5 Ways Travel Brands Can Connect with Consumers

5 Ways Travel Brands Can Connect with Consumers

By Licia Walsworth — Communications Strategist travel 

What may have started as a year full of excitement about cruises to tropical islands, getaways to the mountains, or first trips to magical theme parks has deflated into canceled plans, disappointment, and postponed dreams for travelers. travel

But that doesn’t mean all hope is lost for travel brands.

The spirit of travel is ingrained in us. Being confined for too long takes its mental and physical toll. 

According to a recent Destination Analysts survey, almost half of American travelers are open to receiving news and updates about exciting travel destinations. People crave the mental break of reminiscing about places they have visited or dreaming of places they still want to go.

By adopting what is working in today’s unfamiliar travel PR and marketing territory, your brand could still find its voice and have it stand out over the crowd.  

1. Silence Is Not Golden travel

The knee-jerk reaction of most brands was to halt all advertising and social media posts immediately. These companies perceived it as the only way to survive. But silence is not always golden. Skift.com recently highlighted how Booking Holdings and their sub-brands (like Booking.com and Agoda) successfully increased their market share over other travel companies, simply by staying the course. Consumers continued to see their advertising — and reacted with their wallets. In the grand scheme of things, Booking Holdings’ overall revenue was down, as it was for most travel brands during this time, but they grew their market share on Trivago from 39% to 54% year over year.

What’s the lesson? You may not be able to grow your market but you can take market share from your competitors and be better positioned as the market recovers. Wouldn’t we all like to see our share of the proverbial pie grow in those kinds of increments? As the age-old saying goes, out of sight, out of mind.

2. The Open Road Is Calling travel

In the same Destination Analysts survey, over 50% of respondents stated they would take a road trip over air travel in the next six months. That means it’s time for destinations to start investing in their own backyards. The drive market is calling. Even the New York Times is drawing attention to the nostalgia of road trip travel from decades ago when packing everyone in the family car and hitting the open road was the norm for summer vacations. Summers at the shore, camping in the mountains, and hiking in the forests have become welcome visuals overcrowded theme parks, city centers, and cruise ships.

The lesson is to let the drive market know you are there, what you offer (family drive-in movies in your parking lot? Drive through grab and go breakfasts?), and how you can help them save that much-needed family vacation— all to help boost your current business with the potential to create lasting loyalty and travel traditions for years to come.

3. Teamwork Makes the Dream Work

PerformanceIN suggests that now is the time to leverage your relationships, affiliates, and partners across the industry to find mutually beneficial outcomes. Travel bloggers, media influencers, and attractions need to work together to reach their target audiences, maintain consistent messaging, and make the consumer feel confident about the travel experiences they are considering. Find ways to work with the media to promote how safe, comfortable, and enjoyable your destination is.

While many destinations and resorts have been afraid to host media or influencers given they can’t deliver the full experience or support their site visit with the normal level of service, these writers and personalities are hungry to travel and engage with your brand and share positive socially distanced experiences with their readers and followers. You can also partner with attractions or restaurants to become a sort of one-stop-shop offering value-based add-ons to your clients’ stay. As households plan their travel, they’re looking for space and safety, not for discounts, so don’t chase this market down: add value instead through partnerships. It’s an opportunity to create a win-win situation, and spreading the wealth could be mutually beneficial not only now, but as the basis for long-lasting collaborations into the future.

The lesson here is while we can’t get together physically, we can partner virtually to get messages out and create the best possible travel experience for guests and visitors.

4. Visual Shopping – It’s a Buyers’ Market

The booking window for travel is shrinking — dramatically. Leisure travel used to have an average lead time of 28 to 90 days. According to Phocuswire, that window has whittled down to seven days. And in this period of stress, uncertainty, and distraction, time is of the essence. Consumers want to know that your destination is safe. They want to reassurance that safety protocols are being followed. They want to know that you know what you are doing. And they want to know that as soon as they get to your website.

