Public Relations and Social Media Marketing Travel in Recession


Social media marketing for travel has become more critical to the hospitality industry and the public relations firms serving it since the economic downturn hit the travel industry in 2008.  

Digital PR consultants, in particular, are also becoming more vital with consumers demanding incentives, requiring more online touch points to make decisions and deals in real time via social networking, says Karen Gee McAuley, executive vice president of Blaze PR and a 25-veteran of the travel and tourism industry.  

Online travel agents like Priceline, Orbitz and Travelocity have grown dramatically through the recession, forcing consultants to promote discounts these services offer on their client’s properties with Twitter-like speed.  

Karen sat down with “On the Record…Online,” the official podcast of the PRSA International Conference to discuss social media marketing for travel and hospitality in hard economic times.  

This episode is guest-hosted by Joann Killeen-Furtney of Killeen Furtney Group.

Social Media Marketing Travel Insights

1:11 Travel marketing has been shaped recently by the recession that hit in 2008 and by the mistakes of insurance giant AIG, which achieved notoriety by holding a luxury event at a hotel just after it had received federal bailout funds. Hospitality public relations pros were left to grapple with the “AIG effect,” with companies becoming wary of travel spending, just as leisure travelers were scared into staying home by the residential real estate crash.  

5:10 Hotel marketing strategies to emerge during the recession included “keeping the guest dollar on property” with stronger promotion of in-house spas, restaurants, and golf courses.    

5:37 Recession marketing plans began to reflect a change of focus in the hospitality industry, with marketers switching to a regional “drive-in” strategy to attract the “staycation” customers in their backyard who were now less willing to fly.   

6:34 Recession marketing PR programs shifted as “the deal” became all-important to consumers. Customers wanted a reduced rate and at the luxury level, demanded extras be thrown in with the price of the room (a spa treatment or a round of golf).  

8:02 Social media travel PR, more than ever, had to advance client priority metrics, whether it be message delivery, preserving the rate charged, driving click-throughs to a website or capturing data to guide distribution of an email newsletter.    

9:06 Online travel marketing gained added credibility when a survey by the Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International found travel consumers need seven online touchpoints to influence their travel decisions. If travel companies are not working online, they fail to affect half of a given consumer’s buying decision.  

9:45 Online travel marketing has grown dramatically on the backs of online travel agents like Priceline, Expedia, Orbitz, and Travelocity. However, travel agents still play a crucial role for people who want more than just a room (packages, advice, personal service).  

10:33 Social media travel marketing in the last three years has become a central role in outreach by public relations firms to media that customers consume, along with an upswing in direct communication to customers. 

10:47 Social media travel PR includes pushing out promotions via Facebook and Twitter pages that the travel customer communities have learned to pay attention to, including online venues of major traditional media outlets. Every major daily newspaper now has an online operation that often offers content unavailable in that newspaper’s Sunday travel section. The Los Angeles Times, for instance, has the Daily Dish and the Daily Deal blog. The perishable product does well online, and this impacts media targeting.    

13:09 Travel industry prospects should begin to recover shortly. Still, marketers need to focus on population segments that have continued to spend money on travel despite the recession, including baby boomers with intact nest eggs.  

13:58 Travel PR has changed in recent years, but some essential elements remain central, including the need to craft messaging points and to choose the best strategic outlets for spreading the message. Also, PR firms must continue to identify and influence key influencers and take mass approaches, depending on client priorities (less can be more).   

Apps like Omniture and Google Analytics can capture 18:01 Social media metrics.  The results of client social media campaigns can be measured daily or weekly and should focus tightly on which sources drive most people to the website.  Click-throughs are the key, and it may not be a mention in the Wall Street Journal that drives the most traffic.  A niche online article may deliver more click-throughs and may keep delivering over time.  

20:24 Social media travel PR jobs are available, and working at a hotel is often a good preparation when combined with a journalism or PR degree.  An internship at a niche travel PR firm is another good move because it exposes the specific writing style used in the industry.  Goal: learn the “experiential” writing that captures and creates memories.  

21:12 End podcast

Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash

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