Reunited and It Feels So Good: Back to In-Person Conferences, for Travel Marketing

Every industry has been affected by the dearth of in-person conferences since the pandemic. 

It’s been especially traumatizing for the travel and tourism industry, because in-person is what travel is all about! So, in June, we were delighted to actually “go” to the annual eTourism Summit, which connects some of the brightest and most talented destination marketing professionals to the vendors and agencies that support their work.  

A photo of Bettina Garibaldi, SVP, managing director, Ketchum Travel, Hospitality & Leisure, and Leah Chandler, chief marketing officer of Discover Puerto Rico, sitting on stage at the e-Tourism Summit, discussing using the power of third parties to lift your brand

Bettina Garibaldi, SVP, managing director, Ketchum Travel, Hospitality & Leisure, and Leah Chandler, chief marketing officer of Discover Puerto Rico, discuss using the power of third parties to lift your brand.

A safe and exciting space to share new ideas and to network, eTourism Summit has something for every attendee – whether they are experienced digital marketers offering their expertise, those seeking to acquire destination marketing knowledge, or the vendors eager to make it all happen. 

This year, the eTourism Summit co-located with IPW in Orlando, Florida, making the Orange County Convention Center a networking mecca and a collaborative environment with specific goals in mind – to continue recovering from the pandemic and, hopefully, growing tourism and hospitality to pre-pandemic levels.  

Offering in-person and virtual attendance, this hybrid conference challenged the tourism and hospitality community to look ahead and ‘See Tomorrow’ to reimagine the future of tourism.  

U.S. Travel Association’s IPW coordinators are the optimums of super hosts – gathering professionals from around the world and setting an incredible and dynamic stage for them to conduct business and renew relationships. And they delivered, as nearly 4,800 attendees from more than 60 countries attended the 53rd annual IPW this year.  

As the leading inbound travel trade show, past IPWs have generated more than $5.5 billion in future travel by connecting U.S. travel exhibitors with travel buyers and media to promote their products and negotiate future business – thus securing America’s position as a foremost global travel destination and showcasing the best of what the U.S. has to offer. 

This year was no exception and was particularly vital in igniting the spirits of many who have worked tirelessly to achieve full recovery.  

Path to Exponential Recovery for the Tourism & Hospitality Industry  

According to U.S. Travel Association, we’ve come a long way but there’s still more work to do for full recovery.   

Travel remains the hardest-hit industry, with an uneven recovery across all sectors. Before the pandemic, the U.S. travel industry experienced 10 straight years of growth due to the strength of domestic leisure travel, domestic business travel, and international inbound travel segments. Travel was a significant economic driver in every region of the country, representing one in 10 jobs and generating a travel trade surplus. 

While domestic leisure is thriving, the recovery remains uneven across other travel sectors. Domestic business travel and international inbound travel spending remain severely depressed, slowing the overall industry’s recovery.  

U.S. Travel’s international travel forecast projects 65 million international arrivals in 2023 (82% of pre-pandemic levels), and that we’ll return to 2019 levels – finally – by 2025. In an upside scenario, the U.S. could gain an additional 5.4 million visitors and $9 billion in spending by the end of 2022 now that pre-departure testing requirements have been removed. 

A Few Key Learnings from eTourism Summit 

With those realities as the backdrop, both conferences enabled all of us destination marketing and public relations experts to look ahead as we plan for 2023. Here are a few tips we gleaned from industry experts that, in some cases, may be relevant for marketing professionals in other industries: 

  • Define DE&I. ‘What if my destination – or business — isn’t diverse?’ Sophia Hyder Hock (who is chief diversity officer at Destinations International), addressed the question with another question – ‘How do you know that?’ The first place to start is by defining what diversity, equity and inclusion means for your destination – is it age, ability, culture, something else? Or probably a combination of factors. Scrutinize census and demographic data and reach out to community organizations to have conversations that help you define DE&I. For more, listen to her interview from the eTourism Summit on The Travel Vertical Podcast, here.
  • Social is a Must! If you’re not amplifying with social media or harnessing short-form video, you could be falling behind. With billions using TikTok and other popular sites, with an estimated 55% being travel lovers, your audience is likely more active on these platforms than you think. Use these platforms, and video, to capture the personality of a destination. Pro tip: Before engaging influencers, look at your own backyard and enlist the help of niche professionals and experts that know your destination best.
  • Thrive Through Third Parties. Using the power of third parties to lift your brand via earned media activation, influencer programming and unique brand partnerships is absolutely imperative. Studies show that Gen Z-ers seek the authenticity of experiences and opinions from actual travelers above those of travel experts when considering their destination options (source: Ketchum’s Bettina Garibaldi, alongside Leah Chandler of Discover Puerto Rico, showcased three award-winning case studies as proof that including influential third parties in a PR effort can have a tremendous impact on the bottom line while driving strong messaging, trust and affinity.  

If you couldn’t make eTourism Summit or IPW, the Ketchum Travel, Hospitality & Leisure team can share more insights. Visit us here or email [email protected] to receive the ‘In the Know with Ketchum Travel, Hospitality & Leisure’ newsletter for further inspiration, news, insights and more.

Nathalie Vanhooser is a managing account supervisor within Ketchum’s Travel, Hospitality & Leisure sector. While she loves exploring and living in Louisville, KY, her office and team are based in New York City. Bilingual in English and Spanish, Nathalie is a proud Latina with deep roots in Costa Rica. Her passion for working in the tourism and hospitality industry stems from the power of storytelling and inspiring people to see the world and experience different cultures. As a seasoned public relations professional, Nathalie has exclusively worked with a wide range of travel clients from tourism boards to OTAs, destination marketing organizations, independent hotels, luxury hospitality brands, and everything in between.