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PRSA Travel + Tourism Conference 2014: Key Learnings

Last week, the Public Relations Society of America held its annual convention geared toward the travel and tourism industry. I’ve been attending (and sometimes speaking) at these conferences for at least a decade – and in recent years they’ve become incredibly strong professional development opportunities. This year’s event held in Tampa, Fla. was quite possibly the best one they’ve ever done, in part due to the addition of a ‘Master Track’ for senior practitioners.

A few of my key takeaways:

How we approach content is all wrong.

Or, perhaps not all wrong, but I was blown away with how Travel Oregon is looking at this topic holistically, and crafting a strategy that weaves together owned, earned, and paid content opportunities. It’s complex, yet so simple at the same time.

What we do is important; doing it really well is just as important.

One of the keynote speakers was the legendary Don George, and he was both gracious and inspiring in his call-to-excellence in our writing. He talked about collaboration, and our collective passion for travel, and I had at least three people ask me if it would be appropriate to hug him afterwards.

Paid and earned is still a totally confusing mess for most of us.

Monday’s opening keynote speaker, Lee Abbamonte, introduced a new pay-to-play partnership with fellow blogger/influencers Johhny Jet and Gary Arndt. Unheard of at PR-specific conference a few years ago, it was greeted with mixed emotions from the crowd…my take is that it is absolutely relative as we navigate this space, and we (PR-types) need to be more aggressively pursuing a piece of the marketing budget to really wrangle this topic.

Geotourism describes everything I love in travel.

I wasn’t sure about this panel when I sat down – it had the potential to be a dry topic, and it was such a pleasant surprise. The “Geotourism: Why it Pays to Promote ‘Sense of Place'” speakers were just diverse enough to offer great ideation without being in totally different orbits. And we’re going to be pitching Preservation Magazine a LOT more.

Some issues never change.

Award listings, press trip logistics, managing photo/image libraries…all topics that are just as relevant today as they were five (or even ten) years ago.

Face time still matters.

I always walk away from this week energized with new ideas, and much of that ties back to the relationships that pop up at the conference. These industry meetings collect some really smart individuals, and putting them in a room (even without a speaker) is always a highlight. It may be an easy budget cut to simply opt-out of events like this, but that’s so shortsighted. The time spent away from the office is completely worth it. (So are the inevitable cocktails-and-early-mornings.)

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