Peter Welcome to our travel podcast. We’re specialist travel writers and we’ve spent half a lifetime exploring every corner of the world.
Felice We want to share with you some of our extraordinary experiences and the amazing people we’ve met along the way.
Peter This week, we’re taking a look at the frenetic world of travel public relations – the people who create the images and manage the profiles of a multitude of businesses. These range from hotels and tour operators to resorts and whole countries. In the UK, perhaps the biggest name of all in worldwide travel PR is Lynsey Devon, the MD of Heaven Publicity. We caught up with Lynsey when she was, even in these troubled times, working as usual away from home in south-western France.
Felice Lynsey, welcome to Action Packed Travel. Now, you’re as involved in travel as we are, but in a completely different way. Can you tell us what you do?
Lynsey Lovely to be here, Peter and Felice. I’ve been working in travel for many, many years. I started in tour operating but I moved over the years to public relations, and the whole point of public relations is to make the consumers find out more about destinations and places to go; making it exciting for people.
Peter So what’s that actually involve doing?
Lynsey What that involves working with a client, be it a resort or a hotel – anybody who needs that sort of service – and to find really good stories around them so that you can then go to media online or traditional media or TV and work with the journalists or with whoever it is, an influencer, and come up with a really good plan together to get the most visibility out to the consumer.
So we do different things. We can do things through TV programmes and working with production companies or working with journalists where we come together and the journalists get to experience the places or the destinations. The other thing is also crisis management – the other side of the coin where we have to look after people’s reputation because something’s happened. So there’s lots of different facets to it…and also things like events where you get people to come together. There’s nothing better than face-to-face, as we all know.
Peter So you’re a party planner at heart then?
Lynsey A little bit but a bit more than that.
Peter That’s an important part of it. When you have a client – say a hotel comes to London, presumably, and then you organise a party and you invite members of the media?
Lynsey There’s that and more now – it’s more for the client side of it. There’s a lot more things like presentations as well, and there’s lots of getting under the skin of people and trying to get them to understand the brands. So, yes, the party happens and that’s just a nice thing to have, but there’s actually a lot of business going on underneath there.
Felice Shall we start with the exciting part of it – not for you, but to hear about – which is things going wrong and you having to deal with it?
Lynsey Yes, there’s lots of things. I mean, I have a myriad of examples, but one I was thinking about actually last night was the ash cloud in Iceland. This was a massive ash cloud in 2010 and it shut the airways, the whole of the skies, for eight days back in 2010. We thought that’s the worst thing that had ever happened to this planet…suddenly, nine kilometres of plumes of smoke are going up and for a whole eight days, the whole of the skies were shut. It had a massive impact on travel; nobody had foreseen this.
I was working for TV specialist at TUI at the time and we had 100,000 clients stuck around the world. So there was a massive: ‘How do we get people back? How do we move people around?’ And one of the most important things was just trying to keep communications open, not only with the clients but also with the press because everybody was in the dark at this point.
So what we were doing was communications, keeping people up to date with what we were doing for our clients. For example, in the Alps what we did is actually bus people back who were on ski holidays. We had people coming back, honestly, by any means we could do. Trains became very popular, but it was huge, a really huge thing. And TUI did such a good job; we really looked after the staff and actually helped other people, other clients, not just our own consumers. So that was a pretty scary time because it was an actual impact that nobody had any control over. So that’s one of the examples of crisis.
Then you have other things which are quite big, could be quite dangerous. One of them that I dealt with was an expedition, the Duke of Edinburgh Award – the gold version, they’re in a place called Fish River Canyon in Windhoek out in Namibia. One of the companies I work with, they would help the whole thing set up for the gold Duke of Edinburgh. They’d have satellite communications, they’d have a leader, a guide – a proper guide, and they’d go off for about four hours and do their own bit of their trek.
Well, a small team of five got lost, and we’re talking about children: 17, 18 year olds. They just disappeared; they went off radar, we couldn’t find them anywhere and so we had to get extensive air and sea rescue. It was not only looking for them, but the family members, the school staff, the company’s security agent were out there, the medical support agency was there, the foreign and Commonwealth Office was involved, the British High Commission was involved.
Thank goodness they were found. But what actually transpired was we were having to communicate this because it was children, per se, and keep the media up to date with what we knew, because that’s the other problem: there’s a lot of hearsay, a lot of aspersions are cast, but you cannot talk unless you know what’s going on. What actually happened is they’d taken a wrong turning and they actually walked into part of the national park where there are lions. So, of course, it was absolutely important to find those kids and they did, everything was fine but that was a huge story at the time.
