Travel and journalism have suffered a lot in recent years, as some of the hardest hit industries of the Covid pandemic – but things are (thankfully) getting better.
As coronavirus led to further losses in advertising revenues for publications, journalists lost their jobs in droves, at a time when good journalism was needed most. And all of a sudden, the world seemed bigger than it had in a hundred years, as border closures and travel bans left every nation isolated.
So, not only has travel changed, but so have the journalists who report on it. And the priorities of the publications reporting on travel have changed, along with the way they treat press trips.
Here are nine key ways the landscape has shifted – and a glimpse at the future of press trips in the Metaverse…
1. Less actual travelling
There are fewer travel journalists and those that remain need to cover more pages in their publications. A journalist working for the Daily Mail told us the other day that they are now required to write around six articles a day. This means they simply don’t have as much time to go on press trips anymore (and barely any time for research either by the way, but that is a different matter, with different implications for travel brands and travel PRs again).
On top of that, some journalists now have to use annual leave to go on press trips – even though they’re technically working. These are clearly cost-saving measures to counter the hard times in travel journalism, which have made landing press trips harder. And the competition is absolutely fierce.
So what does that mean for travel brands?
Press trips will always be an important part of travel PR. But, it’s important for travel brands to understand that the majority of coverage won’t come from press trips in the future. Over the past several years, whenever we get approached by a potential new client, we have continuously reduced the number of press trips and press releases we include in a scope – and instead, we’ve focused our time and effort on solid press office work, newsjacking and digital PR.
It doesn’t perhaps look so impressive in a heavily numbers driven proposal, but that is where we get around 70- 80% of the coverage for our clients – and that will only increase in the future. So, ideation and a well-oiled press office function is becoming ever more important, plus understanding how data can spark new stories.
2. Local experts; the rise of in-market travel correspondents
Freelance travel writer Richard Mellor explains how using local correspondents is becoming more popular with UK publications and how we’ll increasingly see more of this.
“Earlier this year, I couldn’t get flight support for a double-page luxury spread in The Times. I won’t name the airline or destination, but suffice to say it was a surprise. Even more of a surprise was the discount they offered in lieu of complimentary tickets: precisely zero per cent.”
Richard thinks that the environmental impact of flying writers out to destinations is also being considered – especially in outlets who’ve doubled down on climate reporting.
“I predict we’ll see more of the correspondent-style model wherein local writers cover travel stories.”
And when you think about it, having local experts on the ground makes a lot of sense. They know the place, for real. They have a true connection, and their work should have a visceral quality of real, lived experience. Getting them on a press trip is cheaper, and preserves the green initiatives of the outlet. This was a trend we already saw before Covid, but during Covid it accelerated massively.
In response to this trend, we have now updated our journalist databases with in-country correspondents that write for UK publications in all of our clients’ destinations. This way, for example, if a client is based in Portugal or Switzerland we have all the UK correspondents and freelancers based in those destinations at our fingertips – saving clients’ money and time.
Case in point: we invited Julia Buckley – a freelance travel writer – to visit our client FORESTIS , a five-star luxury mountain hideaway in the north of Italy. Based in Italy herself, Julia has been published everywhere from National Geographic and Conde Nast Traveller to The Telegraph. And her being local meant that we landed great coverage results, while completely avoiding travel restrictions.
Julia had confirmed a review of FORESTIS in National Geographic Traveller and for Tatler Spa Guide, and arrived by train, with no flight required, to carry it out.
Two top-tier publications, from one press trip, at the height of travel restrictions? Don’t mind if we do!
3. Fierce competition for press trip attendees
Many staff writers, already spread thin, now have to use their own annual leave for press trips. That means they’ll hand-pick the trips that they really, really want to go on – and say no to the majority of trips. In other words: there are the same amount of press trips, but fewer journalists to go on them.
So how can we increase our chances of getting journalists to attend a press trip?
The busiest staff writers favour weekend press trips that cut into maybe one weekday, to minimise their holiday usage. For short haul that means no more than 2 nights, 3 days. Gone are the times when journalists would go on 4 night short haul press trips.
Putting a compelling press trip itinerary together is super important (which we cover below on the rise of “niche itineraries”).
Conversely to everything we have said above, some travel writers want to go on longer trips to reduce their environmental footprint, and to explore their destination in more depth.
