Intro To Series… Travel & Tourism PR by Kay Maghan

Public relations professionals in the travel and tourism industry can generally best describe what we do in four words…..“Never a dull moment.”

Opportunities in our world exist in a variety of “client” forms – hotels, resorts, attractions (think zoos, theme parks, water parks, museums, state/national parks, campgrounds, restaurants, etc.), airlines, cruise lines, spas, golf courses, public relations and advertising agencies, convention and visitors bureaus, state tourism offices…the list really is almost endless.  Our industry is everywhere – literally.  Every state in this nation has a tourism office, and most every community in those states wants to attract visitors.  The travel and tourism industry is one of the largest employers in the United States – 7.4 million Americans work in this industry.  Opportunities are not limited just to our country; tourism is an aspect of the economic makeup of just about every country in the world.

One of the things that makes travel and tourism public relations so rewarding is that no two days are ever the same – really.  You could be part of a public relations team or you could be the sole public relations person doing it all.  So if you like variety, changing scenarios and keeping on your toes, then welcome to our world!

From my experience, many public relations professionals in our industry really are masters of doing it all – writing/editing press releases, researching media, writing newsletters, pitching story ideas, responding to media inquiries, arranging media visits and/or events, working with film crews, and – most importantly – justifying our role to our company or client through measuring return on investment (ROI).  In our current economy, when we have seen public relations and marketing staffs being downsized, the public relations professional is juggling even more hats, including that of photographer and social media guru.  As an example of this expansion into “other” job duties, programming at the recent PRSA Travel & Tourism Section Conference (May 25 – 28, 2010) was heavily concentrated on social media and included a pre-conference “Boot Camp” on “doing it yourself” photography and video.

What came across loud and clear at this conference from both media speakers and industry peers is that the field of public relations is rapidly changing, just as the field of journalism is changing.  More journalists and PR professionals find themselves having to do more with less, and both groups see the fluid landscape of social media as one of the biggest areas about which they need to be solidly educated.  In addition, the growth of bloggers has expanded the audience that travel and tourism public relations professionals must target, and “citizen journalists” armed with cell phones that capture photos and video have thrown a big curve ball into crisis management plans.  But another message that came through at the conference is that personal relationships with the media (bloggers included) are just as important to the core of public relations as ever.

Students studying public relations would be well served to take classes in marketing and advertising, if such classes are not already built into their existing curriculum. Of special importance is a strong knowledge – either through academic courses or hands-on experience – of social media, both current and emerging.  FYI Fact: Be careful what you post about yourself; hiring managers use Google Search as a tool when researching job candidates. As always, being able to show on-the-job experience via internships is very important because it shows me, as the person hiring, that you have initiative and practical experience.  Remember, unpaid internships are just as good as paid on a résumé because experience is experience regardless of funding.

If you are currently studying public relations or are a new graduate on the job search, one of the best ways to decide if travel and tourism – or any other industry – is right for you is to schedule informational meetings with professionals in your area.  See if they would allow you to shadow them for a few hours; talk with them in-depth about what they do, what they like best about the industry, what classes or skills they look for when they are hiring, and so on. These meetings also help you build a professional network. FYI Fact: Treat such meetings as an interview (i.e. dress professionally) and be sure to send a written thank you email or card as a follow up.  If you do such small, but important things for us, we know you will do them for media if we hire you.

Kay Maghan has 17 years of experience in PR. She  currently serves as Secretary of PRSA’s Travel & Tourism Section.