November 2021 saw the World Travel Market take place which was the largest industry event since the pandemic outbreak. A key topic of discussion was the future role of PR and communications in the sector, so here are some thoughts on where we see the sector going.
PR and marketing professionals have started to plan for the future. After two years of continuous challenges, plenty has been learnt and there’s much to consider for the coming years. So what will the role of PRs and communications be to help revive the tourism sector?
It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity for the tourism sector to reshape towards social, environmental and responsible improvements. Every tourism PR or marketeer has their own idea on what’s important when it comes to reputation, creative campaigns, press office management and generating consumer calls to actions - but how much focus will be on what’s happening around us?
In-house tourism PRs roles
In any destination, tourists will always have an influence on the economic, environmental and social activities. Whether, it’s by consuming local producers' foods or contributing to the local economy by spending money in shops and restaurants. Each tourist will arrive with their own carbon footprint and individual economic impact. The quickest example is Benidorm - which went from a quiet fishing village to become the Manhattan of Spain.
The influence of marketeers, tech and PRs
The fundamentals of tourism marketing activities prioritise on getting people to a location. If they are too successful they can cause overtourism, something we experienced as an agency in our early years. Working with the Brecon Beacons National Park 10 years ago, our key strategic
priority was focused on promoting repetitive reminders of one iconic location, Pen Y Fan, the highest mountain. Our theory at the time was to make it act as an image brand. 12-months into the contract the area had become so overcrowded there was a weekly overflow of traffic and overtourism on one specific trail up the mountain. The number of visitors showed success, but the outcome to the area was hugely irresponsible.
How will PRs work to tackle over-tourism?
If there’s an obvious problem with too many visitors in one place, then PR’s and marketeers must consider how to counteract this. Thinking outside the box and promoting alternatives can have a positive impact. Alternative locations can help to distribute wealth, ensure tourists remain welcome (stopping local protests in Venice, Amsterdam and Barcelona for example) and support more local communities. The Julian Alps and Bohinj Tourism in Slovenia are an exemplary success story. They have successfully developed iconic infrastructure like a new 280km hiking trail and a circular cycling route to encourage visitors to spread out throughout the Julian Alps instead of concentrating in one area. They have used social media to showcase a number of different areas offering unique tourism opportunities. From an urban perspective the Polish Tourism Organisation has successfully promoted ‘alternative’ sides to their cities, shifting people away from busy city centres.
The future of content marketing
Another factor which will influence the direction of tourism, will be how marketing departments plan their digital marketing, content and messaging strategies. Churning out endless content for the sake of keeping channels active isn’t the answer, digital content responsibility starts from a strategic objective. Executives and managers have a role to find meaning behind their content and to really think about the impact of every post.
Communications and changing social behavioural
Humans are a social species who like to operate in packs, this is a behaviour which travel PRs and marketeers can use to their advantage. If the sector wants to get behind a similar cause through communication then it will be everyone's role to encourage more followers to consider their social behaviour.
Tourism organisations will need to champion the right organisations, influencers and partners in their campaigns to highlight the importance of social, sustainable and environmental priorities. If publicity, content, PPC and social media focus on stories that demonstrate a better world, the industry can improve how each customer thinks. One of the finest examples of this was the recent #GameZero Premier League match between Tottenham vs Chelsea. It was the world’s first net zero football match and this fact was directly promoted to over 60,000 supporters in the stadium with hundreds of thousands more watching around the globe. If two football teams can influence the behaviour of that volume of people over a two hour period then imagine what a collective group of over a million tourism professionals could do during a 12-month period.
While we strive for future successes, it is vitally important that we continue to work towards environmental and social improvements for a better world.
Frank Marr is the co-founder of AM+A Marketing and Media Relations.