Travel Providers Embrace PR as Industry Outlook Brightens

Art galleries in the air, celebrity chef TV shows filmed in exotic locales, “destination wedding” social media contests– all illustrate the close creative bond between travel and PR. Fortunately, travel industry prospects have improved as consumers and clients move forward and the economy continues its slow recovery: travel experts and industry reports say 2013 is shaping up to be a good year.

The travel business is more cyclical than most, but the mood at two travel marketing industry events held in New York this week was upbeat. These events included the ATME/Association of Travel Marketing Executives Think Tank and the HSMAI/Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International Digital Marketing Strategy Conference–and while the panels and presentations focused on a cross-section of platforms, PR’s signature mixture of digital and traditional media also got its due.

“PR is often an overlooked channel, and it maximizes the trend of grazing on content and making compelling use of news events. It’s about inserting our brands in a targeted way where it’s relevant. It allows you to go places where our other media efforts don’t reach”. That assessment from Simon Bradley, VP Marketing North America at Virgin Atlantic Airways, may come as no surprise. After all, Virgin’s founder, Sir Richard Bransonhas long been a PR master.

Still, Virgin is far from the only travel brand using PR to creatively address different communications issues such as generating buzz, building brand awareness and incorporating consumer stories into content. Click through for examples of how the conferences’ marketing executives from international airlines, hotels and destinations use PR to their advantage.

Virgin Atlantic’s Art Gallery in the Air: Virgin Atlantic may be a relatively small airline, but the brand is continually looking for ways to stay in the public eye. The recently launched “Art Gallery in the Air” allows first class passengers to preview artworks in airport clubhouses before takeoff and buy them on board using the in-flight entertainment system. (And if they have second thoughts during the flight, they can have a drink chilled by “Little Richard” [Branson] ice cubes.)

Velas Resorts’ “Marry Me in the Riviera Maya” Contest: Velas Resorts in Mexico’s Riviera Maya hosted a social media contest to increase its visibility among customers planning “destination” weddings. The brand asked couples to submit stories about how they met using various social platforms. The public then voted on the winner, who would receive a free wedding at the resort. The project drew hundreds of entries and thousands of votes, receiving renewed attention in November when the winning couple married at the resort.

Thailand Hosts Extreme Chef Episode: Thailand has had its own share of unrest, though lately the political situation is more stable. Those who travel there often turn into repeat visitors, but the country also seeks to lure more first-timers. What better way to publicize a country to “foodies” than to feature it on an episode of the Food Network’s Extreme Chef? Last fall, the final four chefs ‘sourced ingredients from a floating market, battled a flash rainstorm and cooked at a coconut farm.’ The Tourism Authority of Thailand helped to arrange their travel and connected them to locals during their stay.

What do we think of these projects?