It’s fitting that I am writing this blog while on a flight back home from Nashville. Due to my love of travel, I have discovered the critical role of public relations in tourism. Public relations is involved in everything travel-related, from the moment you a hear about a cool new destination, when you buy the ticket, the plane ride, the overall experience, and back home and beyond. PR is there every step of the way. Let me show you what I mean.
Step One: Deciding Where to Go.
This can begin when scrolling through Instagram and seeing a dreamy destination, or when you are watching a movie with a luxury location. Social media is an obvious player in the way PR is involved in tourism. It is no secret that a major way that people receive information is through social media. This is true for travel information as well. A profile for a tourist destination is vital, but it is also just as important as what other people are posting about their destination. When I travel, I often use the location and hashtag search options on Instagram to be inspired about a place. I look what others are posting about to tell me where to go, what to do there, and, most importantly, what to eat. When travelers post positively about a location, this is earned media for that location.
Step Two: Getting to the Dreamy Location.
Many people say, “it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey.” This is especially true when it comes to transportation. The experience of a location can be ruined before the traveler even arrives there. Airline companies hold a critical role in tourism. Social media has made it easy for travelers to influence the image of an airline in just a few characters. My flight to Nashville is a prime example. At the time we reached the gate, our flight was delayed an hour and at the time of our original departure it was delayed another hour. Although this gave me time to catch up on Riverdale’s newest episode, it was still annoying. But thanks to the hard work of Delta Airline’s worker, Karen, I never felt neglected or ignored. Karen made consistent humorous updates to passengers and even brought us snacks and water while we waited. Karen saved me from smearing Delta Airlines on Twitter, and made me feel taken care. Thanks to Karen, when our friend picked us up at the airport in Nashville and asked how our flight was, we had nothing negative to say and had a positive mindset when experiencing Nashville. Thanks, Karen.
Although the treatment of passengers is critical, getting travelers to purchase a ticket is the first step and is what makes a destination a tourist destination. An example of a new destination that has been a recent hot spot for many travelers this past year is Iceland, due to the role of airlines. Iceland was not always considered a travel destination until the volcanic eruption of Eyjafjallajokull in 2010. Surprisingly, this natural disaster (that grounded flight travel for days) is what put Iceland on the map. Foreign media highlighted the Island’s striking landscape which caused travelers to notice it during the crisis and made Iceland a new potential travel destination. Although a huge player in the island’s tourism was made possible by good advertising, Airlines are not to be ignored. Since the 1960s, Icelandair has offered passengers a free stopover for a week in Iceland if they were booked on a transatlantic flight. However, the airline was soon challenged with the introduction of the ultra cheap airline, Wow Air. Wow Air flies directly to 10 major U.S. airports offering direct cheap flights to Iceland. To compete with the rookie airline, Icelandair was forced to lower their prices as well and they now service 13 major U.S. airports. This competition has proven beneficial to travelers anxious to explore the island’s picturesque setting. This is an example of a good public relations campaign because these cheap flights are what got tourists on the plane and to the island tourists can now enjoy their time there knowing they didn’t have to spend a fortune getting there.
Step Three: The experience of the Travelers is Just as Important as Getting Them There.
This is a huge task. Not every traveler enjoys the same things, so it is important that they feel welcomed and taken care of. Again, in under 280 characters someone can make a statement about a destination that can potentially ruin the image for potential travelers. In my short time at Experience Grand Rapids I have learned the importance of good communication between a city and traveler. When someone tags, tweets, messages, or comments on any social platform, we make sure to address to as soon as we can. This can mean liking or commenting on a positive post, or messaging a negative one. Many times people will comment or message us for information on what to do while in the city or ask questions about events that may be happening. It is crucial to respond in a timely manner, as a traveler may only be in your destination for a short amount time. This also makes the traveler feel important and cared for in a city that is not their home, which can make the city leave a lasting impression on a visitor.
When I travel, a huge factor in my experience in a new location is the way I am treated by locals. I understand that in many countries the culture looks down upon tourists or visitors. However, in the end tourism can be a huge part of a country’s economy. Grand Rapids, along with many other cities around the world, offers a program that allows citizens to become Certified Tourism Ambassadors. It is in the best interest of a city to have a good relationship with their visitors and a majority of their visitors will be interacting with locals, therefore, it is a good idea to educate locals on the importance of tourism in their city and the role they play. This can encourage citizens to help visitors to make sure their experience is a positive one. While abroad, I struggled understanding why some destinations were so unwelcoming or seem bothered by tourists. I can see how tourists can be frustration at times and sadly many travelers can be disrespectful to a new culture, place and traditions. However, I believe the value of the economy boost that tourism bring is worth the annoyance. Even more valuable, the best way for people to learn and appreciate new cultures, languages, religions, and food is through travel.
Step Four: Getting Travelers to Come Back and Spread the Word of their Experience.
The most influential factor in the role of PR in the travel industry is one that is arguably the hardest one to collect data on; word of mouth. For example, if a close friend of mine had a terrible experience in Prague, it would affect my desire to want to visit Prague. Many times when I was planning my backpacking trip through Europe this past summer, I reached out to friends for their favorite locations in Europe or where they would not recommend going. When I was on my way to a new location, I would message them for recommendations on what to do, where to go and what to eat. Other travelers that you know will be the most reliable tour guides of a new city. This is why it is so important for a city to not only advertise their location as a destination to come to, but that they will want to come back to and one that they will speak favorably about to others. This can be as simple as a hotel sending a “Thanks for visiting” card or commenting on a photo of the city with a similar statement.
Through travel, people become more understanding and respectful citizens of the world. Bringing people to new locations to celebrate new cultures and to marvel at the beauty that is our planet. A destination should want to show off their place and to share it with the world to see all the amazing things that is has to offer. This should be the goal of public relations professionals in the tourism field.
Sofia Anderson is a junior at GVSU Majoring in Advertising and Public Relations and Spanish. This is Sofia’s second semester in PRSSA and first in GrandPR and absolutely loves it. In her free time Sofia enjoys playing lacrosse on the women’s club lacrosse team, watching Netflix and making quesadillas.