Freelancers, Pitching and Volun-tourism: Insights From PRSA’s 2015 Travel and Tourism Conference

Posted by: Cody Sanger in: Tourism & Hospitality - Media Relations -

sonal at PRSA 2015 Travel & Tourism Conference

After traveling to PRSA’s 2015 Travel and Tourism Conference in Lexington, Kentucky, our Sonal Haladay has taken a moment to reflect on the insights she gathered while at one of the communication industry’s top travel & tourism events of the year. I was interested to sit down with her and learn more about the top communications trends related to travel, hospitality and tourism.


CS: Was this your first time attending PRSA’s Travel and Tourism Conference?

SH: Yes, it was my first PRSA Travel and Tourism Conference as well as my first time visiting Lexington!

CS: What were you most looking forward to going into the event?

SH: This conference provided a really great opportunity to see what travel bureaus, other PR firms and communicators are doing, or have recently done, in the world of campaign execution, community engagement, crisis management and media relations.

CS: Did you notice any reoccurring themes or buzzwords while at the conference?

SH: Oh, absolutely. “Volun-tourism” was one topic that was brought up on multiple occasions. Travel bureaus across the country are seeing increasing numbers of millennials and younger travelers seeking volun-tourism experiences as well as the resources to help them discover these types of opportunities. And while volun-tourism isn’t a new thing, social media now allows travelers to share their volunteer experiences with a much broader audience, which, in turn, increases awareness and interest among potential travelers.

CS: What kind of volun-tourism examples did they talk about during those discussions?

SH: There was an incredible keynote presentation from Kip Patrick and Liz Zipse – the husband-and-wife team who started the 1 for 7 blog and who are also the winners of National Geographic’s 2015 Travelers of the Year Award.

Patrick and Zipse spent 16 months traveling 30,000 miles in 24 countries, volunteering at least one day a week throughout the duration of the trip. On their 1 for 7 blog, they shared all their volunteer and travel experiences, from picking up trash to teaching children. It wasn’t long before their collection of musings about travel and volunteerism caught the attention of travel enthusiasts across the world, and 1 for 7 was eventually transformed into a social platform that now allows travelers and nontravelers alike to share their volunteer experiences. Patrick and Zipse showed not only how easy it can be to make an impact within a community, but also how volunteering is something we should and can do every week.

It’s fascinating because Patrick and Zipse were able leverage social media to create a digital community of like-minded individuals based on a concept that was started several decades ago. This directly shows that consumers crave social media content that allow them to vicariously witness a vast range of volunteer experiences from around the world, right from their computer or mobile device. Which makes sense because this is the same reason why Instagram has attracted a monumental amount of users in the last couple years, and also why multimedia content – such as photos and videos – statistically garner far greater levels of user engagement across all social media platforms compared to more static forms of digital content.

CS: Were there any other notable presentations at the conference?

SH: One great presentation, called “Working With Freelancers to Achieve a Common Goal,” featured a panel discussion with three notable freelancers: Jill Robinson, Jimmy Im and Kristin Luna. This session focused on how PR professionals can effectively work with freelancers to help them land travel assignments and garner top-tier media placements for clients. The presenters suggested that the best way to connect with freelancers is to personalize angles and position local sights and experiences to align with trends that are also growing on a national level.

The presenters also reiterated that emailed press releases are a thing of the past. They said that they only keep their eyes peeled for short, sweet emails that get right to the point. If they can’t read a message and quickly identify how the opportunity is intriguingly unique or how it relates to a growing national trend, then it gets deleted almost immediately. As travel writers can receive hundreds of emails a day, it’s crucial to keep your messages clear, concise and leave the contact wanting to learn more.

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