As we begin 2021, many tourism businesses are finally seeing light at the end of the tunnel and are making plans to begin their marketing and operations again. A key part of your tourism marketing should be public relations, as you seek to inspire your guests to travel again and experience your adventure tours.
When people ask, ‘what is tourism PR?’ I usually find it easier to explain what it’s not.
PR is not paying influencers to post about you; it’s not paying bloggers to blog about you or about creating the next viral video for Youtube or TikTok. Public Relations is getting traditional press, such as magazines, newspapers (online and offline), broadcast TV, radio, blogs and other online publications to do travel stories about your business and tours. It’s not pay-to-play, and you don’t have control over what gets published. It works like a ‘barter system’. You give something of value to a travel journalist, like a comp trip, or a great story idea, and they write about you.
Tourism PR is also known as ‘Earned Media’ because, well, you need to earn it.
Tourism public relations resides at the top of the marketing funnel, in the ‘Awareness’ stage of the customer journey. Press is particularly important when you have a new tour offering or destination. Think about it: how could anybody search for your new trip on Google if they don’t know it exists? So if it’s brand new, and no one else is already doing it, you need some PR.
But when it comes to the customer journey, PR can also play a role at the ‘buy’ stage. If you’ve gotten some good press in the past, show that off on your website. A great story can really motivate a prospect to consider your tour over a competitor’s and also increase ‘trust’. After all, if a big publication like Outside or the NY Times has done a travel story on you, their clout will rub off on your business too.
PR is also one of the best ways to reach totally new markets. Does your road cycling tour take in unique local cuisines? Then maybe there’s a story that could appeal to a food writer, and a foodie publication.
PR has a big effect on your search engine optimization, or tourism SEO too. There are a lot of factors that Google uses to decide whether your website ranks on page one or page 10. If influential editorial websites, like Outside and the NY Times, (or even less well-known blogs), mention your tours and link to your site, that increases your Domain Authority and lifts up your website in search rankings.
So, as you can see, there are a lot of reasons to be doing tourism PR for your adventure travel business.
You can’t just say to a travel journalist or editor, “Hey we’re the best, our tours are awesome. Come do a story on us!” First and foremost, it’s not about you, it’s about them and their readers. You must offer something of value if you expect to get press. That thing of value is a great story that will inspire, entertain or inform their readers.
So you need to find stories that sell.
Always start with what you do, or in marketing speak, your ‘value proposition.’If you don’t know what that is, hire a marketing consultant to help you find out. Basically, it’s your raison d’être, what you do that no one else does. It may just be strong enough to get you some press.
I once worked with a cat skiing lodge whose goal was to bring a level of 5-star service and refinement to a sport which was previously seen as lacking in both. This is what they did, and it was strong enough to create a story and get media coverage.
I find many tourism business owners think only of their own niche when pitching media. For example, if they’re a ski lodge, they just want ski press. But here’s the thing, when we do customer research, we find fewer and fewer people reading those niche publications. Instead, we’ll see skiers, who are also business people, reading business publications. Or road cyclists reading lifestyle or fitness blogs.
So look beyond your niche and find stories that will appeal to your ideal clients, wherever they may be. The trick here is to look at your tourism business through as many different lenses as possible. Those different angles lead to different publications and new audiences for your tours.
Food and travel go together perfectly.
I can’t imagine going on a trip where the food wasn’t a factor. So look for food angles. For example, do your tours take in interesting local cuisines in your destination? Is there a local chef you work with who has a great backstory? Are there wine or craft beer or spirits angles? These all have their own niche writers and publications and they could tie in nicely with your core offering and let you reach new audiences.
People want to explore local cultures when they travel, to learn new customs, and hear other people’s stories. First Nations, indigenous cultures and even old world European cultures are of immense interest to travellers. So if you can find a strong story here, it will likely appeal to travel writers and editors.
I’m thinking of certain high-end travel lifestyle magazines and most inflight magazines. There are a lot of architecture buffs out there, and if you do city tours, you should definitely be finding stories to tell around these subjects. The same goes for art.
And while those buildings and pieces of art may be hundreds of years old, there are always new stories to tell if you know where to look.
Is there a major anniversary coming up in your destination? Can you find a tie-in that may be of interest for a journalist? If so, that could get you some good press.
A few years ago, Canada celebrated its 150th Anniversary. This was a major event coordinated from Destination Canada (The National tourism board) all the way down to regional DMOs and tour operators across the country. Travel media from around the world were invited and the press generated is still paying dividends.
Do you ever notice how many stories you see about the Olympics in Olympic years? Some are so tangential that you wonder how they have anything to do with them. Some famous downhill skier trained here one winter when he was 9? Well, that’s an Olympic story!
But seriously, when there are major world events, like the World Cup, Olympics or even holidays like Valentines Day or Christmas, writers and editors are looking for stories on these for their readers. Ever notice that every Valentine’s Day, there’s some crazy, romantic package or product in the news that is so over-the-top, no one will ever actually buy it? Well, that’s not the point. They’ve got a good PR agency, and now they’ve got tons of press.
Many years ago, when I was working as a travel journalist and the Lord of the Rings trilogy was taking off, I came across a bike tour company that was doing rides around some of the film locations in New Zealand. I managed to get assignments from several editors and with the support of Tourism New Zealand, travelled there to do the story.
Film locations, settings for famous books, or TV shows can all be great story angles to pitch.
