The State of Travel Reporting in the World of COVID-19

Given the travel bans in place across air travel and cruising, corporate travel restrictions, event cancellations, the absolute necessity to socially distance, and overall aversion to travel, the global tourism and hospitality sector is reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic. International restrictions aside, the share of U.S. adults who said they’re less likely to travel domestically in the next six months has more than doubled since early January—from 17% to 42%, according to Morning Consult—and that number will continue to rise as we go deeper into the crisis and further restrictions are put into place. The World Travel & Tourism Council is also reporting that up to 50 million jobs are at risk across the sector globally. Even while firefighting through the immediate impact, tourism and hospitality leaders need to begin thinking about the critical shift from crisis management to recovery planning.

As communications consultants, we’ve been supporting many of our client partners through the COVID-19 crisis. In partnership with City Nation Place, a forum for cities, nations and places to collaborate and share best practices on place branding and place marketing, we’re gathering global tourism leaders from Singapore Tourism Board, Carnival Cruise Line, Discover Puerto Rico and Connect Meetings for a virtual panel tomorrow, March 18th at 9am EST to discuss how we can look forward as an industry and what the post-COVID-19 future of travel looks like. I’ll be reporting back on that discussion later this week and sharing some guidance from global tourism leaders and our experts on how to transition from crisis to recovery planning.

Right now, many communications and marketing leaders are wondering whether to stay top-of-mind among consumers at a time when not only the ability to travel is restricted, but the ethics of traveling are questionable. Is it tone-deaf given shelter-in-place mandates? Irresponsible given strongly encouraged social distancing? Or is it necessary for media outlets primary focused on travel, as well as journalists covering the travel beat within other publications, to sustain a sense of wanderlust and hope amidst a dark time that will, in the foreseeable future, give way to light? Can we remind consumers of the strength and resilience of the amazing brands we represent, but still not push them to travel right now? These are just a few of the many questions we have been asking ourselves as we experience a plummet in tourism numbers, furloughs across the industry and efforts to minimize business impact.

For answers, we surveyed over 100 top journalists last week (those who write for travel-specific publications and those that don’t) and conducted another pulse check again this week, to learn about the appetite for reporting on all things tourism. This is what we learned:

Tourism promotion and topics being covered:

  • 84% of journalists surveyed continue to cover tourism topics, including 89% who write for travel-specific media and 60% who write for other media
  • What they’re writing about:
  • Future-focused travel content either for the summer, onward, or as far as 2021
  • Current travel, mostly focused on domestic travel and often on “outdoorsy” locations that keep people socially distanced
  • What companies are doing to address COVID-19
  • Travel deals, but for time periods later in the year and into 2021, or for remote areas where social distancing can be a part of the travel
  • Journalists are split on whether it is okay for tourism brands to continue to promote their services.
  • Many think it is inappropriate and have been taken aback by some of the pitches they have received, while others think traveling is an individual decision, in which case promotion is fine.
  • Overall, the majority feel the nature of the promotion is key, including whether it’s informative, sensitive to the current situation, future-focused, etc.

Event participation and comfort with traveling:

  • Only 25% of journalists are still open to attending media events (compared to 71% last week).
  • Only 27% are accepting in-person/deskside meetings (compared to 55% last week).
  • Only 29% expect to continue traveling for their work (versus 73% last week).
  • 18% will be limiting the destinations of their trips per CDC recommendations.
  • 70% have had a FAM trip or other work-related trip canceled recently (compared to 53% last week).
  • Generally, the canceled trips were scheduled for March (56%), to as late as May.
  • 73% of journalists claim they hesitate to travel.
  • Among those who do have some hesitation, they are most concerned with cruise and air travel, and less so train and car.

For more details, download our infographic: State of Travel Journalism in the World of COVID-19, A Pulse Survey by Ketchum.

Our world is moving through uncharted waters as we navigate COVID-19’s rippling effects across all industries. But we are moving forward together, and soon enough, we’ll see the light at the end of the tunnel—and with it, a new reality for the global tourism and hospitality sector, and a newfound desire and appreciation for experiencing the incredible people, places and cultures our world has to offer.