Making it hard for them to find what they are looking for can mean one of two things: They will simply move on to your competitor’s site, or, they’ll call your hotel for this information, taking up the time of an already busy front-office worker. Don’t make the consumer do the work. Be proud of your message of safety — get it front and center. A video is the best way to show the consumer you mean business. Check out these videos we produced for Welk Resorts and the San Diego Tourism Authority for some great ways to let consumers know you mean business.

 The lesson here is to show consumers your health and safety practices to build their confidence and secure their business. Let them see firsthand the steps your company is taking to ease any stress they may be feeling about their trip. Reach out if we can help you create your visual selling tool.

5. Personalization Fulfills Expectations

During a crisis, people want to know they are being heard. They want to be shown compassion. And they want to be able to let their guard down. It all starts with trust. Letting your consumer know that you hear and understand them and that you will cater to their needs speaks volumes. As Salesforce’s leading hospitality and tourism executive told Skift.com, lost are the days where frequent stays will increase a traveler’s loyalty status level. To win them over now, it’s time to get personal and customize their experience. Their information is at your fingertips — from their booking preferences to their age, hometown, and contact information. Building custom- experiences based on the knowledge you already possess will continue to make that customer brand-loyal for life.

According to Skift, more than 80% of customers said they experience a company provides is as important as its products and services. When you are thinking of your next mass e-blast or social media campaign, ask yourself how it speaks to your end consumer, specific personas, or the actual individuals receiving or engaging with your content. Does it get to them on an emotional level?

This lesson is that actively building connections will always yield higher returns than simply hoping for the best. One of my favorite mentors always said: “Hope is not a strategy.” Know your audience and what makes them tick. Then offer it to them. They will thank you in return.

Remember that this too shall pass. While we can’t know how quickly, we can continue to be present, be mindful of our message, and make the most of your assets to sell your story. The only direction to look is forward. Use thoughtful resources to guide your communications. Make every interaction intentional and meaningful. Consumers will remember — and will thank you for it.  

Hospitality Communications Survival Guide in the New Tomorrow

By Shae Geary— Senior Communications Strategist
The hospitality industry has been one of the hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic making strategic hospitality communications more important than ever for our hotels, resorts and destinations. While press trips and event promotion may be paused, there’s a critical need for hospitality communications that build trust and confidence around visiting your destination or property.

Prioritize Safety

Visitors won’t return if they don’t feel safe, and it’s not enough to assume that your guests know what you are doing to maximize safety, cleanliness and hygiene. A good place to start is a dedicated landing page on your website with detailed information, then linking to this page in your direct-to-consumer communications. In the age of visual shopping, you may even want to consider creating a video like this one that we created with Welk Resorts.

There’s a lot of confusion in the marketplace right now and by appropriately highlighting your company safety standards and new protocols, you’ll help visitors feel confident and secure in their decision to vacation with you.

Emphasize Social Distancing

In the age of pandemic, it’s no surprise that outdoor-oriented, uncrowded activities and settings are top priorities for potential guests. Your hospitality communications should be updated to reflect this trend.

Take time to assess your content library. If your images and messaging are lacking, consider a refresh now. Imagery that includes hotel room balconies, for instance, may be much more attractive to potential visitors than an interior guest room shot. Restaurant images that emphasize open-air patios and socially distanced tables as well as shots of outdoor activities like bike riding also will appeal to today’s consumer.

Consider using these images prominently on your website, social media and guest communications.

Embrace Local and Drive Market Media

With reduced budgets and staff, it’s critical that time and energy are directed to hospitality communications efforts that result in the highest return on investment.

With road trips and local travel recommended as the safer option in the short term, a priority should be placed on working with travel media and influencers in your closest drive markets. These media professionals are eager to help travel recover and know that there is pent-up demand for getting away. Use them to help deliver your safety messages and information about what to expect during a visit. People know that the experience won’t be what it was pre-pandemic and are ready to embrace the positives in what is being offered.

Third-party recommendations can go a long way toward ensuring potential visitors that a visit can meet social distancing requirements while also being fun and relaxing.

