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Pack Your Bags: A Trip Through the Travel and Tourism Sector

Published on June 3, 2019, at 7:11 a.m.
by Olivia Lake.

Airport departure screens are filled with names of travel destinations, ranging from Charlotte to Dallas to San Francisco and everywhere in between. Travel destinations recruit visitors, and oftentimes public relations professionals are the movers and shakers working behind the scenes.

Mindy Bianca, principal of Mindy Bianca Public Relations, believes the travel and tourism sector is “the best PR gig in the entire world.” Bianca has assembled her dream team, and together they support a wide clientele list. A job in this sector is far from boring and repetitive; in fact, Bianca alternates between a week spent on the road and a week spent in her office throughout the year.

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When on the road, Bianca runs press trips — a common term in this sector. A press trip is where the media is brought in to experience a destination firsthand, and hopefully be inspired to write a piece attracting others to visit, too.

Additionally, Bianca conducts site visits during her road time. The purpose of a site visit is for her to get a better idea of the stories a destination has to offer.

“A lot of times the people who are handling public relations for a destination live there; most times they have grown up there. Things that seem like run-of-the-mill and commonplace to them might actually be a story for somebody coming from farther away,” explained Bianca. She listens to the stories they think they have, all while keeping an eye peeled for the hidden gems.

For the remaining 26 weeks of the year, Bianca can be found in her office doing administrative work, pitching stories to national media outlets, keeping her business running smoothly and, if time allows, writing. Her journalism background, of which she is immensely proud, is what she believes to be her greatest asset. Understanding the world of the journalist and knowing how to break through the saturation are invaluable to her work today.

Media relations
Media relations is a key component of this sector. Kay Maghan, the public relations manager at Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism, explained that it is how she spends the majority of her day. Whether it is pitching a journalist, or actually spending time with them during their press trips, most of her tasks fall in the media relations bucket.

Because media relations is such a profound facet in this sector, it is to no surprise that the rise of influencers and bloggers is having a large impact on the work PR professionals are doing.

When Maghan began her career, she worked strictly with journalists. Today, she now also works with bloggers and influencers. When it comes to press trips, she said you still provide the same information, regardless of if they are a journalist, blogger or influencer.

The biggest change she is seeing pertains to paychecks. Journalists are paid to write a story; they go on a press trip and then determine whether or not to write a piece on their experiences. Bloggers and influencers, according to Maghan, occasionally wish to be paid for the time they spend in a location. Some brands will provide payments to these individuals, but Maghan said she does not. Instead, Gulf Shores & Orange Beach Tourism developed small-pay programs for bloggers after they have established a positive relationship with the organization as a way to keep with this trend.

Bianca’s agency is also feeling the ramifications of the increasing prevalence of bloggers and journalists. She has kept true to her journalistic roots and provides counsel on traditional public relations and traditional media relations. Bianca explained that if you solely focus on just one approach — whether that be by using influencers, bloggers or journalists — you are creating a void. Frequently, she finds that her clients will have an agency or in-house employee focusing on the social media and digital journalistic initiatives, and then hire her agency to handle the traditional initiatives.

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While recognizing the journalism landscape is changing, Bianca proudly claims it is not dying. “We are champions of what I guess people would say is the old-fashioned way of doing journalism and public relations, but there is nothing old-fashioned about journalism today. You can’t survive if you’re not willing to roll with the punches and change with the times.”

Another trend that is impacting the sector is the rise of businesses such as Airbnb. Rachel Dinbokowitz, public relations manager for Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center, said she needs to work to keep her hotel relevant to prospective visitors.

“Our leadership team continues to watch these trends and changes to figure out how we can accommodate guests interests and needs to appeal to them in our growing, competitive industry,” said Dinbokowitz.

Following trends and issues impacting the sector and paying attention to the industry are things Megan Gasper, senior publicist as the Heron Agency, advised people interested in the sector to do. When interacting with journalists, she suggested reading their content and engaging with them on social media. Twitter is a great way to connect organically with journalists. Once authentic relationships are built, pitching will become a smoother process.

Gasper also suggested expanding one’s network to people who are in travel and tourism, but not necessarily the communications field. Don’t pigeon-hole yourself into only having a network of PR folks, but, rather, build connections with others because “the community is really tight-knit.”

In this sector, PR professionals never have a typical day. From press releases to pitching to connecting with clients, a wide range of skills is needed to be successful. Ali Lundberg, executive vice president at J Public Relations, recommended spending “time in an agency setting at the onset of their careers – you are immersed in a variety of clients, brands, tactics and talent to really absorb, learn and grow from.”

The travel and tourism sector harnesses media relations and storytelling skills to drive attendance to destinations across the world. It is a fulfilling career that allows professionals to incorporate their passion for traveling with their professional life.

For Ally Dorrough, communications and marketing specialist at Gulf Shores and Orange Beach Tourism and Sports Commission, her favorite part of working in this sector is simply promoting “such a beautiful and multi-faceted destination.” She has found her passion in helping others to find “their version of the beach.”

Michelle Grinnell, director of media, public and industry relations at Travel Michigan, loves the variety that working in the travel and tourism sector provides. One consistent piece she has is getting to tell great stories about the state of Michigan every day. From her work on the award-winning Pure Michigan campaign to the new Planet M campaign, Grinnell combines her love for her home state with her PR expertise.

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Bianca has found the career she will retire doing. Her passion shone through her words when she said, “I definitely recommend this vein of public relations for anyone who truly loves travel and truly believes travel makes us, as humans, better. It is really hard to be hateful about people when you’ve actually been to their country, visited them, met them and realized, ‘Well, they are just a person like I am.’”

Public relations professionals in the travel and tourism sector have the power to unite people from across the world.

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