News & Views

North American Travel Journalists Association on the Frontlines

Plans are in motion for many major destinations to get back to business post-COVID-19, but recovery will be slow. One thing that’s sure is that media cooperation with DMOs will be a deciding factors in how destinations rehabilitate themselves moving forward. While DCI has been producing some powerful research about both travel PR and journalists during this pandemic, we thought we’d also check in on the professionals more informally to see what they’re doing. Groups like the National American Travel Journalists Association (NATJA) are at the forefront of these collaborations.

What is NATJA?

The association is not just about travel writers, as its name suggests. Begun in 1991, NATJA offers membership to writers and industry professionals, including DMOs, convention and visitor bureaus. The NATJA Advisory Board members serve and represent media and DMO, helping lead strategies and benefits to the group’s membership.

During the COVID-19 crisis, NATJA has been working tirelessly to bring its members together and focus on the one thing that everyone needs more than ever – solid communication. Through webinars and social postings, the association has reached out to both media and destination partners to find out what both groups need and want during this crisis.

Helen Hernandez, CEO of NATJA, wants NATJA to be a forum during these trying times, to bring groups together for mutual support. By offering innovative ways to connect to each other, Hernandez and her team at NATJA are helping lay the foundation for recovery efforts, at least in North America, where partners are scrambling to find creative solutions.

Hernandez emphasized NATJA’s role in brainstorming and creating sounding boards for writers during this time. “We’re very cognizant of the challenges that our writers are going through in terms of ideas for them to stay relevant,” Hernandez said. “We’ve been able to share support for one another, which was critical. With DMOs or with advisory board, we discuss what the future of tourism looks like,” she said.

DCI teamed up during a few virtual roundtables with NATJA’s DMO partners to hear firsthand how these collaborations are evolving, and to participate in this brainstorming. Creativity is flourishing in unexpected ways. “This is a time more than anything else to be creative. You have to get creative for how you’ll rebrand and remake your brand,” Hernandez said, and NATJA is creating a space for this creativity to breathe.

Surprises so far?

Through these roundtables, NATJA has gained some invaluable insight alongside a few surprises that the association’s members weren’t anticipating. For example, Hernandez was impressed with how many DMO workers were accepting pay cuts.

“People are taking cuts in pay so they wouldn’t have to lose staff. Rather than taking away jobs, everybody is sharing the pain, so to speak,” she said.

She is also on board with DMOs in promoting local travel in a post-COVID-19 world. “They’re going to jump in their cars or in a train. Travel by flight is going to take a deep hit,” Hernandez said.

The innovation and ingenuity of some DMOs has also surprised her. Some destinations have sent care packages sent to media, creating a great way to stay top of mind. Virtual FAM trips, at least in the near future, could also become more commonplace, something that would benefit both writers and DMOs until travel becomes possible again.

DMOs : A Variety of Concerns

What NATJA’s roundtables have also established is that few DMOs are alike, and recovery efforts will require unique paths for each one.

For example, some destinations are remote and sparsely populated, creating ideal destinations for those willing to get there. “Social distancing in Alaska is not a problem,” said Jerry Evans of Explore Fairbanks. There is messaging there that more densely populated regions can’t embrace.

Others, like Jo Duncan of The Beenders Walker Group, is looking to Netflix for help, attempting to cross-promote the Missouri with the popular show Ozarks. She suggests that other DMOs take a similar approach to tap into the cultural references associated with their destination.

Destinations like Bellingham are focusing efforts on creating content within their community, notably for schools. Others like The Beaches of Fort Myers and Sanibel are hosting virtual book clubs with travel journalists to keep her destination in conversation with the media, according to Francesca Donlan.

It’s been tough, as Barbara Marrett of San Juan Islands Visitors Bureau said, to tell people not to come to her destination. She’s been spending time juggling with angry travelers who feel rejected and discontented locals who thing DMOs aren’t doing enough to isolate the destination. It’s a catch-22 in many ways. DMOs are experimenting to find the right balance of action and inaction during this pandemic, and it’s been a journey for everyone.

Moving Forward

The travel industry will move forward, even if they are baby steps at first. As the North American Travel Journalists Association’s outreach illustrates, there will be many ways and many approaches, but one common goal: rehabilitate the industry.

Much of this progress will come from the innovation and resilience of these DMOs. Moving forward, it will be key to communicate what these destinations are doing to consumers via the media. Groups like NATJA will be at the forefront of these collaborations, ensuring that DMOs and travel journalists have the forums and support they need to work together.

For 60 years, DCI has been working with destinations and the media, alongside groups like NATJA to help facilitate the best ideas in the travel industry. Get in touch with Kayla Leska, at [email protected], to learn what opportunities might be awaiting you.

Written By

Kayla Leska

Kayla is Managing Director of DCI's Tourism Public Relations Division. She oversees communications strategy for DCI’s tourism clients and directs the firm’s tourism crisis and recovery communication efforts. Kayla leads publicity teams in the U.S. and Canada. She earned her BA in Public Relations at SUNY Oswego.

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