Pivot is one of the most-used words for how businesses reacted to the pandemic, but it’s the only word to describe what Laura Davidson Public Relations (LDPR) had to do when the world of travel suddenly stopped last March. LDPR is a long established, travel-focused agency with many prestigious clients -- like tour operator Abercrombie & Kent, upscale Rhode Island hotel Ocean House, and destinations like Visit Scotland.
Her mission from the beginning, said Davidson, was to be sensitive to COVID-19, but at the same time find creative ways to keep people inspired about travel -- whether they intend to travel now despite the crisis or want to dream about future travel.
To provide insights into how LDPR approached the crisis with three clients, Davidson offered a look back at specifics. In the case of Scotland, the agency focused on how much the destination has been featured in movies and on television shows like “Outlander.” She cited articles to which her agency contributed, like “'14 Shows to Stream That Will Transport You Around the World” in Afar magazine. There was also “18 Best TV Shows for Vicarious Travel Thrills “in The New York Times.
Taking advantage of the move during the pandemic toward virtual experiences, Town & Country, for one, did a story on castles and palaces that can be toured virtually -- including Edinburgh Castle, a major attraction in Scotland.
There was also “good news” to be found and promoted, Davidson said. For instance, gin distilleries in Scotland retooled themselves to make hand sanitizer -- a fact that resulted in positive coverage in publications like Condé Nast Traveler.
With Ocean House, a luxury resort in Watch Hill, Rhode Island, Davidson said she was lucky enough to work with an unusually creative executive named Daniel Hostettler, president and group managing director of the resort’s management company. That property was in the advantageous position of being domestic -- meaning Americans could actually visit.
In an effort to satisfy guests who did not want to eat inside in a restaurant, the hotel set up a taco shack on the beach. It also set up a Veuve Clicquot Fondue Village featuring three vintage gondolas where diners could eat in private.
These efforts got incredible coverage: 1.5 million social media impressions and over 500 million impressions in media coverage. Results: The property had the best summer in its history.
Of course, COVID-19 had to be dealt with, and the hotel came out early with a video showing what guests could expect when they arrived. Said Davidson, “Safety is the new luxury.”
A&K, on the other hand, is famous as an international tour operator -- escorting the affluent to far-off venues where they can enjoy exotic locales in extreme comfort. With that out of the question, A&K put together an entire domestic program in two months. The company hired Marty Behr, a veteran of national parks travel, to direct those excursions. Media coverage was strong and the tours sold out for the summer.
One reason these products were successful was that, with print too slow, messaging was done through broadcast, digital and social media because those were the quickest platforms to get the word out, Davidson said.
There may be permanent changes in how LDPR operates as a result of this crisis. For instance, everything now involves a quarterly, rather than an annual plan, she said.
Any chief marketing office or PR agency owner leading a team in the past year “had to lead them out of the shock and help them understand and respect all the hardships around them,” Davidson said. But at the end of the day, with travel and tourism representing 10% of the global economy, it was important to encourage travel -- maybe not immediately, but in the future.
“Those of us who were leading teams, once we got over the shock ourselves, had to decide ‘how do we pivot and move things forward safely and creatively?’”