Last week Skift reported on "The Travel Media’s Role in the Coronavirus Crisis and Recovery". Editors Tom Lowry and Rosie Spinks were joined by Rafat Ali, who touched on the point that traditional media doesn't understand the business of travel, in part because they don't truly report on it. It struck so true.
Our favorite news outlets, be it print or online, often neglect to report and educate readers on the various sectors that make up the travel industry. It's no wonder customers become so easily frustrated when a hotel room is overbooked, or a tour operator can't easily cancel their trip, and why they don't think they need a travel advisor. They just don't understand what's happening behind the scenes, but can we blame them?
Last week, the WSJ published "The Devastated Travel Industry, by the Numbers" which I was keen to read as a travel publicist, and agency owner also cut off at the knees. However, this piece stumped me, as I found that for a 1200+ word piece, it reported almost entirely on just the airline industry, with only one reference to the decline in hotel occupancy, with no mention of the hundreds of thousands of hotel employees left furloughed or laid off. The headline really should have read "The Devastated Airline Industry by the Numbers".
It's not an obvious observation, but you'll notice now that airlines get the majority of trade news reporting. The media might not realize that their shift to outsource their reporting to freelancers, has in turn shifted their content to consumer travel pieces. Those are the hotel features, and destinations guides we love, the utility how-to articles, and eye candy slideshows, but this strategy ultimately has abandoned holistic reporting of the industry.
The travel publications have understood this need, developing programs to highlight travel advisors and operators, such as Travel + Leisure's A-List or Conde Nast Traveler's Specialists List, and with AFAR's AFAR Advisor, a column launched in 2019 dedicated to the voices of the industry penned by travel veteran Annie Fitzsimmons. It's a start, but still a niche audience.
Granted, if we looked at things from a sheer numbers standpoint, airlines would be the largest sector that affects readers. We rely on them to deliver and stimulate business across boarders, and they employ a mass number around the world, who are also suffering. We do need them. This is cry to the media, the "travel industry" is more than just airlines. There are the frontline hotels, cruises, car rentals, buses, trains, and then the unsung heroes, the travel advisors, tour operators, the DMCs that employ local guides and drivers, the meeting planners and trade shows, even the travel publications, and so many more sharing in this crisis. Their struggles, especially during a crisis deserve to be heard as well.
Cruises for a brief moment found their way into the spotlight due to Covid-19, but reporting has noticeably gone quiet now that all passengers are safely on land. It shows yet again that some media outlets prefer to focus on the dramatics and play on the chaos. We recall the media's reporting post Hurricane Irma, publishing blanket statements, conveying the entire Caribbean closed, leaving dozens of unharmed or affected islands devastated by the loss of business. This is not the coverage the travel industry needs right now, but more responsible journalistic reporting, that we see from true trade publications like the aforementioned Skift, Travel Weekly, Luxury Travel Advisor, and so many others. The problem is their reporting doesn't get to the consumers.
I ask myself, how we can change this status quo. When I look back at our secured media coverage for our clients at Spherical PR, I too notice an absent representation of the trade news outside of the travel trade outlets. Maybe we all have a hand in this. As a publicist, I can pitch more trade oriented stories, but I'll need a writer to pen the article, who in turn will need an editor to publish it. So this is a call for us to demand more "travel industry" reporting and for publications to look past web traffic, and report for history's sake, what is happening to us in the travel industry.
If this rant intrigued you at all, I encourage you to watch Skift's full reporting here, which pulls back the curtain on what's happening with travel media.
-- Alexandra Avila