So, you’re a travel agent? No. Ok, so you make those commercials for the hotels with water slides? Still no. Despite a long and storied past and ubiquitous presence in modern day marketing and communications, much of public relations as a whole – in addition to its many subsets – are often misunderstood by those outside of the industry. Crisis PR seems easy enough to understand; the public relations team swoops in to help a person or place after something bad happens or disaster strikes. On popular shows like ABC’s “Scandal,” Olivia Pope is known as the “fixer” who can help even the worst of criminals go from villain to hero with smart and savvy PR tactics.

But in the world of travel PR, our job isn’t to cover up a scandal or help a CEO clean up his image, our job is to inspire and encourage everyday consumers to become adventure seekers, explorers, foodies and pioneers. Whether it’s about a specialty coffee shop in Santa Fe, New Mexico or the tale of an island rediscovering its sense of place, our job is to deliver a story so special, that the readers feel the pull to learn more, read more and ultimately, experience it for themselves. While it used to be clear how to best reach these aspiring travelers – most commonly through magazines, newspapers and broadcast TV – the rise of the digital age has forced PR professionals into a delicate balancing act of “traditional” and “new” media. That’s not to say the cover of Travel + Leisure or Condé Nast Traveler is no longer the gold trophy (Nathan and Pilar, if you’re reading this – call us! We have some story ideas for you.), but the transition in how people consume news makes it more important than ever for PR professionals to have a strategic, focused campaign that spans multiple platforms.

So seriously though, what is Travel Public Relations?

A destination marketing organization (DMO) or convention and visitors bureau (CVB) is an organization that promotes a city, state, region, or country through multiple channels, including advertising, marketing, meetings and group business and yes, public relations. That’s where we come in.

With a rapidly changing landscape, it has become increasingly difficult to define public relations. Essentially as travel and tourism marketers, our role is to liaise between our clients (DMOs and CVBs) and journalists to share stories and develop content that paints each destination in a positive light via editorial outlets and social media platforms (blogs, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, etc.). We perform the same work methodology with hotels and restaurants, whether that’s on an individual property basis or a larger scale with entire brands. The strategy and focus varies based on the client, however— the overall goal for each is always the same: increase awareness through quality channels in an effort to drive sales and ultimately end up with more ‘heads in beds’.

How has Social Media Changed the role of the industry?

As the public relations industry evolves and social media becomes more prevalent, there’s a shift in the type of stories we tell and how consumers digest them. Nearly two-thirds of American adults – approximately 62%– digest their news from a social media site, according to a 2016 survey from Pew Research Center. The same survey also found that as of early 2016, just two-in-ten U.S. adults often get news from print newspapers, representing a decrease of 27% from 2013.

For an industry like travel, the shift toward social media is an absolute game-changer. A recent survey from Leadsift showed that 52% of participants used social media to plan a summer vacation – from the early stages of daydreaming, throughout the research, planning and booking process, all the way up until the actual vacation when they shared images in real-time and then provided recommendations to others after the trip. Ultimately we’re selling an experience – whether it’s brunch in San Antonio or a month-long trip to the Bahamas – and for someone to invest the time and money, they need to feel that they are going to get what they see. Before the days of social media, a consumer could read an article, feel confident in what they read and decide if they wanted to book a trip based on that information alone. But now, in a world that’s dominated by TripAdvisor reviews, destination hashtags, and “discovery” options on apps – it’s hard to resist not using social media to verify the authenticity of each trip or experience they are interested in.

Whether it’s shared by a blogger or an influencer or simply the latest post in a string of location-based posts – one of the most profound benefits of social media for the everyday user is seamless access to user-generated content. Earned-content platform Olapic recently conducted a survey that was designed to find out how consumers of different ages—especially millennials and baby boomers—view user-generated content. Perhaps unsurprisingly, a large majority (76%) of consumers believe the content that average people share is more honest than traditional advertising. Marketing startup Crowdtap and the global research company Ipsos also found that user-generated content is 20% more influential when it comes to purchasing and 35% more memorable than other types of media, especially when it comes to millennials.

Another benefit of social media is the opportunity for two-way communication. The ability to interact allows consumers to build a different type of relationship with a brand. Instead of obtaining news from a magazine or the Sunday paper, the average consumer can leave comments on a blog post or ask questions and get responses in real-time. For someone planning a last-minute ski trip, the ability and convenience of commenting on a picture to inquire about the weather saves the user time and establishes a personal connection. Consumers can use social media for one-stop shopping and treat these accounts as a digital concierge.

So where does the industry go from here?

The media business is changing, and so is the public relations industry as a whole. Forbes predicts the social media trends for 2017 will continue to trend toward personal engagement, with brands expanding their apps to include social messaging and “chat bots.” But regardless of the platform, our focus will always be on our roles as great storytellers and authentic travel connoisseurs.