How to Deal with Travel Writers, Part 3: How to Plan the Perfect Press Trip

The world of travel writers, journalists and travel bloggers is ever-changing. So how do public relations & media relations experts in the travel industry deal with them?

Speaking at the 15th Conference on LGBT Tourism and Hospitality at the Bellagio hotel in Las Vegas, I addressed this issue. The video here -- and the text below -- is the third installment of my presentation, specifically about how to plan the perfect press trip.

Press trips and press visits are a big part of some organizations' strategies for getting media coverage (obviously, this applies only to media outlets that accept press trips and press visits -- which today includes most newspapers, blogs, trade media and many travel magazines and sites). But the idea of what constitutes a press trip or press visit has evolved in recent years.

So let's take a look at what travel writers need to make press trips productive, and what public relations people can do to make the most of press trips for their organizations.

What Travel Writers Need on a Press Trip

1. WiFi. This is one of the most important things for any travel writer. We may be in some remote corner of the globe, but if we're on assignment, we're going to need WiFi. If you can make sure it's free, we're even more likely to post frequently and share our trip experiences with our followers. Also remember that if you're hosting journalists on trips to countries where they don't live, they may be relying on WiFi for all communication, to avoid hefty roaming charges. Verify ahead of time that there will be WiFi available at least at some of the restaurants and attractions they'll be visiting, as well as at the hotel - and try to get that WiFi fee waived for the journalists at the hotel, if necessary. You want to make it easy for them.

2. Free time. And I don't mean to rest and relax. I'm talking about free time to write, post content and check e-mail. Long gone are the days when we writers could put in 18-hour days of touring, meetings and interviews while on a press trip. We need more time now to file stories and posts while on the road, and answer correspondence. It also doesn't hurt to give us time to explore and experience things on our own. Some of my most interesting story ideas have come about while I was wandering unguided.

3. A detailed itinerary. The more details you can provide ahead of time, the better. Include web links, names and e-mails of people we'll be meeting and places we'll be visiting, so we can research ahead of time and also use the material as a resource after the trip.

4. The opportunity to personalize the visit. Press trips aren't a "one size fits all" experience, since every travel writer, journalist and blogger has different goals. Karla Visconti, director of corporate communications for the Caribbean and Latin America at Hilton Worldwide, says "we try to offer an opportunity to personalize the trip as much as possible, for example, giving the participating journalists options to choose from, rather than always having them do everything together. And we make sure we have local, cultural elements to make the trip as authentic as possible."

How to Pitch a Press Visit to Journalists

Veronica Villegas, senior account executive and International Director at Cheryl Andrews Marketing Communications in Coral Gables, Florida, notes that "press trips nowadays are great for the PR person, because things can be posted in real time, which creates a level of excitement and generates immediate engagement." She says her company sets up press trips while keeping in mind the following guidelines:

• Invites that are less pitchy and are more interactive, like using a video invitation as opposed to the traditional one-page invite.

• Themes (with very focused niches such as culinary travel, golf, luxury travel)

• Itineraries with story-telling experiences

• Hashtags created for the trip

• Social Media handles, so journalists can begin promoting their upcoming trips and promote them during and after

So how do you figure out the best way to pitch a press visit? You can work with an experienced public relations person, you can hire an agency or even use a journalist as a consultant. No matter how you do it, it's a good idea to sit down and come up with a specific strategy and policy about press trips and visits. For example:

• Do you have a budget to invite journalists to travel?

• Or, do you instead plan to extend invitations to journalists who are already living in or visiting your area?

• You can also partner with local tourism offices, convention and visitors bureaus and other businesses to be included on larger press trips.

Traditional Media vs. Bloggers: What's the Difference?

Let's again take a look at the differences between traditional media journalists and bloggers -- this time in terms of what they need on press trips.

Again, as a traditional journalist and blogger, I need things that are appropriate for both -- and a lot of writers are like me, since they are likely to be filing stories electronically and using social media, even if they're with a traditional media outlet.

Veronica notes that some bloggers expect to be paid by the hosting organization for their coverage, "and that's something that is not very traditional and oftentimes is an immediate turnoff to the client." But not all bloggers charge for coverage (I never do, unless it's part of an advertorial project on my travel blog site, -- and for that, it's clearly marked as sponsored content on the site). One big selling point that bloggers offer, Veronica notes, is that "bloggers usually post immediately or soon after their trips -- this poses a strong advantage over traditional print media."

Here's what Karla at Hilton Worldwide says:

"Bloggers seem to want more personal touches and real-life experiences. For example, a family blogger may ask to bring her or his children along on the trip [and] a weddings blogger may ask to attend a real wedding."

Rose Capasso, account manager at Carolyn Izzo Integrated Communications in Nyack, NY, says that "bloggers prefer more free time to explore and find little tidbits to share with their readers. They are also usually interested in photo opportunities and experiences they can post a video or cool shot of. Traditional journalists are usually able to adhere to an itinerary and have specific properties or activities that they are looking to cover for an assignment. Also, traditional journalists take notes and follow up for images and more information post-trip. Bloggers typically tweet or post directly from tours or meals."

Setting Your Expectations from a Press Trip

If you're a hotel, a travel company or a destination inviting travel writers to visit and write about you, it's a good idea to have clear goals in mind before you host a journalist or blogger -- and you can express your expectations to the writer, too.

Be sure you ask them for their social media handles prior to the visit, so you can follow the trip and retweet and share posts through your own outlets.

I have a really good example that I experienced a year or two ago. I was invited by OutThink Partners -- a leading LGBT public relations agency -- to do an individual, social-media-focused press trip to Island House, the gay men's resort hotel in Key West. The folks at OutThink did a great job of laying out their guidelines for me, which made it easy for me to follow.

Here are the basic guidelines they sent me... and you can see they include things that travel writers can do before, during and after the trip.

Before the Trip
• The travel writer should like/follow the host on social media (like Instagram and Facebook), in order to easily tag it in posts.
• Follow the host on Twitter.
• Mention the upcoming visit on Twitter, Facebook and any other social media feeds.
• Tease the trip in any other forums the journalist might have, including radio spots, e-newsletters, blog postings, etc.
• Include the appropriate handle for the host in all Tweets, and tag the host in Facebook and Instagram posts, so that the host organization can easily track, re-Tweet and re-post.

During the Trip
• Do as many Tweets, Facebook posts/check ins as possible. OutThink believes these are the ones that will go viral and generate comments. Travel writers' fans will love to know what they do for fun in "real life."
• Include comments on all the various types of experiences and services you enjoy, to help your social network understand what is offered by the host.
• Share experiences and services outside of the host -- for example, if it's a hotel hosting the travel writer, the writer can also Tweet and do posts about nearby restaurants, nightlife, activities and attractions.
• Be sure to tag the host in all Tweets and in Facebook posts. That makes it easier for the host to track what's being done, and also to share and re-post it themselves.

After the Trip
• Do any wrap up Tweets, Facebook posts, podcasts, etc.
• Again, be sure to tag the host in Tweets and other social media posts.
• Discuss the trip with the journalist, to see what was most effective and helpful.

The trip was a great success, and both productive and enjoyable. And even though the invite was focused solely on my social media coverage, it ended up generating print media coverage as well.

So how do you measure the value of media coverage? I'll touch on that in the next post.