Jessalyn’s Experience at the PRSA Travel and Tourism Conference

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By Jessalyn Kieta

Portland, Virginia Beach, Norfolk, Franklin, New Orleans, Rochester, Scottsdale—these are the destinations that were buzzing in the air with pitches, events, influencers, and industry-changing ideas. This spring, I had the opportunity to take a trip to Palm Springs to attend the annual “Mod about PR” Travel and Tourism Conference hosted by PRSA. I was able to attend this Conference thanks to a generous scholarship from Robert A. Kornecki, called the Reach for Excellence Scholarship (all PRSSA students should apply for it!). From the Conference, I learned more about the PR industry within tourism and hospitality, marketing destinations or locations, and networking with professionals in these industries.

When I first arrived at the Riviera Hotel in Palm Springs, it was clear why they chose to host the Conference at this location: its beautiful interior and luxurious decor embodied hospitality and fine traveling. From its spacious, pristine lobby with a full service bar to the sectionalized lounges and games in the entertainment center, then to the large aqua blue pool with cabanas and chaises, this trip was sure to be entertaining and a great exposure to the meaning of luxury travel. The conference was scheduled to have morning general sessions and fun PR games, followed by breakout sessions of your choice. On the first morning, there were contestants that had volunteered to be in “The Pitch”—a pitching contest spin off from the show “the Voice” where contestants had to pitch their destination to a panel of journalists (judges). This was not only exciting to watch, but a huge learning experience about effective pitch writing. As you watched the judges turn their seats around pitch after pitch, I was able to pick up on some of the skills and writing tactics that were attractive to these journalists— skipping the introduction and jumping right to the details, unique grabber at the beginning of your pitch, and taking a new angle to your location. This was only the first morning and I felt like I had already taken away so much!

Next, we attended several breakout sessions that were focused around social media influencers, content creation, and social media marketing. The first session I attended was “Weaving Influencers into Your PR Playbook”, featuring Norie Quintos from NatGeo Traveler, Jessica Hirsch from Cheat Day Eats, and Grace Atwood from The Stripe. Norie gave a fresh take on how to work with influencers effectively, and on the flipside of the coin, Jessica and Grace shared their life as influencers and what they expect when they are working with a travel brand. It was so intriguing to see the ways in which Jessica Hirsch ran her social media @cheatdayeats and really created excitement about these delicious food places (check out her social media!).

Next, I attended a session called “Working with Freelancers and Making the Most of Travel’s Ultimate Multitaskers.” Some of the speakers on the panel were Julietta Bennet from LAist, Thrillist, and Nerdist; Laura Kiniry from American Way Magazine; and Kevin West from Conde Nast, Bon Appetit, and Travel + Leisure. As you can see from the titles of these publications, these are the kind of writers that Travel companies dream of pitching to and being featured with. It was an incredible opportunity to hear from  these writers and their expertise on travel and tourism writing. They all shared about the To Do’s and What Not To Do’s of pitching to freelancers: what kind of stories they were looking for, how to follow their beat, how to pitch to their interests, research your freelancers ahead of time, etc. Hoping to be a pitching queen someday myself, I was crazily taking notes in order to capture every detail I may need to write the perfect pitch to a freelancer someday.

Our day finally capped off with a networking cocktail evening at the Dinah Shore Estates, which is an estate home currently owned by Leonardo DiCaprio! This location again played to the interests of the attendees at the event—tourist locations and unique attractions within the city that can bring in visitors. Many of us walked around taking pictures and touring the estate: the color-coordinated bedrooms with matching bathrooms, the 1960s-inspire furniture style popping as vintage pieces against the modern background of the living room fireplace, the large pool accompanied by a separate pool house, and a tennis court for entertainment. There was an open bar with cocktails and wine, blueberry finger sandwiches, vegetables, and other small snacks and treats. I spent a large part of the evening walking around from table to table to meet new professionals and hear about their work in the Travel PR world, gaining insight on their day-to-day lives in their field. Some of them worked in agencies specializing in travel and tourism, and others worked for visit companies for the entire city or state (like Visit California or Destination Scottsdale).

At the end of the day, I had spoken to many different people and gathered a bit of business cards. After the conference was over, I sent personal thank-you emails to these professionals for taking the time to speak with me. I learned that many of these professionals were impressed by my passion for PR and my presence at the conference; with the event being hosted by PRSA, most of the attendees were PRSA members and other practicing PR professionals. Basically, I was the only student there. It was scary at first, but it made me stand out and gave me an incredible advantage of networking with current PR specialists in the industry and teaching me about new career paths (and internship opportunities)! Thanks to my amazing scholarship through PRSSA, I was able to go on a career-changing trip that exposed me to the real world of Travel and Tourism PR, and it has made me into a stronger student and an even stronger young professional! I hope this serves to encourage all PRSSA students to apply for the PRSSA scholarships, utilize your networking abilities, and attend events related to your interests—it will help you become the professional that you long to be someday!

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