequently writes for the
Times' Sunday Travel section. Among the most sought-after magazine
journalist is Jim Glab, who edits the Best Deal page for Travel +
Television can also provide some opportunities for exposure, especially
cable networks such as the Travel Channel and news outlets such as
But Meryl Pearlstein, SVP with New York-based Nancy J. Friedman Public
Relations, notes, "A lot of broadcast outlets want you to supply the
b-roll, and that's a problem for smaller hotels that don't have the
budget to do that."
Trade coverage of hotels is dominated by a handful of outlets, such as
Hotel & Motel Management, Lodgings, and leading convention publications
like Successful Meetings and Meetings and Conventions. Jeff Higley,
editor-in-chief of Hotel & Motel Management, says his publication
focuses primarily on operational and financial issues that impact the
$24.5-billion-a-year hotel business. "The things that we're
covering now are all tied to the economic downturn," he says. "After
record profits for the past five years ... this year, we're not going to
see profits increase at the same rate."
Several PR execs suggest that placement in the trade publications is a
good way to attract the interest of the mainstream. But Higley says many
of the pitches he receives are attempts to generate coverage for a
single hotel property. "We're looking more for trend pieces," he
"We may do a regional report on the hotels of say, New York or San
Francisco, but we tend to focus more on the bigger picture."
Reviews, reputations, and Evian ice cubes
Much like the travel industry, consumer journalists covering the hotel
business can be reviewers as much as they are reporters. "They all have
a strong base of knowledge, and you hope that the property is up to
their standards," says Pearlstein. "If they do criticize, usually it's
fair and deserved."
In major cities like New York, San Francisco, and London, hotels can
have a cache that extends far above their physical amenities. Indeed,
hotel owners such as Ian Schrager have been able to turn their
properties into hot locations for a celebrity-heavy "in crowd" that gets
duly noted by the lifestyle press.
But while that may work for New York's Paramount or West Hollywood's The
Standard, Pearlstein warns this pursuit of hotel "trendiness" doesn't
work for every property. "We've worked with hotels like that in the
past, and I think you need something more sustainable than that to keep
the hotel going," she says. "The more successful hotels survive because
they have a really tangible benefit."
That benefit could be almost anything, including location. Deuschl has
leveraged the opening of the Ritz-Carlton in downtown New York into a
spate of upcoming stories. "That's a good example of a story in that
we're coming back to New York after having left several years ago," she
"You have to be more creative in your pitches than in the past because
it's a very competitive market." The New York Times carried a piece in
its Sunday Real Estate section on the new hotel, mentioning that guests
may choose the brand of water used in their ice cubes.
Given the wide range of accommodations in any city, hotels now promote
virtually any edge they have, including the quality of the linens and
the availability of the latest technology (such as broadband and
wireless Blue Tooth connectivity). "Technology has really been one of
the consistent stories we follow," notes editor Higley.
But hotels can also generate coverage by promoting their attempts to
satisfy the needs of specific travelers. Pearlstein was able to leverage
two of her clients - the Canoe Bay resort in Wisconsin and the Grace Bay
Club in the Turks and Caicos Islands - into a pitch on the emergence of
couples-only hotels. The story, which bucked an emerging trend of family
vacations and hotels, generated coverage in Departures, Expedia Travel,
the Chicago Tribune, Atlanta Homes & Lifestyles, and Conde Nast
Kurman suggests that PR execs keep an open mind when representing a
hotel, looking at every feature - including, in some cases, bathroom
fixtures - as a potential promotional vehicle. "A hotel is more than any
one single element," she says. "It's the total picture. You have to make
it about lifestyle and the experience of staying there."
WHERE TO GO
Newspapers: The Wall Street Journal; The New York Times; USA Today;
Chicago Tribune; LA Times
Magazines: Travel + Leisure; Conde Nast Traveler; Time Out; Business
Traveler International; Forbes; Fortune; Travel Holiday; regional and
urban publications such as Atlanta Home & Lifestyles; New York, Los
Angeles; Architectural Digest; Departures
Trade publications: Hotel & Motel Management; Lodging; Successful
Meetings; Meetings and Conventions; Travel Week; Travel Agent Magazine;
Television: Travel Channel; CNN Internet: Expedia; Orbitz; MSNBC;