So, again, it’s communicating, speaking to the media who you know – and that’s the other point from our jobs’ perspective, is telling the people who will understand when you’re telling them the right information, the real information, because you want to make sure the family isn’t hurt in the meantime with all sorts of things coming out. So that was quite an interesting time as well.
Peter And then presumably the must be unfortunate things like terrorist attacks around the world?
Lynsey Yet terrorist attacks are just awful. Now, that goes on to another level, because when that happens, exactly like with these kids before, you have every agency involved with this. With a terrorist attack, you don’t actually know until it’s legally claimed to be a terrorist attack. So you are dealing with many moving parts. You do have the best thing, which I think people may not realise, most companies have a whole form of operational crisis management. So many people within a company are involved and then you’ve got the people on the ground. So the only way to deal with a terrorist attack is actually hoping that you’ve got people on that ground to help you.
Because you’ve got hospitals – depending on the injuries, they could go to multiple hospitals, multiple hospitals across different countries, depending where it is. And that is really important because you might be talking, say, to the Egyptians, but you might be talking to the Tunisians, you might be talking to the Germans. You just don’t know when you set up for a crisis where it goes. So I think in those sorts of cases, you’ve also got to reassure people that it’s a one-off as well – if it is a one-off – because it could absolutely ruin all sorts of things for people in the future as well.
Peter So being a travel PR is not always as easy as it might sound. When times are bad, it’s really bad. But there’s some good times as well aren’t there?
Lynsey Oh yes, there’s lots of good times, and one of the best things from my perspective, I’ve been very lucky to travel the world. I came from a background of parents who worked in different forms of travel and the things you see and the people you meet, the stories…I’m lucky enough to meet some of the best journalists in the United Kingdom and Ireland. I tell you, the stories I’ve heard over the past are just brilliant because they’re things that I would never have lived myself.
I’ve been to fantastic places like Syria – there’s no way I’m going to get to go back to Syria. And the places that I visited like Damascus and up into Palmyra, they don’t exist anymore in any form or shape that I saw them in. So I was very, very honoured and very lucky to get there.
My own personal passion is the mountains, and I’ve been lucky enough to launch skiing in Japan, skiing in Turkey, to skiing in Canada. I’ve just been everywhere and anywhere. So I’m so, so lucky and I feel very honoured to have that.
Peter I think I’m right in saying you’re a snowboarder, actually?
Lynsey Yes, I am a snowboarder full time, but I do ski as well…when I need to. But I need to escape. But now the thing is, I look at the ski industry as a whole industry so I always think everybody belongs to it, who goes to it. I also see it all in the summer. I’m actually just back from a trip to Verbier and we went somewhere I’ve never been before. Now I’ve been working for them for nearly ten years and I actually went on a mountain bike up to the Haute Route, which is the route that goes around France to Switzerland, Mont Blanc-Zermatt route, and I’ve never been there. I went up on a really big e-mountain bike, which is pretty hard work I must say, and I saw the most beautiful views over into Italy. So, yes, every day there’s something new and it’s exciting.
Peter The Alps are beautiful in summer; the Haute Route and that area there must look absolutely fantastic on a summer’s day. I’ve seen it on a winter’s day and it’s pretty tough, but in summer I expect it’s a bit different.
Lynsey It’s definitely different. There’s still snow up there, Peter, they’ve got some amazing mountain huts you can stay in. And when you’re up there, the sun is so strong, it’s so beautiful with the lakes and everything else. I think it’s a stunning destination that a lot of people haven’t really ever thought about. It’s lovely, it’s really lovely.
Felice We usually do more tame stuff in the summer, like the Tirol with nice, gentle walks and lakes for swimming and that sort of thing.
Lynsey Well that’s the thing, that’s the other point. You know, you’ve been there and it’s just such a beautiful area; it’s really stunning. But more and more people, I think after the year we’ve had, will be looking for something a bit different. And actually wild swimming or nice walking or nice biking…Tirol is perfect for that. So, yes, I’m absolutely with you: I think the mountains have got something for every age, everybody who wants a different level of excitement, slow food or fast food.
Peter I think a lot of people know Austria in the winter months, but those ski resorts are really sensational in summer as well, aren’t they?
Lynsey Amazing. I think the big thing that people don’t realise is there are so many activities available, everything from zip wires or you can go on lovely hikes, like you said. But there’s loads of other things going on, and the food and the whole ambience…and it’s really good for you being out there – windsurfing and so many things. I think what’s interesting is back when Queen Victoria used to go to the mountains was because of her health reasons – tuberculosis and all of that…well, actually, it’s so clean, it’s so lovely, it’s pristine, but there’s lots of fun things as well. So I think yes, I really love it, I love the mountains all year round, be it the Cairngorms or be it the Austrian Tirol.
