Jennifer Hawkins
Jennifer Hawkins

As borders slammed shut across Europe last spring, public relations professionals representing hotels across the pond were confronted with challenges they’d likely never anticipated, including keeping clients in the news—and in business—as travel cratered around the world. Now, with European countries beginning to welcome fully vaccinated travelers again, promoting travel is back to being by the book, right?

Not quite. Not all the hotels are staffed up and not all the countries have the same requirements for entry, so there’s a lot of navigation for the traveler and those who promote travel. As Annalisa Maestri, Global Communications Manager from Dorchester Collection, told us during a Clubhouse session our agency hosted, “Every country (in Europe) is opening on a different timeframe, so we are strategically tapping our brains to find creative solutions. Hotels need a long-term focus and should be thinking about their local markets and also creating new enticing offerings. For everyone, ‘creativity’ and ‘flexibility’ are the keywords.”

From our bi-coastal bases in New York and California, our agency has racked up a lot of hours and experience working to promote and position luxury hotels, resorts, airlines, cruise lines, tour operators and destinations on literally every continent. We’re listening to our clients, hearing what they have to say and how they want us to tell their story. We wanted to keep our journalist friends and colleagues up to date with news they could use.

This article is featured in O'Dwyer's July '21 Travel & Tourism PR Magazine
(view PDF version)

Like most of us during the lockdown, we had to dial-up more Zoom calls than we can count to stay in touch with our clients abroad. We wanted frequent updates: Are they open yet? And if not, when do they hope to be? Are they planning to operate at full capacity? And if so, are they having trouble hiring talent? What creative offerings are they planning to entice new guests? And what standard offerings might be missed by returning guests if they’re put on hold? Details are a PR rep’s best friend if you want to distinguish your clients’ unique offerings.

If your client hasn’t finalized details of their planned reopening yet, there’s no time like the present to do so. Aid them with a quick-but-deep dive to gauge their short-term needs and longer-term challenges, and activate the best approach to meeting their goals. This may involve repackaging existing client services and offerings as well as creating new ones that are right for the moment. But remember: they should be catering to those guests who know them and love them—and have missed them—so they can make sure to shine brightest when they’re authentic about welcoming back guests.

We live by Action Plans that merge effective PR tactics and relevant social media messaging— always geared toward building awareness of the property and its targeted audience. We want to help our clients drive bookings as well as tell the hotel’s story in compelling, trend-driven ways. It’s that high-quality content with excellent photography, great access to the talent on property and, again, creative authentic programming.

Giving priority to being creative with placements, pitches and press releases was important even when the hotels weren’t open. We did a lot of on-camera interviews with on-property personalities such as executive chefs, spa directors and owners for radio and interactive Instagram Live sessions, and we created shareable country-specific playlists to inspire travelers to travel again. We were attempting to keep the tone vital.

Not having properties to promote, we pivoted and were determined to leverage the visionaries and thought leaders behind the brand to be the spokespeople for their property or destination, but we also felt it important to keep the conversations going about our collective Love of Travel. The economic impact of travel isn’t lost on us or the media. We were motivated to put forward many of our clients to speak out about what they are doing to address guest safety issues, but also to be ambassadors for the travel industry as a whole. Keeping our clients talking and communicating what they were seeing firsthand in their country—from Ireland to France, Italy to the UK—it was all different at the same time. And the media appreciated the frank and personal accounts.

We also put effort and expertise into managing our clients’ and our own social media presence. Nothing turns off potential travelers like an out-of-date Facebook page, which sends the message that the property is either understaffed, doesn’t care or is too pre-occupied to convey the hospitality that waits behind its door. By developing dynamic posts and buzz-worthy content to strategically engage with audiences and drive bookings, our clients were able to keep guests informed and engaged. It was a time to experiment with different platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Clubhouse, Instagram, Instagram Stories and IGTV. Many of the engagements had huge followings that were hungry for updates about the hotels, protocols, the destination and, of course, the people.

The linchpin for all of the above is creative communications and colorful content. The old rule of thumb for traditional media—“no images, no story”—holds even truer for digital outlets, making a robust library of edited photographs and video assets essential to ensuring a cohesive brand identity and amplifying its message. Videos, in particular, needn’t be overly produced: In our experience, genuine, well-edited video content shot with a smart phone can work just as well or even better than something too slick.

What about influencers? Our clients have told us that influencers are vital to getting a hotel’s message out, but we stress to them the importance of selecting influencers who can authentically convey a specific focus—like family travel or luxury—and aren’t generically featuring a hotel. “Economically speaking, hotels should be very selective and very clear about what the deliverables should be. We have discovered the positives of offering stays to those special few are focused and targeted,” one client said during our Clubhouse session, adding, “It is important to put a lot of effort into finding the right media and influencers to effectively demonstrate the authentic luxury we provide.”

Finally, as with any PR outreach effort, open communication and transparency is the dominating principal to promoting hotels and resorts, the better for travelers and media to know what to expect and not be confronted by surprises as they venture back to Europe. As one of our clients told us: “Hotels should have always embraced this, and now it is more important than ever.”


Jennifer Hawkins is Founder and President of Hawkins International Public Relations.