Lou Hammond, Founder and Chairman, Lou Hammond Group, encourages the public to keep the travel dream alive. She discusses the effects of COVID-19 on the travel industry from a PR point of view and the rising shift to regional communications.
Lou also shares new strategies in destination PR and mistakes to avoid going into 2021.
>> More episodes here
About the Host:
Host: DOUG SIMON
Guest: LOU HAMMOND
DOUG: Lou, you represent more than 20 destinations, and travel has obviously been an industry that’s been hit among the hardest of all. How have you tried to navigate that path with many of them, and has it been similar or have there been tremendous differences depending on their local situation?
LOU: I think it’s changed dramatically, and we’ve had to move with what was required. But the overthought that I have is surely travel is taking a big hit, but it’s also brought on tremendous creativity for that vacation. Americans feel they have a right to a vacation, and they’re going to take it one way or the other. And they are.
DOUG: So, what are some of the trends that you’re seeing, especially with the destinations you work with?
LOU: Well, I think we have to look at America and what’s happening in our country. There are tremendous shifts in population, which I think, you know. We’re seeing tremendous shifts to the south; South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee. As you move across the country, Houston alone has over a thousand people becoming residents every day. And we look again across the country to Florida, great, great growth. So that’s changed some of our thinking in as much as we become more active in regional publications. That is not to say we’ve overlooked or downplaying national media, of course not. But we’re taking a new interest, new look at a lot of regional publications, because as these people move into these areas, we feel that’s what they’ll be reading, or looking at, or online, or whatever. And there are terrific publications, glamorous monthlies, if it’s business, et cetera. So, there’s lots of opportunity with that. Always keep in mind that the national media does move local media as well.
DOUG: That’s a really interesting perspective. One thing we’re also seeing that on the video side. Travel destinations we’re working with want regional coverage, but it was sort of new that some of that is actually to the people who’ve relocated.
LOU: That is correct. I sort of sense that people that relocate tend to read, or go online, or be more involved with local than they are national because they’re finding their way in a new environment.
DOUG: And that could also explain why there’s been such an increase in local TV news viewership. I saw a stat that 18-34-year-olds, from Nielsen, had 134% increase in watching local news compared to one year ago. Obviously, lots of events, but also relocating, trying to learn about their current environment.
LOU: That’s right. The trends of population shifts have to really be looked at.
DOUG: So is a lot of the PR focusing on regional, sort of attracting people who can drive to these locations? Is that a big part of the strategy?
LOU: That’s the great American road trip, which has been one of the benefits, particularly for smaller towns. The American road trip has always been around. In more recent times, five to six hours away, but today, a road trip has no compass. They pile in the car, they go, they’ll go a day, two days, 24 hours, whatever. But they want to get away, and the great American road trip offers them that. And I also say that it also offers small towns the opportunity to shine because they’re driving through and stopping, they don’t have a compass, as I said.
DOUG: So if you’re a small town and you’re looking to get the word about what you’re doing, what are some of the strategies and tactics that you’re seeing that are effective?
LOU: That takes a little bit to what I call virtual public relations. It’s changed. That’s what we’re talking about, it’s changed. Virtual public relations means that we are doing videos and good photography, and the video allows people to dream. We’re talking a lot about America travel here, but there’s still the hope and the dream of something exotic. So, you’ve got to keep both of them going at all times. And the idea of a video allows you to do that. You can do it domestically, and you can do it internationally, or the Caribbean, or whatever. So, you can talk about the great beaches of the Caribbean. You can talk about the exotic food in Thailand. You can keep people alive to the hope and the dream of doing something exotic. And people like these virtual. You can go and learn to cook with a chef, you can have a tour of your museum, you can take a lesson, you can do any number of things. And we are advising our destinations to keep that alive moving exciting. Because people are going to remember what they did in a virtual situation and hopefully do it when we can all be back, as what I call, normal, if that ever exists as we know it.
DOUG: I should mention, speaking of virtual, that your virtual background is Charleston, South Carolina, where you’re located right now.
LOU: Yes, we have an office here in Charleston. Its 70 today, we’re really suffering, but it’s OK.
DOUG: That sounds good. It’s not 70 here in New York, that’s for sure. But what are some mistakes to avoid, especially when things do open a little bit if you’re a destination, what are some things to be wary of?
LOU: Well, I think, the biggest thing that we were looking at is safety and hygiene. You cannot let that standard down one bit. That’s going to be the number one decision maker by travelers, and they’re going to want to know that everything is pristine, standards are being held, and that the safety is extremely important to them. And that’s all ages across all cultures.
DOUG: Great, and in these unprecedented times, at least in our lifetimes, I know it might be a little cloudy, but if you could look in your crystal ball for 2021, what do you see as things that travel communicators should be keeping top of mind? Obviously, you mentioned health and safety.
LOU: Health and safety, I think flexible bookings are going to continue to be important. Everybody’s gotten accustomed to that. I can change my airline ticket, I can do it at the last minute. I’m not going to be charged a fee. I think that’s going to be very important going forward to get people back on the road when we can do it. And I think, as I said, that exotic that dream is very much alive. Let’s keep them dreaming. And we’re going to do that by offering them good content, along with the ability to jump in the car and go somewhere nationally today.
DOUG: That sounds like a great plan and thanks for your great information and insights, really appreciate you taking time to be with us.
LOU: I so enjoy doing this. Let’s get out there and travel America. That’s where it’s at.