On the upside that means that longer stays often lead to better, in depth and rich narratives, and to spin-off articles on multiple subjects. This works particularly well for freelancers – in order to make press trips work for them financially they will need to sell multiple articles, with multiple angles. That’s why we like working with freelancers – we make sure they have at least one or two confirmed commissions (in writing!) and afterwards they often sell further stories to other news outlets.
A longer stay could potentially cost more, but there are creative solutions to this. See point 5 below on “collaboration”.
However, that means if you are a hotel (not so much if you’re a destination or a tour operator) you WILL need to share coverage with other hotel brands – no journalist will go on an extended trip just to review one property. That means being willing to share the coverage with other properties you may have considered competitors in the past.
There’s a flip side to that though. Remember how future guests search for holidays?
They Google. What do they Google? “Best wellness hotels in XYZ”; “Best honeymoon tour operators”, “Best country for skiing with kids”. And what comes up?
Roundups and top 10 lists like “The Telegraph’s Guide to best honeymoon tour operators”.
So, whilst in-depth articles on your brand are great – when it comes to driving commercial value, these roundups are unbeatable. From an SEO point of view (reaching guests that don’t know your brand name but are interested in the kind of holiday you offer), they are invaluable .
Collaboration – even with the competition – can sometimes be beneficial. We do the same thing; we’re in a travel PR WhatsApp group with 150 other UK travel PRs, sharing knowledge, helping each other out and warning each other of journalists that need blacklisting.
4. Digital Nomad Journalists
Lockdowns put some writers in one place for weeks and months on end. That’s nothing new to so-called digital nomads – remote workers who frequently rent a property in one place for extended periods, getting to live like a local.
What if your press trip attendees could do the same?
Costa Brava Tourism has been bringing in bloggers for up to a month at a time, and treating them as a “travel writer in residence.” Bali and Thailand get huge reams of coverage because travel writers get to stay there for months. The low prices help – but if you were to offset their expenses, you could have a hit on your hands.
Digital nomads have no permanent home – the world’s enough for them. So invite them into your destination for a while. Let them live as they would, taking snaps on social media, showing what you’ve got to offer in an authentic way.
They could put out content for years based on that experience. A travel writer dropping in for a couple of days will struggle to fill half a page.
Also, as content is becoming increasingly more important (more on that in one of our next blog posts) they could produce in-depth, SEO optimised content for your website.
Long-term lodging costs will vary, and not all writers are going to be interested in living away for extended periods. But it’s got real value to both the brands and the writers who can take it on.
So, instead of a press trip invitation – ask a writer to come and live with you for a bit in low season. Tell them what is and isn’t included, and help them live like a local.
5. Press trips in partnership – for a better experience
Covid drained the coffers for so many travel brands – so being mindful with budgets whilst putting together a knockout itinerary is a primary post-Covid requirement for press trips.
Partnerships are on the up as a result, helping to lighten the load while also making the press trip experience better.
Partnering with local tourist boards or hotels, tour operators, local restaurants and attractions, can reduce the cost burden of longer press trips – and craft a personal, curated trip for the journalist (hello, glowing reviews!).
Working together with partners can help create amazing itineraries that journalists really want to do – like our work with Lausanne Tourism Board. And remember what we said above with regards to having to take holidays to go on press trips….you’ll only use your holiday if it’s a really amazing itinerary!
So for this trip to Lausanne we partnered with the PR agency who looks after the Royal Savoy Lausanne, sharing the costs and creating itineraries that were an absolute knockout, in exchange for shared exposure. And while that sounds like a diluted version of what you’d get from a focused visit, you just can’t always expect an exclusive review, all the time.
Being featured in roundups from press trips is great coverage and brilliant from an SEO point of view, and the benefit of partnerships goes beyond financial. It shows the journalist you know what they like, and want to offer them the best possible experience – which in turn creates loyalty to your brand.
6. Loyal writers from press trips past
What if you could get a message out to millions of readers and social followers – without anyone leaving the office?
Talk to previous writers who’ve already been on press trips.
Go back to the writers who’ve already visited, local or otherwise, and ask them about their untold stories and experiences. Do they still have all their photos from their trip? What angle can you put on it?
Could this be content that you own, for your brand’s inbound marketing strategy?
You see, while travel brands love PR, they tend to neglect the content on their own websites. This can make their inbound marketing (SEO, newsletters, organic social media) pretty weak, and leaves much to be desired for their audiences’ website experience.
