6 PR and marketing lessons from the travel industry

Accommodating your clientele is just the beginning. So, please put your tray table in the upright and locked position, and let’s get going.

After working in the travel industry as a public relations specialist for six of the world’s largest airline vacation brands including Delta, United, and Aeromexico Vacations, and logging more than 4,000 hours flying around the globe, I’ve noted similarities between our public relations and marketing profession and the travel, tourism, and hospitality industries.

Now, from my position on the agency side at Maccabee, here’s what PR professionals and marketers can learn from the world of frequent flyers, vacation hotels, and luxury resorts.

1. Don’t try to predict the weather, or volcanic eruptions, or mechanical failures. There will always be delays.

Anything from violent weather to the Super Bowl and mechanical problems or fluke fires like those recently experienced in the cruise industry can affect travel schedules, plans, and prices. The best thing for travelers to do is always have a plan B and be prepared to think on their feet.

The same goes for media relations and corporate communications professionals. We work within a 24/7 news cycle. No one knows when an incident will occur that could affect your brand and its key audiences or stakeholders; when one does occur, you’ll be more equipped to react if you’ve planned for such contingencies.

To get started, brainstorm about potential crises, and then put together an emergency response plan that addresses them.

PR lesson: Be prepared for “what if” situations by thinking ahead and crafting a plan B.

2. Make sure your price includes taxes, fuel surcharges, and resort fees.

Southwest Airlines was recently fined $200,000 by the U.S. Department of Transportation for violating the agency’s fare advertising rules. These rules were put in place in 2011 to help bring more clarity to advertised and promoted prices for travel products. Consumers were upset at seeing seemingly low prices, only to find out that after adding applicable taxes and fees, the prices doubled (or even tripled).

Transparency in communication is crucial. Don’t make your journalist contacts or your audience dig for the truth; be open, honest, and transparent when communicating. You’ll be rewarded in the long run.

PR lesson: Strive to be as clear as possible and transparent in your marketing communications; your reputation is precious.

3. Trip Advisor and Expedia are keeping travel agents in business.

Websites such as Trip Advisor and Expedia are designed to make travel easier—and they often do—but there is a reason why consumers still need travel agents. Travel professionals can save you time and money by simply making recommendations and solving complex problems (as evidenced by the Eyjafjallajökull Volcano eruption in 2010). In short, relying on travel agents could protect you from making a massive travel blunder.

Just as travelers can ask travel agents for guidance, businesses can turn to PR professionals for advice more often. Whether it’s a PR colleague who can help you gain perspective or a PR agency that can help navigate a new market, new technology, or product launch-it’s wise to turn to a trusted counselor for help.

PR lesson: Don’t try to do it all yourself—it’s OK to seek help from experts.

4. The Mexico Travel Advisory isn’t what it seems.

After nearly four years in the travel industry, I’ve been asked countless times about the safety of traveling to Mexico. As a lover of Mexico, I adamantly reply, “Yes, it is safe.”

Headlines around the world have highlighted the danger of traveling to Mexico, but consumers often don’t stop to put the Mexico Travel Warning in its proper context. The warning exempts most tourism spots; there are more than 1,000 miles between most of the violence and the resort areas. (It’s like saying, “I’m not going to Virginia Beach, because there is violence in Miami.”) If you follow simple travel precautions, you can have a safe and enjoyable trip.

It’s easy to get caught up in the fast pace of the ever-evolving news cycle and 24/7 nature of social media. Take time to learn more about why something is a hot topic before pitching a story idea or involving the latest trend on your brand’s Facebook page. Make sure to dig into an issue before jumping onto a particular bandwagon.

PR lesson: Dig down to the heart of any issue. Educate yourself before making a statement or taking a position.

5. Offer more than just a “frequent flyer program.”

Nearly every airline, hotel and rental car company has a rewards program designed to entice travelers to come back and use its services time after time. In today’s world, the most successful brands are associated with something more than each one-off experience. Simply having a rewards program isn’t enough.

Brands such as Disney are powerhouses for a reason: They offer clean, clear, consistent branding focused on positive brand experiences across every touch point. The experiences consumers have with your brand are everything. Protect, own, and build them with intent.

PR lesson: Go the extra mile to ensure your clients, customers, and audiences get the experience they desire from your brand.

6. The airline didn’t ruin your vacation.

Vacations are precious moments for which the planner has spent countless hours and money making sure their getaway is perfect. When disaster strikes (see No. 1 above) it’s easy to blame the hotel or airline-as did this traveler, who tried to blame American Airlines for ruining her honeymoon in Maui. However, as one person points out in the FlyerTalk thread, a more accurate title for her post should have been: The Weather Ruined My Honeymoon.

Their advice: Make the best of a situation, and don’t let anyone or anything ruin your special trip, special event, or product launch. As PR and marketing pros, we shouldn’t let one stumbling block or mishap get in the way of a campaign’s success. When something goes wrong, do your best to make the situation better.

PR lesson: Don’t let a bad situation get the best of you. Change your outlook to change your outcome-and your customer’s experience.

I hope you’ve enjoyed these lessons that I’ve learned along the way in the travel PR industry.

Alison Buckneberg is an account executive at Minneapolis-based Maccabee, a strategic public relations and online marketing agency.

Topics: PR

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