Getting a travel journalist to visit your destination is only half the work, the way you and your clients host that visiting journalist can make or break your editorial outcome.
You might want to grab a coffee, as this is not one of my shorter blogs. After all, the perfect famil doesn’t come along every day.
I have just come off the back of a sixteen day ski famil in the USA and Canada. It was a last minute decision and one territory in particular really rose to the occasion. Sun Valley Resort, Idaho. What made the famil so great? To start I had one main point of contact on the ground in Australia, Caroline Davidson at Davidson Communications.
All of my requests went through her and she managed her client, Idaho Tourism, giving them a full brief on my editorial history, my outlets and the commissions I had secured thus far. Idaho Tourism and Sun Valley Resort did their own extra research on me to ensure I was legitimate and the famil itinerary began to take shape.
Meanwhile I, too, had done my research on Sun Valley and had sent a ‘wish list’ to my contact of adventures and experiences at the ski resort of Sun Valley and within the town of Ketchum that would suit my editorial angles. I had no expectation that everything would come through as my famil was last minute, however it did.
I received my itinerary before I left with enough time to request any changes should I need to. I didn’t. The itinerary had enough free time and flexibility for me to source other stories while on the ground and it included all the contact details of everyone I would meet. It also outlined what would be covered and what expenses I would need to budget for.
Before I left for the USA I received an email from Mitch Knothe from Idaho Tourism wishing me a pleasant stay and offering his services should I require any help on the ground when I got there.
I also received a welcome email from Jack Sibbach from Sun Valley Resort who own the ski lifts, on mountain restaurants and Sun Valley Lodge, one from Scott Desserault at Sun Valley Heli Ski at Epic Quest saying how he was looking forward to meeting me and another from Kerry Samudio from Thunder Springs Zenergy Health Spa who had also done her research on me as a spa writer.
None of them put the pressure on, they simply said if there was anything extra they could do to just ask. Already I felt welcomed and I had yet to step on the plane.
When my flight from Los Angeles to Sun Valley was rerouted to Boise due to excess snow (they had even laid on a fresh snowstorm to ensure I would be skiing powder on my first day) I was surprised at the Boise airport by Mitch from Idaho Tourism. He lived in Boise and had heard the plane had been rerouted. Mitch was there with his two children as it was after hours but he wanted to ensure my rerouting went smoothly and I got on the right bus.
Alan Pennay Apartments at River Run where I was staying for my first four nights sent their GM to pick me up from Sun Valley airport when the bus arrived and then went out of their way to ensure I was picked up and dropped off wherever I needed to be throughout my stay.
My first day on the mountain I was given a ski guide to spend the day with me ensuring they showed off the best the mountain had to offer and guiding my eyes to what they wanted me to see.
The marketing person for the local chamber of commerce, Toni Bogue, took me to dinner, asked me what time would be best rather than imposing a time schedule upon me with no down time between one meeting and another to wash hair, check emails, recover. She also offered a selection of restaurants, giving me the run down on what each was known for then and asked me what would suit.
Her boss, Candice Pate who also represented the chamber popped in to say hello and then came for lunch with us the next day and even met me for breakfast when I was flying solo.
We all hit it off and Toni offered to ski with me, introduced me to the locals, showed me the coolest breakfast cafes and went vintage clothing shopping with me when I found out there was a vintage store I could write a story on. Once she discovered I had a wheat allergy she introduced me to the best gluten free products the region had to offer.
The itinerary gave me some nights off so I could get over jetlag and submit my editorials while on the road but the offer was always there if I wanted to do something with someone. It was flexible and allowed me time to follow up on stories I discovered along the way.
Then, when I arrived at Sun Valley Lodge for the second half of my famil there was a welcome card from Jack Sibbach and a basket of teas, cheese, crackers and fruit to keep me well snacked up (this is particularly important when arriving at condominium apartments late at night with no grocery stores open or available).
I was travelling with a friend and they made her feel as special as I did, including her in our dinner invitations and conversations and also offering her lift passes for the mountain. If the journalist is travelling with a husband, partner, friend then ignore that friend at your peril as the journalist sees an entire different resort through their friend’s eyes when they are alone to chat.
Now, Sun Valley on any day for anyone is a friendly resort. The town of Ketchum is filled with truly interesting characters who all come with a story.
They are also fantastic ambassadors for a town they clearly love and the marketing folk here just ‘get it’ and the tourism operators work together to share the journalist love with each other. The resort may own accommodation and restaurants but they know that the town’s restaurants are just as important for the journalist to experience as a ski holiday is a rounded experience.
They understand hosting a famil is not dissimilar to welcoming someone into your home for dinner. You don’t invite them in, ignore their partner, ask them to bring their own food, not listen to them when they talk, not give them directions on how to get there and then leave them to find the front door and make their own way home after drinking the wine they had to bring.
If you did you can be guaranteed they won’t return nor suggest anyone else does either. Contrary to some tourism operators beliefs a professional journalist is not on holidays and the famil is not a freebie they ‘owe’ you for.
I did not return from my Sun Valley famil to a plethora of emails demanding to know when and where the editorial would be published and why had it not already run in the week since I was there. They understand that long lead magazines take time to publish and that ski editorial in Australia is best to run in September for them as a pre promote to the upcoming season.
Sun Valley’s attitude was a long way from the PR guy from a Montana ski resort who arranged to meet me at 10.00am to guide me on the ski mountain that he was employed to promote and I was there to write about. I arrived at the assigned meet up point, at the bottom of his ski hill’s main mountain and waited.
Half an hour later he had not arrived, I asked the chairlift operators if they had seen him or if he had contacted them to let me know he was running late and he had not.
So, I left messages with lift operators at each of the lifts to let him know I was wearing a bright green helmet and he couldn’t miss me if he saw me skiing as I didn’t have a US cell phone. I never saw him and I never heard from him again, not even a response to my email asking him if I had got the time, date, year wrong (ok, I didn’t write that but I did send a friendly email asking what happened).
Australia is a lucrative market for ski destinations. We are the number one international inbound market into Park City, Utah and number one into Aspen, Colorado, Whistler in Canada and Niseko, Japan.
We are consistently top three for Vail Resorts and various other US and Canadian ski towns. Plus we are making waves on the international competition scene with four current world champions in snowboarding and skiing disciplines.
We love to travel and we love to talk and share our experiences which is what the journalist is paid to do. Relationships count, you don’t have to like the journalist you are hosting you just have to show them a good time and ensure the support is there for their editorial outlets.
Oh, and in order to do that you have to show up!