The Wednesday Club meets once a month in, say, the Regents Plaza,
or Claridge’s, or, even, the Conde Nast boardroom. Some 100 people
usually turn out - PR people like Victoria Fuller, managing director of
ZFL, Elizabeth Martin, PR manager at Leading Hotels of the World and
Wolfgang Winter, group press and PR director at the Savoy Group. There’s
a smattering of journalists, too - maybe Sue Ward Davies from Elle,
Catherine Fairweather from Harpers and Queen and Philip Watson from GQ,
but they’re mostly freelancers like Paddy Burt, Nigel Tisdall, or David
Champagne and canapes are consumed and people chat about how stingy some
airlines are in not giving upgrades (and in some cases not giving away
flights at all), how wonderful the new Four Seasons in Berlin is, how
frustrating Conde Nast Traveller is in not accepting freebies. Business
cards are swapped. Lunches organised. Cheeks kissed.
The Wednesday Club is the inner sanctum of the luxury travel and hotel
PR world, where champagne and canapes are not so much taken for granted,
as ruthlessly graded.
Founded in 1990, the idea behind the club was for like-minded PR people
to get together periodically to discuss mutual problems and issues,
while also bringing along useful journalistic contacts. Being travel and
hotel PR people the venues are never a problem, neither the sponsors.
Sue Lowry, the current chairperson and managing director of Columbus
Communications, describes it as a ’network club’.
The relationship between PR people and travel editors and writers might
be chummy, but it’s also increasingly professional. Despite the
temptations, few abuse the system. The days of serial freeloading ended
almost a decade ago.
’The travel industry is much more sophisticated now,’ says Lowry, whose
clients include Four Seasons/Regent Hotels and Resorts and Chris
Blackwell’s Island Outpost hotel chain. ’Clients and the public are more
We’ve had to become more specialist and journalists are certainly more
knowledgeable and discerning.’
Lowry says not only do you have to understand your client intrinsically
but you also have to know where the travel editors are coming from and
what story to pitch to whom.
’I don’t agree with the scattergun approach,’ she says. Still most
travel editors’ desks get pretty much sprayed every morning, with
everything from press releases and press trip offers to tour operator
brochures and Club Med VIP cards. And a sort of inverse politeness is
assumed - rather than write thank you letters, travel editors receive
letters thanking them for attending trips and lunches. (I once got a
letter thanking me for a lunch I never even went to.)
Conde Nast Traveller recently launched with a no-freebie policy. Editor
Sarah Miller says that her magazine is: ’on the side of the
’Readers are naturally sceptical when they see that line ’X travelled
courtesy of travel company or airline Y’. There’s an inevitable
incentive to write a nice piece.’
No experienced travel PR operator expects glowing coverage all the time,
anymore than newspaper executives will put up with one critical travel
story after another. In fact rather than run a harshly critical piece,
most travel editors will run something else.
The biggest problem PR people face seems to be trying to explain to
clients why a certain story hasn’t appeared after a journalist has spent
a weekend in their hotel. ’We have to tell clients that nothing is
guaranteed,’ says Victoria Fuller, managing director of ZFL PR,
Columbus’ sister company, whose roster of clients include the Hotel de
Crillon in Paris and Dublin’s The Clarence.
PR practitioners also have to explain to clients (particularly if they
are hotels or airlines as opposed to resorts or tourist boards) that
most journalists are there primarily to write about the destination and
that the hotel/airline etc. has to come within that context. ’Airline
tickets are now extremely difficult to get,’ says Jane Parritt of Jane
Parritt Media Contacts, ’and nobody’s going to just write about how
lovely the flight was.’
A few travel editors say yes to every trip offered, knowing full well
the piece will never get in. ’It can take a year for an article to
appear,’ says Jim Dunn, executive director of BGB and Associates - whose
client portfolio includes the Australian Tourist Commission and the St
Lucia Tourist Board - and the former head of TPS.