At Lemongrass, we carry out content audits for travel brands, to see how they can improve. We then research and create a content plan – which can include hiring writers who’ve already visited, to create new content.
Many travel journalists have side jobs as copywriters. Their first- hand experience will result in authentic, engaging content that can really sell a destination. They’ll be grateful for the money, and it can secure their brand loyalty long into the future.
7. Niche itineraries
Covid made reading cool again. When there wasn’t much else to do, at least we had content to enjoy. The popularity of long form content was accelerated by Covid, and it looks like it’s here to stay.
Giving readers a more in-depth insight on a single subject can be far more engaging than yet another hotel review or city guide. Offering travel writers individual press trips can offer this kind of flexibility to write in more detail, and can allow for more free time and exploration.
These niche itineraries usually result in nice, detailed reviews on their particular subject.
As an example, we’ve had wine writers go to Lausanne and write dedicated wine articles – from vineyard experiences to the wines served at hotels – and we got it in some great publications such as the UK’s #1 Wine magazine Decanter; Foodie publication The Arbuturian as well as the Times and the Evening Standard.
8. Press trips fit for a digital age need to be organised differently
Continuing on partnerships, and getting more bang for buck, mixing press and influencers seems to be on the rise – but travel brands have got to be careful.
Journalists and influencers usually have very different approaches to press trips, and different requirements to deliver on their pre-agreed coverage deliverables. Journalists often need more time speaking to people and gathering information, while content creators need more time for photography and videography.
But that isn’t to say that combined trips can’t work, as long as the itinerary is flexible enough. And of course, concentrating activities together comes with the advantage of reduced costs.
PR in the digital age is no longer just magazines, newspapers and bloggers. TikTokers, Podcasters and YouTubers have joined the fold. And they each have very specific requirements; press trip itineraries that work for journalists are totally unsuitable for TikTokers, and vice versa.
Content creators need time to create every day, with access to reliable internet. Podcasters will be looking for sounds that fit the narrative of the trip – where could they capture those? And YouTubers will aim to shoot in the best lighting conditions, so schedule activities for Golden Hour, and take a break at high sun/lunchtime.
9. Press trips in the metaverse…
For us, nothing beats real travel: the smells, the sounds, the colours of a new destination – the journey itself.
…The climate is near ruin. War, on Europe’s doorstep for the first time in 80 years, has led to rising fuel costs and a renewed sense of tension. Crisis, it seems, is what our generation knows best.
The Metaverse – an immersive digital world, hyped as the successor to the internet – promises us a second reality; a world within a world.
And it looks… Well, a bit rubbish.
It’s not really advanced enough yet – but one day, it could be indiscernible from reality.
Even if it does, our take is that for key publications and in-depth reviews, the metaverse just won’t cut it – now or in the future. Experience is about more than what digital information can give you, and no simulation will ever match the real thing.
But, for lesser known publications, shorter features and roundups, a press trip might not really be necessary. Or think site inspections for hotels. The Metaverse could fill that gap, if the experience was right. Until it can match the feeling of being somewhere, down to the smell of the sea and the heat of the sun on your skin, though, it can’t match the real thing. Will it ever manage?
Ask us again in five years…
And remember, some things never change
Journalists will always need a good hook to get them out on an individual press trip. You have to offer an angle that hasn’t been covered before – a new package, a grand opening, a refurb – something BIG.
And it’s so important to be clear on what is and isn’t included, prior to journalists arriving. This means there isn’t a huge bill left at the end of stay – with nobody able to pay it.
For every press trip we organise, we send out press trip forms for the journalist to fill in and return. This includes everything; from their basic information, dietary requirements and emergency contacts, to an outline on the pre-agreed deliverables.
This helps everyone have a clear understanding of what’s included in the trip – what our client has offered, and what comes at the journalist’s own expense – and what deliverables our client can expect.
We don’t just sign off on a press trip and consider our job done. We plan and prepare meticulously, to make sure everyone’s happy, and get the best possible result.
Another thing that hasn’t changed? The appetite for press trips among available journalists hasn’t changed. Pretty much all of them still in work are excited to be travelling again, and thankfully travel restrictions seem to be firmly behind us for now.
So, as they say in French: allons-y!
A forward-thinking travel PR agency
Lemongrass Marketing is a specialist Travel PR agency. We put destinations, hotels and experiences on the map, with press trips for A-list travel writers and journalists.
Let’s start a project – call +44 (0)1865 237 990 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.