Felice Do you have a favourite place? People always ask us this for the winter, but do you have a favourite place for the summer?
Lynsey Well, I’m very lucky that one of my clients is called Le Boat and they specialise in self-driving boat holidays all over Europe. Actually one of the favourite holidays I’ve ever done was with my husband and moored up to Burano in the Venetian Lagoon. That to me, as a holiday with a child that is nine, ten years old, was one of the best holidays I’ve ever done, so I can say that hand on heart.
In terms of summer, I love everywhere. I mean, the problem is I love travelling so the last year has been pretty difficult. Right now, I’m actually working remotely on the south-west coast of France near Biarritz. And actually, one of our clients is down here – Summer France – as well, and we stay in lovely villas, go surfing every day, go for lovely picnics on the beach. So I just love being away, and it’s going to be active though, Felice, I like a bit of activity. I can’t really sit there all day doing nothing.
Lynsey Yes, Route 66, I will never forget. It was phenomenal. The great thing about America, which I think a lot of people have forgotten this year because they haven’t been able to go…but honestly, the welcoming experience when you get to the United States. I know Vegas is a little bit different to anywhere else, but Vegas is amazing for a place to go. But the Grand Canyon, I loved it, and when we stayed in and went to the national parks. Actually a couple of our friends stayed in the tent overnight, if I remember rightly, but it was just so different to anywhere else. So from a United States perspective, I’d say there.
The other place which I absolutely adore is Jackson Hole, winter and summer I totally love it. I love the whole national park in the summer and I love going out to see it there. It’s great and you get one of those big Winnebagos and go round – there’s so much to do, whilst in the winter it’s just the most amazing snowboarding place to be.
Felice I guessed you might say Jackson Hole, because it’s also our favourite resort…
Peter …in the world.
Lynsey Also very close is Park City. I really like Park City and the reason I liked going over that side is because you could go to all the different resorts and I got to go to Sundance, Alta, all the different places, I really like that concept. If you’re going to go somewhere, go to as many places as you can – Deer Valley and everything else. So, yes, they’re two of my really, really favourite places. I just find it so…like the microbreweries they’ve got there as well…all these different things that we didn’t really have before. I used to work in North America, so I was lucky enough to actually go to many resorts in the US and Canada. But those two are very, very close to my heart.
Felice Your job sounds very glamorous to most people, but I know it’s also very tiring because I’ve known you do back-to-back trips. I think when we went to Las Vegas, you’d just come from Thailand, is that right?
Lynsey That was correct, yes. It is, it can be tiring. I’m lucky that this year I’ve had a lot of sleep due to lockdown, so I’m hoping this winter I’ll be ready to go back out. It is tiring, but it’s also what you put in – you get out. And that’s my theory about work full time: you work hard, you play hard. I think the thing is you reap rewards. If I see something written in print in a national newspaper, I still woop for joy because I’m like, ‘Yes, my client’s in there.’ As long as you still love what you’re doing, it’s brilliant. I really get excited…even more so when the winter season’s about to start. Normally this time of year is just before it all goes crazy again. So, yes, I’m looking forward to this year.
Felice How do you keep yourself healthy, though, if you’re getting so little sleep sometimes with all this travel? It must be very draining?
Lynsey Well, I’ve taken up reformative Pilates. I went to boot camp this year and I’m really well known at home for sleeping many hours. People don’t see that. I go to bed about nine o’clock at night and I will sleep until eight o’clock in the morning when I get back home. So I’m a bit like a bear: have a bit of sleep and catch up again.
Felice So where in the world haven’t you been to that you’d really like to go to?
Lynsey On my list…three places I’ve always want to go. One I was supposed to go to this year, which I’m hoping to defer to next year, is Borneo. I have always wanted to work with the orangutan. I’d always said that’s all I ever wanted in life were the orangutans, so I’m going out the next year. New Zealand has been on my list forever, but I’ve never had the time to get there. I really feel if I go there, I really want to make a real impact and do everything you need to do, and we have family down there.
Last but not least – it’s all due to a television programme I saw – is Marlon Brando’s island that he bought. I just so want to go there even for one night. It just looks amazing; it’s where I want to go.
Peter And where is that?
Lynsey It’s in that Polynesian bit. So it’s his own private island with a private reef and everything else. I mean, it’s an out-of-this-world price, but it’s a dream. One day I hope to get there; that would be really, really cool.
Felice How did you first get into travel, right in the beginning?
