Press Trips, Covid, and Influencer Media

As we continue to struggle during this pandemic, we’ve begun to accept that travel will never be the same. Destinations, travel businesses, and travel content creators struggle to define a new industry standard, all while keeping their brand top of mind for consumers who aren’t currently traveling. 

In the past, press trips were a great way to introduce a destination or travel business to a new audience. Now like most in-person events, press trips can be high risk. Though coordinating press trips and working with influencers is a small part of the work that Brave World Media does, we felt it important to share some insights on the work for those looking to host them or participate in them.

If you’re wondering what a press trip is, it’s a trip where a travel destination or business (hotels and tour companies) pay for lodging, travel, and activity expenses for members of the media and content creators to facilitate the visit to their location in an effort to garner articles and marketing content. For some content creators in the influencer space, there’s a thrill associated with being invited on press trips. The pampering and services, much of which is not financially accessible to many otherwise, is a huge lure. 

On my trip to Yellowstone last year I rode a helicopter for the first time and it’s an experience I’ll never forget and may never be able to afford. On the other hand, I went fly fishing for the first time on that same trip and I caught three fish! I now enjoy fishing. 

To the professionals among these groups, press trips are far from being a vacation. Each day is jam-packed with activities and experiences they later have to write about, often followed by long dinners networking that can run late into the night. Not to mention sharing content on social media while working the trip and the quick turnaround demanded for blog and photography assets require a lot of focus and a fast pace. And while being invited on a press trip can be an ego boost, a (misguided, in our opinion) status symbol, an  “I made it!” moment, it remains a professional, financial commitment and obligation, with expectations on either side.

As an agency, we have a unique perspective. Some of our staff are content creators and have had the opportunity to be invited on press trips. Some of our clients are travel destinations. We have experience in both planning press trips and attending them. But our agency is also led by a communications professional, someone with over 21 years of experience in public relations and in the corporate world. And this matters. Especially as we see a growing trend of travel destinations hiring unqualified content creators to both plan and attend press trips. I was recently invited on such a trip and it was a nightmare. 

I live in Mexico where local destinations are looking for expats to work with. This will allow them to promote their location to a global audience through people who live locally. On the surface, it sounds like the perfect partnership. Until a small local destination hired someone who is not only not a local expert but also had zero experience planning press trips. So she would be unable to give us a “local perspective” and she was far from professional. This not only led to an unorganized experience but also endangered those attending along with members of the community being visited. 

As far as liability and safety concerns go, we have the added risk of a pandemic. As a destination, the most important task is to protect the local community from Covid-19 and foreign spreaders. Introducing new travelers is always a risk and with a poorly planned press trip, the risk increases exponentially. In planning trips during Covid, we work closely with clients to stagger the very limited number of influencer visits we’ve taken on to minimize exposure and community risk. We have a thorough questionnaire that helps us gauge the risk of a new visitor. We do not invite influencers who are coming from restricted or high-risk areas. And we’ve walked away from group travel. We’ve prioritized putting guests up in private accommodations to minimize contact with others. 

Here are some additional tips we wanted to share as we all work to strike a balance between traveling responsibly and minimizing the spread of Covid-19. Anyone participating in a press trip should be passionate about safety and protecting the community as they are about the visit. 

Tips for Travel Businesses

  • Work with local bloggers who know the best things your destination has to offer. Vet them and get professional references for any skill and experience they may claim to have. Remember upon hiring them, they become an extension of your brand and its reputation.
  • Before considering an Influencer Marketing Agency ask “Where is my money going?” “How is it split among influencers for a campaign?” Many of these types of agencies pocket a huge percentage of the fees they charge, minimizing your influencer media investment, and thus reducing your potential deliverables. Some agencies don’t pay influencers at all which can negatively impact the quality of work.
  • Ask yourself: Are you hiring talent or are you hiring a marketing professional. The difference requires a different set of expectations and how your marketing message is delivered and your campaign executed will also differ – as will the authenticity in engagement and audience.
  • Demand to have access to any influencer recruited. 
  • Be involved in the vetting and selection process. 
  • Do not relinquish your authority to plan, participate, and network in person. 
  • Invest time in vetting influencers. It may take months. It may take years. Resist the urge to invest based off of one positive networking session. Do the research. Then invest in the influencers that best fit your brand, your message, and bring solid skills to the table.
  • Make sure that every professional content creator or influencer has travel insurance. And secure that all health requirements are met as demanded by your state. Have they been traveling overseas? Have they quarantined? Do they have proof of testing and results?

Tips for Content Creators

  • Do your due diligence. Don’t be so excited about a trip that you disregard safety. 
  • If accepting a trip, adhere to whatever mandates are in place (quarantine, testing, etc.)
  • Make sure to get travel insurance. We’ve heard some rumblings suggesting this is the destination’s responsibility to cover for you. That is false. As a professional, operating as a business, it is your responsibility to cover your business expenses. Health coverage and insurance is one of them.
  • Don’t be afraid to be honest. Let the destination know that your audience expects an authentic review. 
  • Understand that a press trip is not a marketing campaign – which not only comes with a paid contract but also a list of expectations for such payment. Getting paid to travel to a destination? Then that is not a press trip and you are expected to deliver content as agreed upon ahead of time by your client. Want to have autonomy and complete creative control over your content? Then don’t ask to get paid by those hosting you. Whether it be to show up (aka a day fee) or to post on social media. 
  • Even in paid, marketing campaigns, you can be authentic and honest, though professional courtesy demands that any issues be discussed with your clients first.
  • Make sure your deliverables are due after the trip. That way you can enjoy the moment and take some time to process your experience.
  • Remember you are on a job. Not a vacation. 

Questions Influencer Marketing Agencies Should Ask Content Creators: 

  • Are you comfortable taking a Covid test before arrival?
  • Are you comfortable with indoor seating during meals? 
  • Have you ever tested positive for Covid-19?

Questions Content Creators Should Ask Influencer Marketing Agencies:

  • What is your background in marketing and public relations?
  • Who are your clients, are they repeated contracts or one-offs?
  • Do I get direct access to the client contact? If no, why not?
  • How are you using the data from my content? How often? Will it be used in pitches for new clients? Will I be considered in those pitches if my stats and data are used?

In addition to asking questions about flights, wifi, and gratuities influencers should know the answers to the following questions. 

Questions Content Creators Should Ask Destination/Host: 

  • Is a Covid test required of all participants?
  • What is the mask policy in your area?
  • Who else is attending?
  • Is anyone on the trip getting paid?
  • Will there be indoor or outdoor seating during meals?
  • Is there flexibility in the itinerary?

Right now we’re all feeling starved for travel, especially after months of being indoors. It’s more important than ever to examine the differences between marketing and greed because the latter is a pitfall that anyone is capable of falling into. We have to pay attention to the priority, the global priority.

In this Covid world, we must require the same vigilance from travel destinations, businesses, and influencers that we do of everyone else. To prioritize humanity over vanity. We need to constantly ask ourselves, “Is it worth the risk?” The threat has never been more real. Always consider the trickle effects that your actions can have on others, even long after you’re gone. After all, we are all in this together.