Why I’m Not Sad about the Demise of Traditional Destination Public Relations

Tori Goddard, Gate 7 Director of PR

2020, better known as the ‘Year of COVID,’ tore through the very core of every business, household, and being – pushing us to think differently, change our behaviour dramatically, and reassess everything we knew before. Travel came to a halt, normal office routines shut down, living rooms became classrooms, and our iPhones and TV screens – once messengers of joy, connection, and inspiration, started blasting us left, right, and centre with gloomy premonitions and bad news in general for travel. Needless to say, my role in travel PR has certainly been an interesting ride over the past six months.

Traditional Destination PR
The glory days

Our usual relationships and exchanges with journalists are ones of mutual understanding – we are connected intrinsically through our love of travel. Pre-COVID, our days were a-buzz with itinerary planning, liaising with destination partners to secure bookings in return for coverage, and workshopping activities that appeal to the journalists’ own interests as well as their editors’ needs.

This is where we thrived – there was nothing more rewarding than facilitating enjoyment and life-long memories, such as that time I sent sports journalist Jon Ralph to write travel stories from the Super Bowl in Minnesota. In the resulting story, Jon reported it was the best sporting experience of his life and a dream come true. Ahhh, the good ol’ days.

There’s no question that consumer behaviour has similarly changed dramatically. As a result, the media landscape has adapted to suit these changes.

And, all the while, digital statistics went through the roof. We all found new hobbies or ‘things we’ve always wanted to do’. Cooking, gardening, binge-TV watching, Marie Kondo-ing our living spaces to achieve less clutter and more mindfulness. Tapping into these trends has been key to keeping the dream of travel alive – profiling interactive cooking classes with chefs or virtual zoo animal cams to help educate the kids are a couple of the angles we’ve used to secure U.S. coverage recently.

The Evolution of Destination PR
The “new normal”

Now, more than ever, PR professionals are being required to think laterally. Which titles can we pitch to that wouldn’t usually cover travel? What can we offer the media that is valuable to their readers, without sending journalists overseas, or sharing that ‘book now’ call-to-action we’ve become so attuned to including?

Even freelancers, the stable bastion of support, have sought out alternative outlets to stay both relevant and working. You simply need to look at the explosive growth in podcasting, which taps into our ongoing search for entertainment and escapism. Despite the much-publicised schisms and shifts in the landscape, there are probably more titles for PR professionals to work with – the trick is finding them.

I’ve personally become obsessed with the likes of streaming service from Foxtel: Binge, and oldies but goodies like Amazon Prime and Apple TV (I know, I know, late to the party here!). This rise of TV streaming correlates with the record amount of time we’re all spending in our living rooms, and quite frankly – there’s enough crime shows to keep me content for a lifetime.

Our audiences are right there, yet we know working with TV can be budget intensive, so how can we get around this and still drive impact for our destinations? Think about your networks – which additional and like-minded partners can you bring on board to help share costs and strengthen your offering? Travel industry partners often come with extensive databases and channels to leverage jointly, too. Can you look to alternative platforms to stream your content, such as newcomer, Quibi?

So – my travel PR days now are very different, and as I mentioned at the start, I’ve learned to embrace it. While I certainly miss the office callout of ‘would anyone like a tea?’ (I am British, after all), and the security of a less turbulent environment, I’m excited by what this evolution means for my trade. Once some form of normality resumes, we’ll all be armed with many more skills we’ve learned and flexed during COVID:

  • We have doubled (if not tripled) our efforts to provide integrated offerings to clients by teaming up with our tourism development counterparts to ensure we deliver trackable results that meet client objectives. With so many tour providers becoming media entities themselves post-COVID, this transition will be here to stay
  • We’ve developed micro-investment opportunities that recognise the need for continuing inspiration while providing a budget-friendly alternative to the traditional agency retainer
  • We are teaming up with the likes of Verizon Media and Uber Media to provide rich data that is invaluable in understanding our audiences, targeting them effectively, and measuring the physical impact of our campaigns and content
  • We continue searching for our ‘good news stories’ and sustainability offerings with our destinations, as we move with consumers’ need to be alleviated from the negative, as well as tapping into the ever-increasingly conscious traveller

So today, I want to make a pledge. I’m going to jump in and see this as a tremendous period of learning, resilience, and accomplishment. I will encourage both myself and my team to never give up searching out new contacts, seeking new opportunities, and reminding ourselves that ‘anything is possible.’

After all, we didn’t see 2020 coming, right?!