PR’s Top Pros Talk…Travel – Cristyne Nicholas
Cristyne Nicholas, CEO at Nicholas & Lence Communications
Cristyne Nicholas, CEO at Nicholas & Lence Communications, breaks down the critical role she played in rebuilding New York’s tourism following 9/11, drawing parallels and distinctions with COVID.
Cristyne shares examples of creative ways NLC has been promoting travel in New York City in the current environment. She also provides practical tips on how smaller markets can effectively promote safe tourism.
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About the Host:
Host: DOUG SIMON
Guest: CRISTYNE NICHOLAS
DOUG: Christine,I think it’s a great way to start by letting the audience know about the critical role you played in helping to rebuild New York City’s tourism after 9/11. And then we can get to what’s similar, and what’s different now with COVID. What are the strategies communicators need to have to really bring travel back and bring localities back all around the country?
CRISTYNE: Sure. So, after 9/11, we were in a totally different situation. We had the leadership of then Mayor Giuliani, who brought everybody together, the business leaders on September 12th and really explained how important it was to reopen New York City. So, I at the time had struggles marketing tourism to a city that was really closed down. and people were afraid to travel. But sitting next to me was Jed Bernstein from the Broadway League, and the mayor said that he wanted the theaters open the very next day. And he said it was important to the culture of New York City to show also to the world that New York was still open for business, and that our culture was not going to be killed. So, Jed and I then had to meet with everybody and make sure that the theaters were indeed open. And what was beautiful is even though the theaters were only halfway full, the audience and the actors all participated together by singing God Bless America at the end of the show. And we left the theater knowing that that was our mission, was to make sure that the world knew that New York City was open for business, and that we would work together and we were all on the same page.
DOUG: And being in New York City resident both then and now, it was such an important statement to make to the world. But COVID is somewhat different in that it’s slow moving, and the issue of contact with other people increases danger. Broadway is going to be closed for a much longer time. In your role leading the agency, what some of the advice you’re giving clients about how to create awareness of their destination during these tremendously challenging times?
CRISTYNE: Well, I mean, we are taking a page from the 9/11 handbook in that with clients that are in New York City or in cities, if you have an essential business, for example, restaurants or retail, many of our businesses stayed open during COVID, and they were able to explain why it was important to stay open. They created the outdoor dining in New York, which is still going on luckily because we’ve had a very mild fall and hopefully a mild winter. But it also explained to the city agencies how important it is for business to get back on track. And the difference is that with 9/11, when I said we were all on the same page, we also had the leadership from the top, and it was extremely clear about what we needed to do. As you know, as we saw earlier this month in the election, there’s different viewpoints on how to deal with COVID. Some people are saying stay inside, wear a mask, don’t wear a mask, businesses can be open, businesses shouldn’t be open. So, there’s all of this difference of opinion which is making not only the business owners confused, but also the general public. So, I think we need that leadership to really make sure that everybody is, again, on the same page.
DOUG: And that is a challenge with how divided the country is. I know you’ve had some examples that you’ve had to be creative, and I think creativity is really important in trying to promote and also provide experiences for people who want to travel to different locations. Can you maybe share some of the examples that you’ve been working with, what you’ve been doing?
CRISTYNE: Well, we are also marketing that this is a unique period of time, that if you take the precautions, wear a mask, wash your hands, make sure that you’re socially distant, you can enjoy tourism like no other time, because it’s not crowded. So, for example, we represent the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, Statue Cruises, and they’ve been suffering quite a bit because the visitation is down without international, and with many of the states that normally come in required to quarantine. So, we brought our entire staff to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island last week, because I truly believe it’s not what you expect, it’s what you inspect. And I wanted them to see firsthand and learn and also bring ideas to the table and how we could market the Statue of Liberty during this period of time. So, you could be a tourist in your own town, you can enjoy it without the crowds. We’re planning on doing a first responder Friday event so that we can also give back and say thank you. So, there’ll be some ideas coming out, but I do believe that you really do need to see for yourself firsthand what is going on on the ground level for you to be able to evaluate and then tell your clients, or how best to advise your clients on moving forward.
DOUG: Do you have any ideas of things maybe to avoid doing that might be tempting?
CRISTYNE: Well, I think as long as you know what the rules are and how to take care of yourself and others, I don’t really think that you can… you shouldn’t have to avoid much at all. There are restrictions already on restaurants, where it’s 50% of capacity. Even with air travel, you’re probably safer in the airplane than you would be in a crowded train. So, I don’t think people should be as timid as they are, but everybody has their own comfort level. And I think, unfortunately, Doug, this is where it’s going to take years probably before people or before we are back to where we were pre-COVID times for tourism.
DOUG: it makes sense. And there’s also different people of different risk factors and so much of tourism, a big growth area was the multigenerational problems where grandparents are going with different. And now you’ve got a completely different sort of risk profile, depending on who’s traveling. Any final sort of encouraging thoughts to help people keep the faith, not just for New York, but what might apply to other destinations? Obviously, both you and I share a huge bias of loving New York for good reason as well. But what are some of the things that people in smaller markets can do to get attention about really focusing on bringing people out locally, driving distance? What are some of the things that might be workable?
CRISTYNE: I think if they outline what they’re doing to make their customers safe, it would really help. And as you mentioned, these multigenerational tourists that we had with grandparents and grandchildren, there could still be ways for the older generation to enjoy tourism, the way the supermarkets would have early morning shopping, doctors’ offices, even with voting. I notice my father was able to vote early. So, I think any place should really understand that when you look at the traveling public, and we want people to come back, for those that are over 60 or so, try to carve out some time for them or maybe a special entrance, or maybe some shoppers that can go around with them just to help them, but make it friendly for people and inviting and comfortable and understand people are still afraid.
DOUG: And I’ve had some great experiences in New York’s museums as they’ve opened up and taken those kinds of intelligent precautions with timed entry, et cetera, and have moved tours to virtual and online. Well, it’s great to spend time with you and have you share your expertise. Congratulations on your continued success, and I know you’ll be one of the top cheerleaders for New York City and all the great things it has to offer.
CRISTYNE: Well, we’ll need your help. So, let’s get out there New York. And welcome back to anyone who wants to come to New York. It’s really, it is terrific. I’m going to be going to the close The Cloisters this weekend. I haven’t been in years, but knowing that it’s only going to be 25%, I decided to bring my family to The Cloisters, and I hope that the children will understand it and get a better experience than when it would be much more crowded. So, I think it’s time for everybody to get out there and, wear your mask, but get out there and enjoy.