News & Views

How to Pitch: Sandra Thomas at Vancouver Courier

Sandra Thomas, The Vancouver Courier’s travel and lifestyle editor, has shared her travel tips and global experiences with Canadian readers for nearly two decades. The veteran journalist also heads up the special sections of the regional paper, covering health, seniors, food and home and garden, and is a board member of the esteemed Travel Media Association of Canada.

Sandra has covered her share of unparalleled travel stories, but COVID has posed a new set of challenges that she has been approaching with ingenuity. We caught up with Sandra to learn more about this travel expert and how she’s operating in this new normal, to deliver something meaningful to her Canadian readers.

DCI: COVID-19 has posed a lot of challenges and changes to the media industry, and the Canadian market is downsizing more than ever. Are you seeing this impact your work? Do you find this has caused a shift in your travel writing at all?

ST: In March, many Vancouver Courier staff, including myself, were laid off and our special travel section took a hit right away. Despite being technically laid off, I have been allowed to continue posting stories as I see fit, which led to the development of my latest travel series ‘Five questions with…’.

As an expert in the field, I was receiving a ton of questions from family and friends about travel policies, country re-openings and day-to-day updates. As I began sharing information with my family and friends, I felt that this quick and simple touch base with destinations was a great way to keep Canadians informed, marking the beginning of the series. It’s been a hit so far and it will be something that carries on beyond the pandemic given the overwhelmingly positive response from Canadian readers and the creative content that has transpired from tourism boards and industry partners, like this piece with The Islands of Tahiti: Five questions with conservation group Coral Gardeners

DCI: During this crisis, what elements of a PR pitch have been successful in piquing your interest, or are off the mark? Has this changed from the type of pitches that interested you before COVID-19 for your Canadian readers?

ST: The professionals that I work with have made it easy, keeping most pitches appropriate and relevant to the times. An appropriate pitch currently does not have a call to action and is informative and educational, sharing what improvements are being made and what policies are taking shape. Photos are also a huge plus! High resolution images are key to keep Canadians’ travel dreams afloat right now.

I’ve been loving the creativity coming out of this period, namely in the form of virtual press trips. The Travel Media Association of Canada recently held a two hour virtual ‘press trip’ that consisted of pre-event mailers to make the experience more tangible, a chef culinary demonstration and a virtual happy hour!

DCI: What role do you think the tourism industry will play in the global recovery of the crisis? 

ST: Travel will be one of the major industries that helps our Canadian economy rebound post-COVID. Based on my personal and professional experience, I can attest to the fact that everyone is talking about travel. Since the onset of the pandemic, so many trips have been cancelled or postponed and Canadians are itching to get away as soon as it is safe to do so. Whether it’s the original vacation destination or a new spot altogether, Canadians will be looking for travel inspiration, opening the door to opportunity for DMOs in this market.

With that, travel writers will be the first on the ground and Canadian’s will be looking to us for the greenlight on where and when to travel. We’re already seeing it now with a focus on where to go for long weekend vacations within the country, and as international travel begins to pick back up, travel writers will pave the way.

DCI: When do you expect press trips to resume? What tips do you have for publicists and tourism boards to make it better than ever post-COVID? 

ST: I’m looking forward to group press trips resuming and I’m hopeful that trips will resume in the fall or winter, October 2020 or January 2021 at the latest.

When it comes to a group press trip itinerary, some of the best trips I have attended are those that carve out as much free time as possible. With a group of travel writers, it’s important that there is enough flexibility in the itinerary for each writer to have a unique experience to create original content.

Post-COVID, health and safety will be a top priority. To feel comfortable attending a press trip, I would need to ensure that hotels have enhanced cleaning procedures in place and that I was booked on a flight that respects social distancing protocols. Lower-risk destinations will be more attractive at first, those that have demonstrated their ability to contain the pandemic and celebrate ‘no active case’ milestones.

DCI: With travel on pause, what have you been doing to fill your time? Where is the first place you will visit once we can travel again?

ST: To keep the travel spirit alive, I’ve been getting together with fellow TMAC and SATW members in my neighborhood to talk travel and I have been enjoying virtual happy hours with my fellow members across the country. We keep travel a priority, sharing stories and our expectations for the future of travel (and have a great time while we’re at it)!

When the highly anticipated time comes for travel to resume, I first plan to take a road trip to Vernon as soon as the state of emergency is lifted. Once the Canada-US borders re-open, I cannot wait to visit Hawaii again – hopefully in September!

Looking to attract Canadian travel media to your destination? We know how to get the conversations started. Get in touch with Tania Kedikian at [email protected] to learn more about how DCI can help your destination make headlines in the Canadian press.

Written By

Ashley Kotar

Ashley Kotar is a destination marketing and public relations practitioner who is an ambassador for the power of Millennial travel dollar.

More Articles by Ashley Kotar

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