Monitor NIMBY Concerns

According to the most current destination research, a majority of residents remain wary about other travelers visiting their communities. As tourism reopens, it’s important for hospitality communicators to monitor the local sentiment and potential negative pushback, while being prepared to develop campaigns showing the positive impact of tourism and its vital contribution to the local economy.

Proactive outreach as well as savvy online reputation management are a must.

Don’t Overlook Internal Communication

During a crisis, especially a prolonged crisis, it’s important to deliver regular updates and expectations to your employees. These communications can include everything from information about what’s open to safety protocol reminders and even helpful tips for dealing with difficult situations unique to the pandemic such a visitor refusing to wear a mask.

Delivering these on a regular schedule in a snackable format can help reassure staff and avoid harmful speculation. Furloughed employees, especially if you are intending to hire them back, also should not be overlooked. Periodic check-ins, even if nothing has changed in terms of business status, can go a long way toward building continued loyalty so that they will return when you need them.

Retain Hospitality PR Professionals to Help

Strategic hospitality communications are essential for navigating your business rebound during these exceptional times. If you need help getting started, developing a strategy, or determining best practices, a hospitality PR agency is a great solution for maximizing your budget, even if it is just for the short term. Give us a call or email for a free consultation or to discuss your needs.

 

Hospitality PR Pros: Interview, Don’t Pitch, Travel Writers

By Julie Wright, President

Twitter: @juliewright

What happens when 25 travel media and an equal number of hospitality PR professionals are put in a room together for lunch? First, it gets really loud.

Second, if those 25 travel media are from Vancouver and the travel PR pros are from California (including destination marketing professionals from San Diego and Palm Springs), they’ll quickly find a lot in common.

For example, Vancouver media like sunshine: we have a ready supply! They like active outdoor fun: we make great hiking, surfing and cycling buddies. They’re into fresh, healthy and creative dining washed down with a delicious craft beer: all are abundant in San Diego and California.

A couple weeks ago was National Tourism and Travel Week in the U.S., and I spent Tuesday at a Visit California luncheon at the Vancouver Art Gallery talking with Canadian travel media about our client partner Visit Oceanside.

The format of the event was a progressive luncheon where the media stayed at one of five tables and the hospitality PR representatives rotated to a new table with each course. It was a fast, fun way to make sure everyone got a chance to connect and enjoy quality time.

I have attended similar events in Vancouver and the Bay Area about a year to a year and a half ago. At those events I was representing all of our hospitality PR clients – from Tenaya Lodge at Yosemite and Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks to hotel and resort properties in Carlsbad, Del Mar, North Park, the Gaslamp, Coronado and Borrego Springs. Each has unique qualities (natural splendor, historic preservation, beach fun, desert serenity, hipster chic, family escapes, spas, wellness, fantastic dining and stargazing) and I felt such pressure to get each of their stories out and cram all of the information I could into every encounter I had. At the conclusion of those prior events, I felt like I hadn’t really made the connections or created the opportunities that I had set out to build.

With that in mind, I changed my approach for this luncheon. Instead of trying to get my story out, I focused first on the travel writer’s stories. I learned as much as I could in the time available–what do you write about, who do you write for, what drew you to travel writing, what have you written about most recently, what kinds of stories do you like to tell, what do you think of San Diego and California?

And a funny thing happened. I learned enough about each writer and TV producer to know which travel experiences and story angles would resonate with them. I now know who wants to cover skate parks and extreme sports spotlighting Oceanside’s active lifestyle opportunities. I know who wants to pursue the perfect fish taco. I know who might like to drive the Hops Highway (or at least sit shotgun for a North County beer tour). More than that, I also felt like I made some new friends and sincerely hope to welcome these folks to Oceanside over the coming year and share a future meal or drink with them.

All that is left to do now is ask them what time of year they’d like to make the trip, follow up and get it on everyone’s calendar.