Lynsey I studied at Westminster Catering College and then I went and worked in Switzerland in a ski resort called Crans Montana; I ran a hotel there. My mother used to organise conferences and my father was with British Airways – he was the head chef and big buyer of all the food, so I’d always travelled as a kid, it was quite normal. Then I got this job and I loved that job. I really loved running the hotel. Then I saw there was this Inghams rep who was always around; I would chat to him. He was really nice. He was like, ‘Well, do you ski?’ I said, ‘Well, a couple of times.’ And so he then suggested I got a job with Inghams. They were one of the biggest tour operators at the time.
That’s how I started really in travel after I’ve been in the hotel. But I’ve been around it all my life. I was lucky enough to work for Inghams doing ski seasons and summer seasons on Lake Geneva, winters in places like Crans Montana. Where else did I work…Alpe d’Huez, Cervinia, I’ve been in Saas Fee, I’ve been in Adelboden…and then I was lucky enough to go to North America and work in Tremblant and Whistler. Then after that I became North American operations director out there, so I got to go to all the resorts. Then I was living in Vancouver, which was pretty cool.
But then I actually missed the United Kingdom; I’d been away for so many years and I came back and I said to my boss, who used to run Inghams, ‘I haven’t got a job, what am I going to do?’ He said, ‘Have you ever thought of doing public relations?’ And I’d studied it in my degree in hotel and catering. So I said ‘No, but I will learn.’ So I was very, very lucky at the time. That’s how I got into it and how at the time we bought a company called Bladon Lines, which I’m not sure if everybody knows but it was a very traditional chalet company that had been running for many years. I got to start with that; it began with that. Then we had city breaks, villas, as we had Interhome which is a huge European portal to book houses all across the world. I stayed there for many years, really happy times and I was so lucky.
Felice It sounds amazing. I mean, how many ski resorts do you think you’ve been to? Can you count them?
Lynsey Last year I had a count and I think it’s about 106, but to be honest, if I counted how many times I’ve been to some of those resorts, one resort I’ve been to about 40 times. So it just depends on how you qualify and quantify it. But I’ve enjoyed every resource I’ve been to; I’ve never had a resort I would never go back to.
Felice It sounds like a lot of people’s dream job – travel PR. If someone wanted to get into that, how would you recommend they started?
Lynsey What I would suggest is they actually go to Chartered Institute of Public Relations and actually do a course with them and start that way through, be it the equivalent of a NVQ course or a degree course with them, rather than going and studying media studies. Because a lot of people think if they do media studies, they would then do PR. But actually, it’s better to do the absolute finite thing and then to get work experience, that’s the other point. For example, we’re a small boutique company, but we do take on interns and to teach them the way. Actually, our last intern, when he finished he’s gone to do a Masters and now he’s decided to do public relations with government. Travel he thought was exciting, but actually his passion is in government, so he’s gone to do that. So there’s lots of ways in – you don’t have to actually go to travel company to do travel PR, you can go to different companies.
It’s hard graft; you’ve got to be a good writer and you need to be able to write because that is the stickler with everything, because I don’t think a lot of people realise that a lot of writing is done by people in public relations. But we do have to write an awful lot and that is really key, and also have a really outgoing and bubbly personality and have interest, have some other interests, have some life outside of work so you’ve actually got something to talk about as well.
Peter But it is seven days a week, isn’t it?
Lynsey Pretty much. The only time is on a remote island with no internet connection, that’s the only time I’m not working.
Lynsey It’s such a weird feeling if you are cut off. It’s very, very odd.
Felice It was actually lovely. It was a real rest.
Lynsey The only time I’ve ever been cut off, and it did really make me quite stressed, I did a press trip to Greenland on an expedition ship and there is no internet on an expedition ship. I was away for ten days and I was really not in a good place, but I could still work on other things but I had no emails or any communication.
Peter I think it’s quite restful, isn’t it?
Lynsey It is if you’ve planned that, Peter, but if you haven’t planned it, it can have the other effect. Yes, I was lucky enough to go kayaking out with icebergs, seeing whales, and just beautiful, amazing Inuit people. Everything was phenomenal. But there’s me at the end of the day going, ‘Oh, God, I wonder what’s happening? Oh, I haven’t heard anything.’
Peter Do you work for individual tour operators as well?
Lynsey Yes, we do work with individual tour operators. We have everything in the summer from Al Fresco, which is mobile homes across Europe, to Le Boat, which is boating holidays. We also have a lovely little new company that we started working with in the UK called Pied a Terre which is a hiking company, very small, very bespoke. And yes, we do work with tour operators, but often that’s a very different set of public relations to working with, say, a tourist board. So we work with a lot of tourist boards, particularly because we’re in country, which is very difficult for them to do when they’re overseas.
