Curtis Zimmerman
Curtis Zimmerman

Travel is part of the human experience. And, although recovery from the pandemic remains uncertain at times as we fight to see more light at the end of the tunnel, we know that no matter what, people will travel again.

We’re all reading—and in many cases, conducting the research that shows—COVID-19 fatigue has led to a pent-up demand that’s ready to explode for many travelers. Leisure travelers are venturing out to domestic destinations, the road trip is now a luxury experience and hotels and resorts continue playing a guessing game when it comes to projections for rate, occupancy and revenue.

Business travelers are using Zoom in record numbers, and airlines are hungering for a time when face-to-face replaces device-to-device and whatever normal that transpires includes airline travel at a more robust level.

Although we project a level of confidence, and thought leadership, the truth is that uncertainty is the rule of the day. Clients know it. We know it. And, everyone involved in hospitality and travel reluctantly has to admit it.

During the pandemic, we’ve persevered through intelligent and timely crisis management and the ability to provide clients a path to follow when there was little or no prospect of success. So, what’s next for travel public relations?

This article is featured in O'Dwyer's Jul. '20 Travel & Int'l PR Magazine.

The digital revolution is now an ongoing evolution that shows no prospect of ending anytime soon. Platforms continue to shift, media professionals come and go at a sadly record pace. Relationships still matter, but the game has changed. Influencer marketing is a tool that’s one-part public relations, one-part social media, one-part activation and one-part reality check. Tracking and analytics are critical parts of the equation.

For travel clients, the answer may be easier. The objective hasn’t changed. Or, has it? Awareness, exposure, a path to a conversion, a level of engagement, website visits, positive sentiment. Sure, clients will still expect public relations to play a role in each of those elements. But, if the last several months has taught clients anything, it’s the concept that making a relevant connection with the audience that can influence a decision that results in a reservation, a room night, increased revenue per available room, a meeting or whatever can drive revenue has a value. It’s how we, as public relations professionals, make that connection that may have changed in the client’s eyes.

To grasp what’s next for travel public relations, we need to look at our counterparts in advertising, social media, digital marketing, influencer marketing, research firms and the media.

And, to a greater extent, we need to understand the role each of them play in the broader travel marketing mix. It’s not really about integration. It’s more about transformation. The answer to what lies next can be found in daily conversations with clients. Clients have adopted a “whatever it takes” approach to compete and in many ways to survive.

That doesn’t mean we’re now in full-fledged competition with our counterparts from other marketing disciplines, but it does mean clients will look to us to provide more of the “whatever it takes” and less of what’s considered in the public relations scope.

As an agency, we’re fortunate that we’ve been methodically building out and staffing a robust in-house content studio to accommodate the growing video and photography production needs of our clients. But, we know that’s not enough. In fact, it’s likely only a nod to what’s next.

Certainly, content marketing is now a fully engaged part of travel public relations. Creativity, and the production and development of digital and ambient activations for travel clients are no longer the sole responsibility of ad agencies and digital marketing firms.

As a public relations firm with a focus on hospitality and travel, we’ve seen first-hand that clients are open to ideas and interpretations that push the boundaries of traditional PR, and tread sometimes not so lightly on digital and creative. Paid, owned and earned can proudly be all be delivered through public relations.

So, let’s accept that anyone in public relations just getting into the content marketing arena is likely a little late to the game. To be effective—and to provide an element of measurement that can connect our efforts to the client’s bottom-line—means we have to optimize each effort and ensure our clients that we are held accountable to the same objectives that drive their business.

But, with content, the concept of optimization no longer begins during or following the launch of the event, the message, the activation, the site.

Now, optimization and in fact the entire focus of content marketing is shifting to become more agile. And, agile doesn’t mean more nimble, although travel clients like that too. Agile content marketing is actually the method, and more often now the tools to allow us to produce content iteratively by using available data and audience insights to inform our approach as well as the content itself.

We’re not saying that public relations will transform into a content only proposition. And, we’re not saying that content is the only thing that will require agility. But, the prospect of agile content marketing will allow us to develop ideas that can move the needle for travel clients from the concept to the creation and development of the idea by measuring how each new piece of content performs based on what actually matters to the client. At the bottom-line.

Agile content marketing isn’t new. But, embracing a more data-driven approach to developing content that can be measured isn’t just agile—it’s smart. I’m the first to admit that we successfully use creativity to gain the attention of travel audience. But, the ability to include the consumer in the process through data and insights mitigates risk, improves efficiency and enhances our ability to be relevant and timely. And, for our travel clients, it increases the potential to drive the conversions that drive their business.


Curtis Zimmerman is Co-Founder of The Zimmerman Agency in Tallahassee, FL.