News & Views

Travel PR: Give Journalists What They Need During COVID-19

For travel PR, it’s obvious. Open up a newspaper or click on a news site and it’s obvious that COVID-19 permeates almost every story at the moment.

For travel media, it’s a different story. Journalists aren’t cranking out stories about recent or future trips because, obviously, they’re not traveling. What, then, are they writing about and what is travel PR doing to meet them on this new playing field?

We decided to find out.

DCI teamed up with SATW to research what both travel journalists and travel PR was up to during this unprecedented health crisis. The findings (available to download here), offer a lot of insight into these worlds. Comparing the two, however, revealed something that travel PR and DMOs might want to pay more attention to as this crisis continues to unfold.

Travel PR professionals – you might be doing it all wrong!

What our Travel PR Research Says

First, unsurprisingly, 82% of travel writers are looking for travel topics. It’s their bread and butter. The pandemic will clear, life will return, and planes will take off yet again. Still, consider that travel journalists report that they are looking for stories beyond travel. They are looking for stories on food, culture, the outdoors – anything that they can write about while they can’t actually travel.

Within all of this, we asked what kind of story angles specifically they would respond to, and here’s where travel PR needs to pay attention. Only 31% of respondents are looking for COVID-19 related stories. Think about those feel-good stories about restaurants donating meals, innovative delivery services, or distilleries making hand sanitizer. They are all useful, and interesting, but now several weeks into quarantine, those stories have been told.

Instead, travel journalists are more interested in travel news topics (50%), destination features (48%), and lifestyle stories (40%) before stories directly related to COVID-19 relief efforts. These stories still have a place in media outlets, but it’s doubtful, going forward, how much those stories will be told by travel writers.

The Issue at Hand

So, what’s the problem? In our survey of travel PR, we found that the primary type of pitches (among 53% of them) was by large and far COVID-19 resiliency stories. We looked at the results and the alarm sounded. Travel PR is spending so much time trying to position their destinations in the framework of COVID-19 resiliency that, in fact, they may be missing the mark with journalists.

Of course, even travel media will be tinged by COVID-19, especially when it comes to news, how hotels or restaurants are pivoting to help provide relief, or how virtual experiences are now the new normal for cultural institutions and museums. While these stories are all uplifting and engaging when the epidemic was new and frightening, causing billions of people to stay home and isolate, the world has quickly shifted into a phase of acceptance or new normalcy. The media, ever-changing as it is, has tired quickly of these COVID-19 resiliency stories. Travel journalists need the new next thing to feed their publications and audiences.

Travel PR professionals, therefore, need to keep ahead of the curve – not the one we are flattening – but the one that will help travel journalists produce the fresh and unique angles for stories that will help position destinations in a better light.

Three Takeaways

What will these stories look like? How will travel journalists respond? When will they appear? We’re all working on it at the same time. We just wanted to drive home, one more time, three important takeaways from all of this research.

First, it’s not business as usual. Tone deaf pitches will likely miss the mark, so be sure to acknowledge the severity of COVID-19 no matter the destination and no matter the story. You don’t want to risk getting raked over the coals like some PR agents.

Secondly, travel PR needs to balance its resiliency stories with future-facing content about destinations to get travel journalists ready for recovery. It will be tough, given that we lack a solid timeframe for recovery, but travel PR professionals at least need to start thinking that way.

Thirdly, travel PR professionals and journalists need to keep in touch and do the one thing that we often forget leads to results – communicate. As your network what they want if you are in travel PR. If you’re a writer, ask your travel PR contacts if they have ideas to meet your needs.

COVID-19 has presented us all with a moving target that no one will master, but work together and maybe one of you can stabilize the target while the other gets closer to hitting it. Forming healthier working relationships now will only benefit everyone going forward when recovery efforts are in full swing.

Worried about how you can overcome all of the obstacles dropped in front of you by COVID-19? You’re not alone. At DCI, we’ve been helping destinations jump hurdles for 60 years, and this pandemic is just the latest. Get in touch with Robyn Domber at [email protected] to learn more about how DCI’s unique tourism market research might be worthwhile for your destination marketing efforts.

Written By

Karyl Leigh Barnes

Karyl Leigh Barnes is President of DCI’s Tourism Practice. Since joining the firm in 1998, Karyl Leigh has led destination strategy and created marketing communication programs for destinations on every continent except Antarctica.

More Articles by Karyl Leigh Barnes

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