Felice I know you work mainly with travel journalists, but does that overlap with sports journalists and food writers as well?
Lynsey Yes, a lot, especially when it comes to all these outdoor pursuits. Also, we’re working a lot with food – because food is becoming more and more important in the travel sphere. So recently, I just ran a press trip for slow food in the mountains and that was very much food-generated journalists who have a very different need to travel journalists. So you can get used to working with them. I did the football World Cup over in South Africa a few years ago and that was brilliant, but I was working with a lot of sports media because that’s how it works and we were promoting travel trips to go and see the football and the same when we had the Lions tour. So that is very, very different – you do have different connections.
Felice I never know the difference between PR and marketing – how do they overlap?
Lynsey So marketing is a whole department and within marketing, public relations sit. Marketing is to market a product and that could include in it social media, it could include databases, it would include general advertising, public relations sits in there. So it is the overarching word for the promotion of anything. And that is interesting because of course, advertising is paid-for media. We are not paid-for media; we are earned media, which is actually for anybody who’s reading something, if a really good journalist like yourselves have written an article rather than look at an advert, you have a really amazing view on things because you’ve travelled the world, you’ve seen things and you are really honest about things you see. Whilst in an advert it’s really people shouting at you, saying how good they are. So I think that’s what’s really important with public relations – at the end of the day, it’s what the media writes and what they see through their eyes by them getting them the right information.
Felice How important our influencers these days?
Lynsey Very important; they are very, very important. It depends on what you work with. I mean, if you’re a brand of something like Adidas or Mars, they use a lot of influencers. What’s important with influencers…there’s different types of influencers…you’ve got some who are very much TikTok or YouTube, and then you’ve got people who’ve got blogs and you’ve got people who’ve got massive social media accounts. So they are more and more important; there are different ones for different things.
I think during lockdown a lot of them lost a lot of their audiences because they had no fresh content to share – and they are content creators; at the end of the day that’s what they do. Some are brilliant, some are very passionate and very much so even if some people say, ‘Oh, I’ve only got 10,000 people following me,’ but if those 10,000 people are actually engaged, it’s really, really important and that’s potentially a very small market for a client. So there’s lots of things happening now that are very different. So, yes, we have much of a broad remit because before they didn’t exist, we didn’t have them.
Peter …and where do podcasts fit into this?
Lynsey Podcasts are brilliant. I think podcasts are great because people have got so much free time, saying that they are out walking their dogs you can always listen to a podcast. And if it is interesting like your podcast is, people always keep coming back for more. I think that’s the way forward. I mean, obviously people will be starting to go back to their offices come September around the world and in lots of places, like France, they’re already back. But that’s a great time for people to listen – if they’re sitting on a train or they’re driving, they can play it through their sound system. No I’m with you, I love listening to things; it’s so interesting and I do listen to a lot of podcasts these days.
Peter Where are you off to next?
Lynsey My next destination is Scotland. Everybody loves Scotland – it’s beautiful; it’s just stunning. We’re going to Aviemore, which is in the midst of the Highlands, not far from Loch Lomond; you’ve got the beaches out on either side. We’re going hiking, biking, fishing. Then after that, I’m heading out to the Isère which is a department of France. Most people will probably have heard of Grenoble, which is the capital of that area, and we’re going up to the mountains there called the Vercors. We’re going off to see some of these sort of beautiful villages with overhung houses; there is a slow food type movement; we’re going to go paddle-boarding, do some easy biking through the Vercors. So that will be quite nice. Then in winter, I’m hoping, will start.
Peter Lynsey Devon, to thank you very much indeed for appearing on the podcast today and we wish you a very happy winter with lots and lots of work and lots and lots of snowboarding.
Lynsey Thank you. And I wish you both a great time this winter in the Alps.
Peter If you want to know more about Lynsey and Heaven Publicity, check out the website www.heavenpublicity.co.uk
Felice That’s all for now. If you’ve enjoyed the show, please share this episode with at least one other person! Do also subscribe on Spotify, i-Tunes or any of the many podcast providers – where you can give us a rating. You can subscribe on Spotify, Apple Podcasts or any of the many podcast platforms. You can also find us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. We’d love you to sign up for our regular emails to [email protected]
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For just a few of the other jobs in travel, see Mark Palmer: Newspaper Travel Editor; How To Become A Travel Writer With Sean Newsom; Action Woman at Action Packed Travel; Food and Travel With Sarah Barrell; Sustainable Travel With Francisca Kellett; VickyFlipFlop: Travel Blogger; and Travel The World With Wendy.
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