Many times it's the experiences journalists have outside the planned itinerary on press trips that help them tell the stories they want to tell.
Press trip itineraries are careful filters for destinations to present the stories they want to tell but the iron curtain approach has softened as brands realize travelers’ infatuation for authentic experiences stems from travel journalists.
As more tourism boards grow fond of inviting Instagram influencers to capture their favorite moments of a destination, or consider whether influencers even make sense for their audience, Skift decided to look at the state of traditional media tours given a recent Yahoo Travel survey which found millennials value written travel content more than photos and videos when planning trips.
Much of travelers’ understanding of what passes for authentic experiences comes from travel writing and journalists who help unlock hidden gems that destinations themselves aren’t always aware of. Dallas’ CVB emphasizes showing more than telling on press trips about what’s new and noteworthy in the American south’s largest metropolitan area. The CVB welcomes about 135 journalists from around the world each year and said it’s become more selective about which publications are invited on tours as the city has naturally matured as a destination.
“Of course we throw in the things that are expected of Dallas like great barbecue on many of our press trips, but journalists can also open their eyes and see they’re in a cosmopolitan city,” said Frank Librio, a spokesperson for the CVB. “We don’t want our fams to be a cattle call. We want visiting journalists to have experiences they can only have in Dallas. On one of our tours we had dinner with a local chef in his home rather than dining in a restaurant. On another tour we did a photo shoot with the Dallas Cowboys owner and his wife.”
Each year the CVB organizes an LGBT tour for media to highlight that the city isn’t entirely representative of Texas’ red state reputation and also plans to run a tour focused on the millennial appeal of Dallas later this year which will target publications specifically covering that generation.
Promoting a New Neighborhood to Media
Nearly every city has its own hip and gentrified enclave that helps redefine visitors’ movements and interests in a destination. Dallas’ Bishop Arts District epitomizes this trend with its quirky boutiques and restaurants that travelers wouldn’t associate with common perceptions of Texas.
And then there are up-and-coming neighborhoods where tourists don’t frequent en mass and that destinations struggle to promote against historic backdrops of violence and fear. The Bronx in New York City represents one of these neighborhoods approaching a tourism crossroads. It offers authentic experiences on par with nearby Brooklyn such as the city’s real Little Italy and hip hop artists performing where the music genre was born, but a quick Google Images search for “Bronx” returns abandoned city blocks, decaying buildings and dilapidated cars.
“I don’t blame media for not telling their readers to visit the Bronx because all the movies, shows or articles they’ve ever read or watched about the Bronx were probably negative,” said Alexandra Maruri, founder of Bronx Historical Tours who leads both journalists and tourists on tours of various Bronx neighborhoods. “Sometimes I wonder if Hollywood wants to keep it that way, we’re almost like prisoners of our past. I’ve reached out to Google several times to ask them why we don’t see more current images of the Bronx that are positive and fun because there are many, but they keep giving me roundabout answers.”
“And then you have a lot of the travel guidebooks that also don’t help the Bronx because they only have two lines in there about us. Some of them don’t even mention the Bronx and others even say ‘stay away.’ I’ve written to these guidebooks and haven’t received any response. But Lonely Planet is one guidebook that does seem to be doing something, they’re rewriting their descriptions of the Bronx and expanding on them.”
Last year Maruri gave NYC & Company, New York City’s destination marketing organization, 20 ideas for things to do in the Bronx and she said the organization has accepted and will promote most of them. Maruri’s led journalists through the Bronx from countries including the U.K., France and Spain and hopes to get an Australian publication on a future tour as she views Australia as a growing market for her.
“You don’t want to overdue it with history if you’re trying to start building tourism promotion of an area but I think history needs to come first and this is what I’m finding journalists want to hear about,” said Maruri. “My tours focus on the history of the Bronx’s different neighborhoods, not just the last 40 years but all the way back to the 1600s when the Bronx was first settled.”
Destinations’ Relationships With Media
Deciding which publications to invite on press trips is a process tourism boards and organizations spend months cultivating through face-to-face meetings with editors they know and trust.
NYC & Company advocates tourism for one of the world’s most iconic cities but inviting media on formal tours became a bigger priority during the past year as it sought to attract new visitor markets. The organization joined the Society of American Travel Writers this year to help build new media connections and has learned readers don’t want to read stories about events too far in advance.
“Readers don’t want to read about Christmas until it’s right around Christmas, that’s something we’re hearing from publications” said Chris Heywood, a spokesperson for NYC & Company. “Press trips are a very surgical process and working with airlines to get tickets for journalists can be very difficult, particularly this year. We’re trying to get a press tour from Scandinavia but the flights are full, for example.”
“We’re doing less of the group tours and more of the individual tours this year. Over the past year we’ve had nine group tours. Sometimes one journalist requires just as much hand-holding as a group of people, but at the same time group tours take a lot of work. These trips are more than just setting up the itinerary. Logistics are a big part of what we do and there are so many different touch points that are moments of truth for destinations.”
Heywood said editors seem to favor the idea of engaging with local experts to tell a story. Though most press trips have locals that are pre-selected and give rehearsed spiels that are often helpful and insightful, they don’t compare to candid and off the cuff conversations that are generally more telling.
“We’re not in the business of demanding that journalists write something that we want them to write because at the end of the day we understand that these people are journalists writing their take on a place,” said Heywood. “Whenever possible if a local knows about something more than we do we try to make them part of a tour.”
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Photo credit: A group of French journalists on a media tour in Dallas, Texas. Dallas Convention & Visitors Bureau