Agents use local media to get their message out coronavirus

As Covid-19 continues to spread,
travel advisors are getting in front of local news cameras to
discuss the virus and its impact on the travel industry. It’s also a way to
talk about the benefits consumers get when they book with an advisor.

“This is our time to shine, and this is our time to be
visible,” said Vanessa McGovern, co-founder and CEO of Mooresville, N.C.-based
Gifted Travel Network.

“For years,” she said, “we’ve been crying that we’re not
visible, and here is our opportunity to show in force, in really meaningful
ways, how we’re literally saving people’s vacations and bringing home students
on study abroad programs.”

In some cases, she said, the beneficiary wasn’t even a
client, adding, “It’s amazing what travel advisors are doing under these
circumstances.”

McGovern appeared on WCNC-TV in Charlotte on March 10, where
she asserted that the entire industry has been affected and remains in “very
uncharted, unprecedented territory.” 

She encouraged travelers to insure their trips. At the time
of the broadcast, she was still planning to take a group to Paris and hoped
that would inspire confidence in consumers. Unfortunately, European travel
restrictions were announced the next day.

McGovern’s interview was of her own making. Travel industry
representation had been missing from recent coverage, she said, so she wrote to
the station offering herself as a source. The next day, a reporter was in
touch.

Dave Hershberger, president of Prestige Travel Leaders in
Cincinnati, got a call from local TV station WKRC, and Prestige has since
participated in four interviews with the news station. He asked why all the
sudden interest  — Prestige hadn’t been on camera in some five
years — and the reporter said other agencies were not
willing to talk.

“Now they know there’s a place they can go to even talk
about difficult stories,” Hershberger said.

Lynn Clark, a partner at Travel Leaders in Delafield, Wis.,
already has a regular presence on “The Morning Blend,” a program on the local
NBC affiliate. She pays to do a regular segment on travel. As her most recent
segment was approaching, though, she felt she needed to deviate a bit. Up
front, she talked about the virus and said advisors were there to help guide
travelers through the confusion.

“The overall importance of being out there and talking about
it ties into, really, the reason people come to us in the first place,” Clark
said. “They come to us for information and guidance, and ultimately, they want
to have confidence in travel plans and their travel decisions. They don’t feel
confident doing it on their own.”

Michelle Fee, CEO of Cruise Planners, said she feels an
obligation to be a voice for the industry. She appeared on Fox Business to talk
about the pandemic.

Cruise Planners is providing talking points, media training
and advice to its advisors, Fee said, so they can “be a voice in their
communities.”

Even so, one frequent local media contributor is not doing
interviews at the moment. Jennifer Doncsecz, president of VIP Vacations in
Bethlehem, Pa., has turned down several prerecorded interviews for two reasons.
The most important, she said, was a concern about how they would be edited, and
the other was that information might be out of date by air time because the
situation has been changing so rapidly. 

Instead, she recorded an informational video for clients and
posted it to the agency’s Facebook page. It had nearly 5,000 views as of last
week.

But for those who do want to contact local media outlets,
McGovern offered encouragement.

“All you have to do is send an email, raise your hand, speak
from your heart, and they are going to listen,” she said.

Erika Richter, ASTA’s director of communications, said the
Society has received a “near-constant barrage” of media requests as Covid-19’s
spread has unfolded. 

She often floats requests with a closed Facebook group, ASTA
Press Inbox, which has close to 600 advisor members. She also sends leads to
consortia communications teams, who are well positioned to direct news outlets
to the right advisors.

On a recent ASTA webinar, Dina Ruden, senior vice president
of communications and public relations for Travel Leaders Group, offered some
tips to advisors who might be interested in working with the news media.

First, she said, read up on the latest information from the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization, the
State Department and the Department of Homeland Security.

It’s important to acknowledge, Ruden said, that there are
concerns related to travel and that the decision to travel can only be made by
individual travelers. 

Talk about the importance of travel insurance, she advised,
and emphasize that advisors are seeking assistance from the government to keep
working and serving customers.

Ruden also encouraged agents to talk about the value of
advisors and to emphasize why they are the consumer’s best advocate, something
with which McGovern agreed.

“This is the time to tell that story,” McGovern said. “This
is our window to show the consumer why it’s so important to use an advisor, and
we have this opportunity, and we absolutely all need to embrace it.”

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