While the main principles of forming relationships with media and consumers to promote a travel brand, product, or destination have held steady over the past decade, methods for reaching consumers have continuously evolved.
In 1998, outreach in the travel and tourism sector primarily involved pitching journalists at a somewhat limited number of print and broadcast outlets by mail or fax. Jeff Guaracino, VP of communications at the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation, explains that opposed to today, travelers tended to visit a shortlist of specific locations like Disney World or Las Vegas.
Once the Web's popularity soared in the late '90s, the profession changed drastically. E-mail changed the pitching process and many PR pros felt more pressed for time.
“The challenge to the PR person is there is so much out there, and re-sources don't always increase exponentially,” says Lori Holland, executive director of PR at Fairmont Hotels and Resorts. “So you need to think about which [resources] you want to harness in your communications, and which make sense.”
The Internet increased opportunities to sell and promote travel exponentially, says Brian Hoyt, VP of corporate communications and government affairs at Orbitz Worldwide. Aside from helping consumers find deals and make travel plans, he notes that the Internet helped give rise to the popularity of boutique and independent hotels.
Many in the travel sector say that aside from the rise of the Internet, 9/11 was one of the most significant events to affect the industry. A large number of Americans were hesitant to spend money and were gripped by fear in the days, weeks, and months after 9/11. Tourism PR pros had to adjust their tactics and strategies for reaching consumers.
“People had to think outside the box in terms of messaging because the world as it was pre-9/11 was just turned upside down,” explains John Lampl, VP of corporate communications for the Americas at British Airways.
Many stressed the idea that it was an American freedom to travel. Patriotism was a key message point.
“The thought was terrorists should not have that kind of chilling affect on our economy, freedom to travel, and things Americans really consider very sacred,” Guaracino says.
In the years after 9/11, the expanding Web space gave rise to more options for destinations and air travel. Increasing globalization and Internet use meant PR pros had to adapt their work to accommodate Americans' desire to visit an array of destinations around the world.
PR pros began to devote more time to pitching lifestyle and niche titles, says Laura Davidson, president of Laura Davidson Public Relations.
“There's a lot more segmentation,” she says. “Whether its spa, or health... we are going after a lot of special interest media.”
While traditional media still plays a key role in communicating the benefits of travel, consumers are also being influenced and reached in a great number of ways due to social media, explains Virginia Sheridan, president of M. Silver Associates.
“Everything is a little more fluid and flexible than it was before,” she explains.
Between the rise of consumer-generated Web content, the increasing ease of finding travel information online, and the seemingly constant technological evolutions, Hoyt says there is much less time to plan and put on elaborate PR events than five or 10 years ago.
“Now we operate in something less than a 24-hour news cycle,” he adds. “You're constantly trying to be that elite publicist, but at the same time operate in a more fast-paced, aggressive environment.”
Today's economic slowdown has altered the tourism PR sector significantly as well, and poses yet another challenge to PR pros looking to reach potential travelers. Besides messaging that stresses value, partnerships between destinations and travel brands seem to be gaining popularity.
Says Holland, “In specific times of stress or crisis you want to make sure the efforts are concentrated so that you're not duplicating or working at cross currents.”