What’s it like to be a luxury travel PR in a global pandemic?

There is probably no worse time to be a travel PR than now – so how do you survive (if not thrive?). Globetrender speaks with Charlie Mason-Pearson, CEO of luxury travel PR and marketing company The Lifestyle Agency, about the future of press trips, why private jet getaways are about to boom, and why 2021 will be the year of the ‘bucket-list’ adventure.

How has the Covid-19 pandemic affected you as a travel PR?

We started to see the effect of Covid-19 in March with clients who were either based in the Far East or have clientele there, closely followed by Italian brands, so this pushed us to start thinking more creatively and adapt early on.

The announcement of lockdown immediately affected our hospitality and travel clients here in the UK, although we started to hear whisperings through the grapevine in the weeks prior, which meant we had already started thinking about contingency plans and how we could support our clients in any situation.

We then shifted our focus towards CSR, health, wellbeing, beauty and building more of a lifestyle around all clients rather than a typical focus on their products, venues or services.

How are you trying to build resilience into your company?

Adapt, adapt, adapt. But also, optimism, trust and communication. When faced with this situation I am really pleased that as an agency we chose to remain positive and agile, meaning that we have not had to furlough any members of the team and have actually been welcoming new clients and interviewing potential candidates to join the The Lifestyle Agency fold.

How do you feel about the future of travel PR in the ‘age of coronavirus’?

The need/hunger to travel will not change. The way we travel over the coming six to eight months will be restricted. Staycations, for obvious reason will be a prime focus for 2020. Post-2020, I believe we will get back to the way we were (pre-Covid19), as the numbers of people wanting to travel will steadily increase as other countries relax borders.

Essentially, we are creatures of habit and where a few travel restrictions will remain (remember post-9/11 restrictions and how we just got used to them), over time we adapt. Travel will become less frivolous and more experimental. Travel PR as with all PR sectors will become more creative in its approach, it is no longer just about the destination and the venue but about feelings, experiences and lifestyle.

What have you learnt from being grounded?

Appreciating what we once took for granted and what we will have again one day. That as a society we are more agile and will always find a way forward to make the best of a difficult situation.

What is the future of press trips?

A sad but undeniable truth across the media landscape post-lockdown is which press titles will actually weather the storm and be around in six months time. Those who are adapting and thinking more digitally whether that is online editions, online sites or social content, will be the ones who emerge successful.

I still feel the best way to get a true sense of a travel client is to touch, smell and feel it [for the layman, this means sending journalists to review hotels and experience destinations first-hand], although it will take some time to get back to where we were. The thought of virtual press trips or pop-up experiences may be an idea but time will tell.

Who do you think will be the first people to start travelling and why?

Personally, I think it will be the millennial, some of Gen Z and a portion of Gen X who are not tied down to families and children. Those with families will be more cautious until a vaccine is on the horizon.

What kinds of holidays do you think will be most popular among luxury travellers in the age of coronavirus?

Totally bespoke and more experiential. For those with budgets, companies such as Pelorus the Extraordinary Adventure Club will be in high demand. People won’t be having four to five city breaks a year. We’ve seen a shift in travel content on Instagram, with the focus being on bucket-list adventures rather than beach holidays. If people are going to travel, it needs to be worth the effort and risk of going through airports.

What will be the impact on private jet travel?

Take off. Excuse the pun, but essentially, we can already see the impact the pandemic has had on the private aviation industry and see this only growing in the future and potentially being a lot more available as an option to customers and not just for the UHNW (ultra-high net-worth) individual. One of our clients, Vimana Private Jets, has already seen this rise in consumer demand and growth year-on-year and is preparing for an influx after lockdown.

How will dining be different? How are your clients preparing for this?

We have seen brands send out at-home cooking kits, care packages, LIVE Instagram tutorials and virtual events to not only keep customers engaged while they are at home but also drive new brand awareness.

Once lockdown lifts, I anticipate a shift in consumer patterns and restaurants that we once thought to be the most sought-after might not be on top anymore. Brands that are working for the good of the community and supporting frontline workers, for example with free meals or drop offs, are the ones we as consumers will remember.

What travel trends do you expect to see emerging over the next six to 12 months?

Staycations and short-haul (to Europe, in the case of the UK), initially, with more and more travel companies and airlines making adjustments to accommodate inbound tourism, with low deposits, free date adjustments and zero cancellation costs as an incentive. In 2021, I see the focus shifting towards one-in-a-lifetime experiences. We strongly believe the world will get back to normal over time.

How can the travel industry help restore people’s confidence to travel?

Hygiene will be the top of everyone’s list – airlines and airports will need strong, clear and authoritative messaging when it comes to precautions taken for passenger safety. Whether that is social distancing on flights, pre-flight health checks which Emirates is already doing, or increased sanitisation procedures, making these known to passengers will be paramount.

Contact: The Lifestyle Agency, 4 Leathermarket Street, London SE1 3HN; +44 (0)20 7939 1484; thelifestyle-agency.com

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