At (W)right On Communications, we’re always evaluating and evolving our approach to getting our clients’ stories out. If you have a hospitality story you want promoted, we’ve got the perfect connection. Get in touch and we’ll match your story with the ideal storyteller.

Five Simple Ways to Host a Successful Media Trip

 

By Erica Schlesinger, Communications Strategist

For our hospitality PR client partners, a key component to a successful media relations strategy is planning press visits. Sometimes, this involves setting up an individual journalist with a hotel stay, activities and meals on their own, but often, we will plan a group press trip. Also called a familiarization, or “fam” trip, these team endeavors are a great way to form personal relationships with members of the media while also securing multiple features for client partners. I have personally planned and attended more than 10 press trips, so I like to think I know a thing or two about making them smooth and successful!

Check out my top five tips for pulling off a great getaway:

  1. Plan ahead – As much as possible, start narrowing down dates, general trajectory of the trip, how many people to host and target audiences about four or five (or even six for a longer trip) months in advance. Many sought-after travel journalists have trips lined up back-to-back, so getting on their calendars is much more likely when you give them the chance to plan ahead. It may seem like overkill, but you’ll have a clear picture of who can make it – and who can’t – with enough time to fill your trip and stay organized… without having a last-minute panic attack.
  2. Be flexible – Schedules change, people run late and guests can develop newfound food allergies or fears of heights when you had a meticulous tasting menu and zipline excursion planned. There is no such thing as a perfect fam trip – when you’re balancing five to seven writers, their guests, their requests, different onsite teams working together and robust itineraries, something is bound to change (and often last-minute and on-the-go). It may not always be convenient or ideal, but tackle it as you would any professional issue: take a breath, use your head, ask for help as needed and take it from there. You’ll soon have it handled. I’ve had writers have overnight flight delays or at-home emergencies, change preferences on a completed itinerary, show up with an unexpected guest and much more. At the end of the day, you’re there to make sure they arrive safely, have a good experience and leave happy – and want to work with you again and say nice things about your clients as a result. Another tip – be transparent with your client partner and inform them of any issues that may impact their teams, but if they don’t need to get involved, don’t bring them into the mix.
  3. Be a control freak – Staying organized is critical for a successful fam trip. You need to make sure a lot of details are sorted and effectively communicated to all involved parties, travel arrangements are made, itineraries are approved, rooms are booked – you get the idea. At WOC, we have a few things that always make their way into our fam trip planning rotation:
    • Bio sheet – Ask each press trip attendee for a photo, brief bio, what their story will be about and the reach of their outlet, then compile into a single document to share with stakeholders. It gives a snapshot of who they’ll be meeting so they can prepare to chat with them, address any special preferences and get an idea of what sort of result they can expect from their time and money.
    • Google Docs/Google Drive – AKA your press trip BFF. Load any spreadsheets, bio sheets, itineraries and other documents up, add approved editors and watch edits appear in real time… without having 50 back-and-forth emails. Isn’t that nice?
    • Preference sheet/head count sheet – This is like a press trip “master document.” Here, we will have all key information any given member of our team or our clients’ team may need at any time to plan the trip. Excel is a great platform to build this in, then – you guessed it – load it into Google Drive. At the very least, this should include all contact info for each attendee, information on their preferences and any health or dietary needs, their guest, their meal selections and their activity preferences. For the latter two, build a “total count” row into the bottom of the sheet – this makes interfacing with activity partners and building BEOs a much easier process.
    • Itinerary – Also like the Press Trip Bible. This is a very detailed timeline covering everything attendees can expect from their trip, right down to notes about driving times if they’re arriving separately and check-in tips for spa appointments. It will keep you, your team and your guests on track from day one to waving goodbye. We WOC-ers like to add each element of the itinerary into our smartphone calendars with a 30-minute warning so we can always be one step ahead.
  4. Be a social butterfly – As a PR pro, you are on a fam trip to represent your client partner, guide the trip and act as a go-to source for information, but in reality, you’re the chief entertainer, too. You will be the person these folks will see the most over two, three, sometimes six or seven days, and it is your job to make sure they all feel welcome and are having fun. When everyone arrives, get them all introduced to one another (including their guests) – and you should not have to refer to any notes for names or what outlet they’re from! During the first meet-and-greet with key members of your client partner’s team, introduce both parties with full names and titles. While at meals or driving in a group, make an effort to mix and mingle with different people. Sometimes, some attendees are much harder to connect with than others – resist the urge to stick with Chatty Cathy the whole trip through. It may be Silent Sue who has the most questions, is the most uncomfortable around groups or just needs some encouragement to open up.
  5. Be a human clock – Real talk… media attendees are rarely keeping track of the time and itinerary while on press trips. Which is fine, since they’re there for the experience. PR pros, however, need to be on schedule at all times. During activities, keep an eye on the time and give updates (“Hey, guys, we have about 20 more minutes in this location. Is there anything else you need to see or photograph before we prepare to move on?”) – this can even mean politely urging a tour guide along, or pulling a chef aside in advance of a big meal to remind him or her of your after-dinner itinerary. If sending people off on free time before another set of activities, and during the last get-together of the evening, remind people of the time and location of their next scheduled stop. It might seem like a lot of “hovering,” but you’ll be surprised how quickly people forget when dinner is or where they need to check it for their morning horseback ride after a full day.