But of all the story angles out there, one trumps them all. Trends. Editors love trends. They are literally catnip for media. Is there something going on in your niche, a major change you’re seeing on the horizon? Can you position yourself or one of your staff as an expert on this new phenomena? If so, that’s your strongest story by a longshot. Find the next ‘green travel’ or ‘farm to table’ trend and you’ll be getting more press that you can imagine.
These are just some of the angles that can work well for finding your stories. But don’t limit yourself. There are many more story angles waiting to be found.
Ok, now that you’ve found your story, you’ll need to package it into a pitch that’s strong enough to not get buried in a journalist’s inbox alongside those hundreds of others that never got read. If writing is not your strongest skill, hire a PR consultant or a writer for some help. Your pitches MUST be extremely well written.
Here I like to use the SUCCESS method, popularized by Chip and Dan Heath in their excellent marketing book, Made to Stick . Grab a copy. And as you can guess, it’s an acronym.
Simple: Keep your pitches stupid simple. If it’s a big, complicated, convoluted idea, ditch it.
Unexpected: Editors want to be surprised. So don’t tell them something they already know. Look for the novel, and unique, not routine and boring.
Concrete: Make things tangible. If something is 37,892 sq kms that doesn’t mean anything. Tell me it’s half the size of Scotland, and now I understand how big it is.
Credentialed: This is an important one. Editors have amazing BS detectors. ‘Biggest, best, most amazing’ etc are guaranteed to get your pitch deleted instantly, unless you can back them up. ‘Best beach according to Tripadvisor’, that could work. Claims, facts, and figures must have sources cited.
Emotional: Find the human interest angle. You don’t need to pitch a tear-jerker, but a bit of emotion goes a long way with editors.
Story: Try to weave a story into your pitch. Think about characters, problems and resolutions.
Short: Keep it to the point, or it won’t even be read. I suggest no more than one or two paragraphs and 500 words. If you can’t get it done with that amount, keep cutting it until you can.
Use the SUCCESS method like a checklist for any pitches you’re writing. You don’t have to hit them all, but the more you can cover, the better.
Now that you’ve got your awesome pitch, or better yet ‘pitches’, you need to find travel media to pitch them to.
Create a list of publications in your niche and related ones. Then look at who’s writing the articles most relevant for your tourism business, by finding their bylines. From there, search the publication’s website for their contact info or email, and failing that look for them on LinkedIn or Google. If you can find an email address, that’s the best way to pitch. I’d never pitch on Linkedin or Twitter or any other social media platform. Do the same thing for editors. Pitch them too, but in general I’d expect a better response rate from journalists than editors.
I also suggest setting up Google Alerts for your niche, for example ‘fly fishing’ if you’re a fly fishing lodge and a few other related keywords. You’ll get daily notifications of what publications and journalists are covering your tourism niche. You may even discover some totally new, highly relevant publications here. Add these to your list.
Now that you’ve got a decent sized list, it’s time to get to work. Pitching media is hard work. It takes time and perseverance, reaching out individually. But one well-crafted, targeted pitch is more valuable than a 1000 blanket press releases any day. In fact, I don’t recommend using press releases at all.
When you’re pitching travel media you need to be upfront on what you’re offering. Is it just a great story idea that may be of interest to that publication’s readers? If so, that’s fine. Or are you offering to host a travel journalist on a FAM? (industry lingo for ‘familiarization’ or press trip). If you are hosting, what can you offer and what do you expect in return? Can you host just a writer, or a writer/photographer pair? If you only have space for a writer, do you have pro quality images available for them?
For most tourism businesses, I suggest using your shoulder season for hosting travel media. You want the journalist to have a great experience and nice weather, but you don’t want to turn away paying guests to host them. FAM trips can be for individual journalists or for groups of media (more common with DMOs) and should be part of your tourism Public Relations program. Here’s where you and your staff can really shine and show a journalist why you deserve that great press.
Travel journalists don’t make a lot of money and their publications will seldom foot the bill for their travel expenses. So even if you’re offering them a comp trip, there’re still airline tickets, hotels, rental cars and other expenses that will need to be taken care of. The more of those you can help with, the more appealing your FAM will be to a journalist.
Here’s where working with local industry partners and your Destination Marketing Organization (DMO) can really help. Many DMOs and tourism boards have marketing budgets for supporting travel media. This may include flights and even some of their other trip expenses. It really depends on your DMO, their mandate, and budget. Here, relationship building is key. Make those contacts with your local tourism leaders, and let them know how you’re supporting their destination (not just your business).
If there’s no money for supporting media, your DMO may still be able to help by rounding up local support. For example, a local hotel can offer a few nights comp, and some restaurants can host a few meals. I’ve seen many cash-strapped destinations put together really good on-the-ground media support. But keep in mind most of those partners will want something in return, like a mention in the story, so make sure the journalist knows that.
Most DMOs also have their own media lists and attend conferences and trade shows to pitch journalists on their destination. If you’re doing great work, they’d probably be happy to promote you. This can be a really good way to leverage your pitching and reach media you might not have otherwise had access to. Again, building those relationships with your DMO is key, and supplying them with your great pitches and letting them know you’re open to doing FAMs will go a long way.
As you can tell, if you’ve read this far, there’s a lot involved in getting press for your tourism business, but if you take the time to do these things and commit to setting aside time every week, your PR will grow exponentially, and ultimately so will your bookings.
If you need any help, our team has years of experience working with travel media in several different tourism niches and have generated press in top level publications around the world.
Contact us to schedule an appointment.