’But if an article doesn’t get in I research why thoroughly.’ Dunn
maintains that taking a group of six or so journalists abroad is really
hard work, especially if any of the writers are either young or
’It’s a 24-hour job,’ he says. Dunn once had to deal with a journalist
who went berserk in one of his client’s hotels, but claims that, on the
whole, he’s always found journalists reassuringly well behaved if
’We do occasionally have trouble on trips,’ says Shelley-Anne
Claircourt, managing director of the Press Office, whose clients include
Orient-Express, ’usually when personalities don’t mix too well. But I’ve
had the most wonderful experiences.’
Claircourt spent six years working in-house at the Savoy Group, the
breeding ground for a surprising number of leading travel PR
professionals, and even one travel journalist. Other former Savoy Group
employees include Sarah Manser, also of the Press Office, Judith
Dagworthy of Payne and Dagworthy, Lucinda Buxton, now trading under her
own name, and Catherine Fairweather of Harpers and Queen.
’I don’t know how anyone can work in this sector and not have worked
in-house for a hotel,’ says Buxton, now looking after One Aldwych and
the Merrion in Dublin. Her replacement, Wolfgang Winter - who was
recently headhunted from the marketing department of Relais and Chateaux
in New York - has the back-up of three in-house executives as well as
using Piers Pottinger at Lowe Bell Financial for corporate and City PR
and Lowry at Columbus for help on the group’s Lygon Arms and
’It’s a pretty good mix,’ says Winter. ’But I’ve made the effort to meet
most travel editors and relevant journalists.’
As Nigel Massey of the Massey Partnership, responsible for launching
London’s ultra chic Metropolitan hotel earlier this year, says simply:
’Good PR practitioners and travel writers need each other.’
Henry Sutton is a travel writer and former travel editor of the
CYPRUS: ACCENT ON APHRODITE’S BIRTHPLACE
Cyprus has consistently hit the headlines this year. There have been
negative stories about attacks on tourists by British soldiers and the
Janette Pink HIV case - so prompt action was necessary to counteract
this negative publicity.
As tourism makes up 21 per cent of Cyprus’ gross domestic product, and
the Cyprus Tourist Organisation in London decided that a boost in the
promotion of the island’s good points was timely.
British tourists account for over one third of the total visitors to
Cyprus and the CTO’s aim, in appointing WT Associates for a six-month
campaign, was to highlight the island’s cultural and environmental
WT was appointed in January 1997 with a budget of pounds 20,000, hot on
the heels of another ’situation’ - the government’s decision to purchase
missiles from Russia.
WT tried to get as much positive coverage as possible between January
and the end of June. As well as highlighting the traditional sea, sand
and year-round sun message in early trade and consumers travel
supplements, the agency disseminated information on the Cyprus
government’s pounds 80 million investment plan, to include
archaeological parks, golf courses, marinas, all-inclusive resorts,
building improvement loans and new coastal roads.
Cultural delights, such as the Othello Opera in Paphos, were unveiled
and specialist themes were explored, for example, St Valentine’s breaks
around the legend of Aphrodite - Cyprus is said to be the birthplace of
the Greek goddess of love - were featured in wedding magazines.
Outdoor types were targeted with information about activities on offer
for golfers, cyclists, walkers, anglers and even bird watchers.
To date, stories on Cyprus have featured in more than 50 national and
regional consumer titles and radio/TV programmes, with 18 stories in the
However, the six months of the campaign have been peppered with
incidents. ’Every month something seems to pop up,’ says WT managing
director MarlenTaffarello, ’but crises were dealt with and the effects
were short-lived. Tourists are too important and Cyprus will do anything
to protect them.’ It was announced in August that soldiers from the
King’s Regiment were banned from the resort of Ayia Napa following
attacks on two British tourists.
WT’s efforts appear to have paid off. UK visitor numbers for summer 1997
rose by about five per cent, according to CTO figures. And Cyprus has
held its place in Lunn Poly’s top ten destinations.
’We’re aiming for steady growth of five per cent year on year,’ says
Lillian Panayi, assistant to the CTO’s director. ’We’ve been working on
cultural alternatives to the traditional beach holiday and WT has helped
to get this message across very well.’
THOMSON: TELLING NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH
Thomson takes more people on holiday than any other UK tour operator,
and plans to keep it that way. It has invested millions of pounds into
building its brand and ensuring customer loyalty.
