The expertise growth factor: Insights from the 2012 Travel & Tourism Conference

August 1, 2012

Richard Edelman, president and CEO of  Edelman, challenged incoming volunteer leaders to position PRSA as the authoritative expert on public relations at PRSA’s June 2011 Leadership Rally

After all, we are the people practicing the profession every day, so who would know better than us?

However, being an expert requires more than fine-tuning our PR skills. We must be well-versed and well-connected within our industry specialty, whether it is travel and tourism, health care, or food and beverage.

Reaching this level requires two key letters from the word “expert” itself: “E” (education) and “R” (relationships).

During the course of my involvement in PRSA’s Travel & Tourism Section, I have heard the “no travel/training budget” excuse countless times from colleagues who were unable to attend our annual conference.

Companies panicked during the economic downturn that started in late 2007; they were slashing budgets, eliminating positions (including my own) and freezing any professional development for employees.

Yet, for the destinations, attractions, hotels, airlines, cruise lines, agencies and other organizations that we represent, we can’t become the experts they need — and that we want to be — without continually enhancing our “E+R” within the profession.

Individually, we know firsthand whether occupancy or visitor numbers are up or down in our area, when the slump in meetings travel started to improve and what story pitches work.

But take this individual knowledge and multiply it by 257 (the number of PR professionals and travel journalists who attended the 2012 Travel & Tourism Conference in June), and you get the “expertise growth factor.”

These 257 professionals each returned to their respective tourism organizations with insider information from a range of PR peers and valuable face time with travel journalists from a variety of print publications, including AARP The Magazine, the Associated Press, Time Magazine and USA Today, as well as freelance writers and bloggers, social media experts and many more.

Here are some of the takeaways gleaned from the conference:

Travel trends

  • 90 percent of travel in the United States is via a car.
  • U.S. travelers’ top priority is saving money and finding good value; they travel less often but are willing to spend more if the value is there.
  • Travelers want an authentic experience that they can brag about on Facebook.
  • People often combine business and leisure travel in the same trip.
  • Cruises and Amtrak travel are both up; zoo/aquariums are also doing well.

Media understanding

  • Media outlets are pulling back from international destinations and focusing on the United States.
  • Cupcakes, cake pops and farm-to-table meals are tired concepts when it comes to food and travel; artisanal food, beers and spirits are growing trends.
  • Roundup stories are now the norm; consider how your destination, property or company fits into a larger narrative.
  • A place is only a setting; you need unique, interesting characters to tell your story.
  • High-definition B-roll is important to TV production crews; have it readily available on DVD.
  • Local TV news producers often send a list of top stories to their network affiliates, so look for a national news tie when you pitch locally.
  • PR pros love to see their destination in print, but online stories have a much longer viewing life as they appear in search results and can easily be updated and refreshed.
  • Ninety-four percent of all journalists have a blog; give bloggers a pURL so that they can track and see the success of their posts.

Social awareness

  • Harness the power of the quirky — find the 10 strangest things about your product, destination or client and tweet them.
  • Use Twitter to gain PR insight from experts such as Johnny Jet, Gary Arndt, Marilyn Terrell, Sarah Evans, Oregon Tourism, Joe Vargo/Experience Columbus (to name a few).
  • Be prepared: Mobile will be the most common way to access the Internet by 2014.
  • Befriend the crew if you are working with a production company — they’re usually the ones who are actually posting on social media. 
  • Include #hashtags, @replies and links in your tweets for maximum exposure (hashtags are underused in the travel and tourism world).
  • Set a Twitter alert for “#fail” and “your company” in the same tweet to monitor if people are disgruntled and talking about you.
  • Search “Facebook+Marketing” and “Facebook+Journalist” for tips and best practices.
  • Check out new tools, such as: CheckFacebook.com, sees.aw, Facebook/friends/organize,  Tout, Storify, Rapportive.com, RebelMouse.com and Nutshell Mail.

Experiencing the amplified “E+R” taught me to operate within the big picture of the national tourism market, making me more valuable to my employer and positioning me as expert in my field.

Kay Maghan
Kay Maghan is the 2012 Chair of PRSA’s Travel & Tourism Section. She is a senior public relations manager for Mississippi-based GodwinGroup. Follow her on Twitter @OKayGoPR.


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