Tourism PR heats up this summer

International tourism boards are hiring PR agencies at a rapid pace this summer to better appeal to US travelers, particularly in countries facing perception problems.

International tourism boards are hiring PR agencies at a rapid pace this summer to better appeal to US travelers, particularly in countries facing perception problems.

As the recently hired EVP of Ogilvy's 360 Degree Media Influence, Jennifer Risi says some people may question why she is leading the Mexico Tourism Board account. After all, her experience is in corporate PR for clients like Siemens, MAC AIDS Funds, and Fresh Direct.

But she says Mexico Tourism – which is dealing with the perception that the country is a dangerous tourist destination because of duelling drug cartels – needs precisely the kind of holistic, integrated approach that befits a Fortune 500 company with multiple stakeholders.

“This is not a straightforward consumer account,” she tells PRWeek. “It has to be one that hits the highest level of influencers, reaching policymakers in Washington and other jurisdictions, like Texas, as well as having a really cool digital engagement program.”

Tourism boards for other countries are taking a similar approach, which is reflected in the new PR firms they've hired. Morocco Tourism, for instance, recently retained HL Group as its PR AOR. The agency will execute media relations, events, social media and, if needed, crisis PR, given recent political turmoil in the Moroccan government. The tourist offices and boards for Hong Kong and Germany have also recently hired PR firms.

In the next several weeks, Risi says the Mexico Tourism Board will also be accepting bids for its PR account, with a budget that is expected to double in spending from the previous year to reach $21 million.

Ogilvy is handling the account on an interim basis for now, and has orchestrated a road show with Gloria Guevara, Mexico's Secretary of Tourism, that started in Chicago last week, came to New York this week, and will soon hit Washington, Seattle, Los Angeles, Atlanta, and Houston.

“Mexico, and more specifically Mexico Tourism, was not vocal in defining their story, and so other people were defining their story for them. One of the biggest objectives we have is to really reset the media dialogue,” Risi says. “Our goal is to say, ‘You're hearing about issues and where those issues are taking place are not in the tourist destinations. You wouldn't avoid New York because something is happening in LA.'”

“People don't naturally think about the different parts of Mexico and its different tourist offerings," she adds.

Risi says Mexican tourist officials have conducted more than 75 media interviews over the last five months. Ogilvy PR has also implemented an engagement program with online bloggers and influencers, and has plans to recreate the board's website and Facebook page, complete with new video content.

Ruder Finn is the PR AOR for the Jamaica Tourist Board. Gail Moaney, the agency's EVP/director for the travel and economic development practice, is not surprised so many tourism boards have hired new PR firms with expansive mandates.

She says that in addition to tourism boards today having smaller staff sizes, “the media landscape has become larger because of bloggers and the fact that traditional media communicate in so many different ways.”

“You really need to be everywhere because you don't know which mechanisms will reach potential travelers,” Moaney adds.

One way she says countries can use media relations to overcome misperceptions about their country as a tourist destination is to tap into current and emerging travel trends.

“We do a lot of trend watching to find out what is motivating people, whether it is proximity, time of year, value, and so on,” she says. “If we see a trend being reported in newspapers, then we look at our brand and say, ‘How does our destination in Jamaica meet the needs of what seems to be a current trend, whether it is the romantic traveler, family traveler, or swinging single.'”

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