News & Views

Travel PR and Journalists During COVID-19: A Second Glance

SATW and DCI continued our research efforts to understand how travel PR and journalists are faring now that we have reached a relative peak in the COVID-19 crisis. We’re not there yet, but as some destinations look to recovery, we wanted to build upon our March 2020 studies on media and PR with a fresh set of data. You can download the brand new report here.

This new study, conducted during April 2020, coincides with the tail end of a crisis period. While far from over, the COVID-19 pandemic has now led us all to a point where we need to think about the future. How will we go forward? What will change? What will return? For the tourism industry, PR and journalists will be an integral part of these efforts.

While the previous study provided hope, this study confirms it, helping DMOs and travel PR professionals to understand how travel writers will figure into recovery efforts – and vice versa. The travel professionals in media and PR will still be there for the most part, but the way they approach their professions will be altered for the foreseeable future as we all figure out how to operate in this new world.

What were some of the key findings?

For travel journalists, they have been pivoting as needed to stay afloat. They are looking for fewer COVID-19 resiliency stories and an acknowledgement that most travel stories – for the moment – will focus on virtual travel rather than experiential travel. At the same time, they aren’t ravenous for pitches. The study indicates that most writers will want travel-related story ideas sent their way sometime between now and Q3, signaling a return to some semblance of normalcy, albeit a slow one. The summer may likely be a wash for new, original travel stories.

This standstill is exacerbated by the fact that travel journalists are eager to travel. Just 35% report that they may begin to plan travel for Q3, skipping the summer entirely, for domestic trips. Another 34% remained unsure about international travel, with just 21% reporting that Q3 will be likely.

Among all of this, however, travel journalists are hopeful that they will work again, but we’re just not sure that work will look quite the same as before. Results are split but there has been a trend in both rounds of surveys that there will not be a return to pre-COVID-19 practices and readership. Something’s going to change.

A note to travel PR, however, is that writers want to hear from you. Yes, you! Opinions are all over the place as to how much is too much, but in general, travel journalists want to remain updated on all things from destination plans for the future to upcoming press trips – no matter how far away they may seem.

When reporting on how travel PR are dealing with COVID-19, many were already – as of mid-April 2020 – getting back to working. More PR professionals said they were doing media outreach, with increases from the previous study.

Unfortunately, however, furloughs, lay-offs and budget cuts are still the norm. Many PR efforts are paused while those with external agencies are cutting their funds. Likewise, influencer programs have been cut, though travel PR is suggesting more clarity on when they’ll be starting up these initiatives again, likely in Q3. The results are bringing us out of uncertainty and focusing the situation a bit more, even if the image we’re seeing isn’t ideal.

One major takeaway form all of this reporting, however, is that travel PR professionals are still pitching some stories that journalists don’t want. While it is encouraging to see travel PR efforts revving up, with more pitching than in March, their reliance on COVID-19 resiliency stories is at odds with what journalists report wanting. It appears that in the constant flux of the crisis, both travel PR and the media were out of sync.

Without suggesting that these groups are at odds with each other, this study does make clear that better communication – even new means of communication – are needed going forward to make sure both parties are meeting their objectives.

There are plenty of details and figures in the report, downloadable here, that will help DMOs and those in travel PR better understand how to cooperate with the media going forward. It’s only when we’re all coordinated in our efforts that true recovery will begin, and that sustainable success will be achieved.

Curious about how research and insights can help guide your recovery efforts? DCI has been at it for 60 years and we’re prepared to tackle any new problem with our creative and innovative team. Get in touch with Robyn Domber at [email protected] for more inspiration.

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.

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