Putting together a winning press trip takes much more than following a few guidelines, but these are a great place to start. Hospitality PR pros, what other tips would you share after running trips of your own?

To learn more about (W)right On’s hospitality PR team, results and capabilities, check out WrightOnComm.com/Hospitality.

12 Signs PR Agency Life Isn’t for You

By Julie Wright

1. Month end is just another day to you.

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2. You’re happiest doing one thing at a time.

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3. You don’t read the by-lines as closely as the articles.

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4. You don’t measure your life in 5 minute increments.

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5. You come up with song hooks instead of news hooks in the shower.

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6. Your only sense of urgency is when the barista takes too long with your latte.

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7. You had to Google KPI.

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8. You think the work day is 9 to 5.

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9. You wouldn’t describe yourself as a people person.

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10. You follow the Kardashians more closely than Facebook’s algorithm changes.

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11. You fall asleep Sunday nights with no thought to the client projects waiting for you Monday morning.

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12. You fall asleep Sunday night.

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Revenue, Respect and Results: Savvy Reputation Management for Hotels

From Yelp to TripAdvisor and everywhere in between, today’s traveler loves their review sites. 80% read online reviews before making a booking decision, 79% say they trust online peer commentary as much as word-of-mouth recommendations, and 93% say they consider it influential in where they stay and play. Combine those stats with the fact that 62% say that seeing a hotel respond to reviews, whether good or bad, makes them more likely to book there versus a non-responsive location; and it’s clear that reputation management is not something modern hotels can afford to ignore. However, given the myriad of sites out there, it can be overwhelming to break into the game. Take a look at the below guidelines to ease the process and streamline a communications plan to stay on top of your digital presence… and increase revenue.

Where to begin?

As mentioned, there are tons and tons of travel review sites floating around the web. At least as you’re getting started, stick to Yelp and TripAdvisor, which are some of the most heavily trafficked. These “Big Two” are the first places travelers are likely to look when researching a trip (especially TripAdvisor), and are your best use of time in terms of establishing a solid rapport with past and potential guests.

When should I post?

I recommend checking your reviews at least once or twice a week – Monday and Thursday is a good schedule to stick to. This gives you the opportunity to catch post-weekend rushes, as well as tackle one-offs or those who are catching up mid-week. It’s also helpful to create a Word doc or something similar to track each review and your response. If you ever need to refer back to a specific review or can’t complete a full run of replies in one fell swoop, it’s a great resource to simplify the process and hold yourself accountable. Another fantastic tool is Revinate, which (among other things) can track TripAdvisor sentiment and send you daily or weekly alerts. Daily is ideal – it can signal a need for immediate response on a “day off.”

