5 Permanent Travel PR Realities

June 14, 2021

The travel PR realities facing tourism professionals these days are new, sometimes daunting, but also potentially exciting. At least those are the takeaways from our newest study on PR professionals, in partnership with SATW.

The newest installment of our research looks at surveys completed by 88 PR professionals in the North American travel industry. All of the takeaways and insights are available in the report, The Future of Travel Editorial: What Writers & PR Pros Need To Know. Understanding what all the data means, however, requires a bit of analysis.

Let’s start at the beginning. The new normal is just that. New. PR professionals need to begin accepting some of what we’re living and stop pining for the good old days non-stop. The travel PR realities moving forward are not those of yesteryear, but like the entire travel industry, it’s onward and upward in many ways. It’s a time to stay hopeful and get excited. It’s not a time to pine for the past.

Some things have remained the same according to the results, and travel PR professionals continue pitching stories and hosting events as they once did. Sort of, at least. A closer look, however, reveals which PR realities have changed since March 2020, and how we’re all coping with them.

1. Bye-bye budgets

Travel PR professionals were some of the first to feel the financial sting of the pandemic. Destination marketing organizations worldwide dropped both their agencies and employees who worked to promote them given that travel was at a standstill. There was nothing to promote, and with many DMOs funded by hotel occupancy tax and other public funds, money was tight.

The travel PR reality today is that budgets are still tight. Some travel PR professionals are seeing them trickle back in, but data suggests that there will be no full-scale return to pre-pandemic budgets before the end of the year. Only in 2022 might we see those travel PR budgets return but for the foreseeable future, public relations efforts are building back the tourism industry with fewer resources, and that’s just the way it is.

2. Big news for small groups

The exciting events that used to bring together media and partners in a destination are largely a thing of the past – at least as we knew them. Huge press trips and media events may not be as desired among those in the media, so travel PR professionals must adapt to these new PR realities. Our research reveals some hesitancy still, and some uncertainty for when trips will resume, but one thing is clear: small groups will win big.

Smaller events and groups are the ideal way forward for in-person interactions, with hybrid events becoming the norm when possible. These changes require things like rethinking swag for the media and reevaluating how you organize media tours and press trips in order to adapt successfully. What seemed like something that only mattered during the peak of the pandemic clearly remains important as COVID levels fail to level off worldwide.

3. Virtual desk-sides

Another travel PR reality that may be welcomed for some is that virtual desk sides may be permanent. Data suggests that with reduced budgets and less of a desire among the media, the traditional desk-side appointments may be superfluous.

And those media tours where you hosted a dinner or event in a city to share information about your destination is also not something to rush back into soon. They are powerful tools, and human interaction is clearly helpful, but reflect if it’s the best use of your dwindling budget right now. We’re living in a virtual world and some things are just easier virtually.

A roadshow touring through Canada seems fun, but with hesitancy high and COVID destabilizing things worldwide, a virtual event is most likely the safest way to attract the most media moving forward. There’s still time to innovate and do events differently, but travel media audiences are receptive to online events right now and that’s not likely to change.

4. Accept the risk

It’s a trave PR reality like any other. There will always be some risk and some hesitancy around COVID-19. That’s a dramatic statement but not a scary one. There’s also a risk to get the flu, or to get food poisoning, or to have a block of ice nearly fall on your head in Montreal (as one of our team members can share with you).

Like any disease, COVID-19 will likely never disappear but with the right safety and vaccination protocols, we can mitigate the risk until it becomes as annoying as a buzzing fly that can’t escape the house. We will get there eventually, and we’re already on the right path, but travel PR professionals need to balance their protocols and risks when engaging with the media to be sure they are doing it right.

The data doesn’t suggest that travel PR professionals are diving headfirst back into their work and trying to return to pre-pandemic practices. It does, however, demonstrate an eagerness and willingness to mitigate but also take the necessary risks.

5. Acknowledge COVID

No matter where you fall on the spectrum of comfort with the pandemic, there will be some less concerned and others more concerned than you. Travel PR professionals need to keep that in mind that COVID will be a question on the top of everyone’s mind at least for the next year.

Acknowledge it. Don’t downplay it, don’t overinflate it, but travel media want to know you’re taking a proactive, measured approach. Your words and actions matter.

To that end, make sure your websites and press materials are also up to date with words like “COVID” and “vaccine” highlighted where necessary. They are part of vernacular for the next decade or beyond in the way that “malaria” is a common term in tropical destinations – so let’s accept it. Embrace it, even. We’re going to beat this thing and get back to promoting destinations, just not in exactly the same way as before, and that’s OK.

We’ll do it better! Because we are travel PR professionals!

DCI and SATW partnered up for this newest edition of their report on travel media and PR professionals. Click here to down The Future of Travel Editorial: What Writers & PR Pros Need To Know and contact Robyn Domber at [email protected] with any questions concerning DCI’s research as we rebuild the travel industry together.