But several factors led to the launch last year of Thomson’s ’tell it
like it is’ brochures. Legislation on brochure descriptions had been
tightening, but the new approach was largely inspired by customer
research indicating that, where honesty was concerned, the reputation of
the tour operator was virtually rock bottom.
And with research showing that the annual holiday was second only to
Christmas in terms of importance: ’We wanted to ensure that our
customers had a holiday that was as described,’ says Thomson’s
communications director Russell Amerasekera.
He says that the travel industry had become so competitive that there
was little difference between one operator and the next. ’Thomson wanted
to stand out with this approach,’ says Amerasekera. ’It was a statement
of leadership and we put a lot of focus into creating what we could be
sure was a good product.’
Thomson’s summer 1997 brochures had to be completely rewritten to the
’warts-and-all’ specification, with hotels and resort descriptions taken
from questionnaires filled in by customers as they returned home. If a
resort or hotel was condemned outright, the company pledged to drop it
from the programme.
The August 1996 launch was a combination of advertising, PR and direct
communication to the UK’s 7,000 travel agents. For press releases,
Thomson’s communication team adopted a quirky approach, incorporating
original phrases from the brochure, which was picked up by all the
A press conference was also held for travel editors and consumer
The PR element of the launch is difficult to quantify but, according to
Amerasekera, ’it had not been designed as a one-off promotion, more a
long-term measure to drive the brand forward’.
The money-back guarantee - promising customers who felt misled by the
brochure a flight home and a full refund - was introduced a year later
in August 1997 with the launch of the summer 1998 programme. This has
been aggressively marketed via a national poster and six-week TV
advertising campaign, as well as what Amerasekera describes as
’hard-driving PR on an ongoing basis’.
With the majority of bookings made through travel agents, the money-back
guarantee is a good selling point. Thomson says its market share for
summer 1998 bookings has risen from 36 to 41 per cent during the
TOURING: CRYING ’FREEDOM’ IN A CARAVAN
Our leisure future could be caravan shaped, if the Tourer Marketing
Bureau has anything to do with it. Concerned about declining sales, the
UK’s major touring caravan manufacturers formed the bureau in May 1996
to raise the profile and update the image of touring. Sales of tourers
have been hit by package holidays, dropping to around 20,000 a year.
Socio-economic changes have also made touring a less viable and
attractive leisure option.
Leeds agency Brahm PR was appointed in August 1996 and, with a budget of
pounds 500,000, set about propelling the image of the tourer into the
21st century. ’Initial research among existing users uncovered the USP
that was to become the core message of the promotional activity,’
explains Brahm account director Malcolm Cowing, ’that you could ’enjoy
the freedom’ with a tourer.’
However, touring was unlikely to appeal to the younger market with the
average tourer costing around pounds 9,000. But phase one of the
campaign identified key markets, such as affluent professionals in their
40s and 50s.
Brahm combined PR with advertising in its approach. A total of 20
tailored advertorials were scheduled in the national and specialist
press between January and August 1997. New markets were targeted via
Modern tourer features such as central heating and air conditioning were
also trumpeted. It is these mod cons, as well as the sense of freedom
enjoyed, that the bureau believes will help to reverse negative
perceptions of touring. For example, to show off modern facilities,
Brahm arranged for chef Brian Turner to cook a budget family meal inside
a touring caravan for Carlton TV’s Chef on a Shoestring programme.
For responses to enquiries generated by the campaign, Brahm created an
’Enjoy the Freedom’ information brochure, and 5,000 were sent out.
Follow up research showed 35 per cent of respondents visited a
Press trips selected ’open-minded’ non-caravanning journalists for
visits to tourers based at a choice of sites. A programme of activities
tailored to the journalists’ interests was organised, and each received
a gentle introduction to caravan towing.
A quarterly newsletter was distributed to give members of the bureau
feedback on its investment, and to inform dealerships on the progress of
Brahm estimates that the PR and advertorial campaign has reached a
readership of over 20 million, resulting in an increase in new tourer
sales for the first time in ten years. A growth of 12 per cent has been
projected for the year of the campaign.
Brahm has been appointed for another year with a budget of pounds
600,000, to incorporate a touring exhibition at outdoor shows and to
implement initiatives arising from Millennium 2000, a major research
survey into the future of the touring experience.