But there are so many reviews… do I have to respond to all of them?

Actually, no. The main purpose of reputation management is first and foremost to ensure that any negative reviews are acknowledged and handled as appropriate. The second is to take an active role in the direction of your business – which doesn’t mean responding to every single comment posted. Even reviewers don’t expect that.

An easy rule of thumb is responding to all negative reviews and about 30-40 percent of positive reviews. If someone takes the time to write a lengthy note of praise or say specific team members were particularly helpful, return the favor with a thank you (and be sure to pass the good news along to deserving staffers).

What if I get a nasty comment?

It’s not if, it’s when. Even five-star hotels with exquisite service will get bad reviews from time to time – you can’t make everyone happy. Some things to keep in mind:

  • Always acknowledge – Travelers will pay more attention to negative reviews and how they’re handled than positive ones
  • Know your common pain points – Many properties have issues that are a regular gripe for guests. Some things, like wifi speed in a remote location, you can’t do a whole lot about. However, if you can do something, take heed and make the steps to work on it. The repeat reviews will decrease, and guests will note that you take comments seriously.
  • Assess the situation – Some negative reviews are straightforward and not all that serious, surrounding complaints like, “I didn’t like the wine selection” or “the wifi was too slow.” In this case, a simple, “we’re so sorry to hear that you felt X was X, and we appreciate your feedback” will suffice. However, with something heavier, like “my room was filthy” or “I got food poisoning from the restaurant,” you’ll need to invest a little more time. Draft a simple response that shows you’re taking action, but take things offline from there – you don’t want a reputation management conversation going any further than that in front of other patrons. Privately message the guest with the appropriate contact information, and be sure staff promptly responds to their concerns – and makes things right. Often, you’ll see a review update praising a satisfactory response to an issue.
  • Stand up for yourself – It’s an unfortunate fact, but sometimes, people lie about or greatly over-exaggerate situations. If something doesn’t seem quite right, check with members of the hotel team who may be better in the loop for any further insight. If you know a comment isn’t true, it is absolutely acceptable to (politely) correct the guest.
  • Choose your words – You stand behind your hotel, so show it in your verbiage. Most of the time, I recommend saying things like, “we’re sorry you felt X didn’t happen.” This acknowledges the guest’s feelings, but doesn’t necessarily fold to their opinion. However, some things are undeniably frustrating and unacceptable, like being ignored while checking in or waiting an hour for food at dinner. In this case, switch things up to convey apologies and understanding.
  • Lose the canned responses – I am a fan of putting together a document of common issues and sample replies to look back on. However, I do not support using the exact same responses each time – it’s not authentic and an obvious corner-cutter. You’re already taking the time and effort to manage your responses. Do it well.

What about social media?

Social media channels like Facebook and Twitter can act as another mode of reputation management, and most brands already have a solid presence there. Be sure to monitor avenues like messages, comments, direct tweets, hashtags and @ mentions (although this should be built into any social strategy already) for feedback or questions from guests, and develop a procedural plan with your team to outline who responds to what, what timeframes should be followed and any other expectations. Platforms like HootSuite, Simply Measured and many more offer a range of options to simplify your social listening efforts. Departing slightly from the response algorithm for review sites, always respond to messages (like on Facebook) and engage with commentary as much as possible – it is social media, after all! But the same goes for any contentious or lengthy conversations – after the initial connection, take them offline.

It also doesn’t hurt to leverage guests’ travel plans for greater brand reach. Flip.to is a great way to encourage travelers to discuss their upcoming stay with their networks without icky, back alley trades or an in-your-face sales pitch. The platform, which reports 15% of users will transition to become brand advocates, employs sleek landing pages and simple content to connect with guests without ever leaving a hotel’s website.

Reputation management is a crucial tool for staying on top of public perception and presenting a caring, engaged demeanor to guests in all stages of the sales funnel. With a bit of organization and a strategy behind your approach, you’ll be ruling the digital travel world in no time.