There are some phrases about empathy and perspective with which we are all familiar. Phrases like ‘putting yourself in someone else’s shoes’, ‘think before you speak’ and ‘unintended consequences’ are all familiar words used every day across the nation.

And yet, the travel sector’s grasp of these ideas seems to be going awry. Perhaps it’s because many travel brands, due to the pandemic, have had to let their PR and marketing teams go, and their marketing filter systems are no longer as robust.

The consequences of this are starting to become more obvious every day. A loose use of language will make itself felt on businesses and reputations.

Negative phrase

In particular, I have recently seen the phrase ‘revenge tourism’ starting to be touted around by travel brands and organisations. Like most of these sort of marketing phrases, it is well‑intentioned and meant to sum up a movement and concentrate consumer thinking. But as a marketing slogan, it has clearly not been run through a PR or marketing filter.

Revenge is a negative word. Indeed, for many it has a nasty air about it. Certainly, it is a strange term to associate with the upbeat, happy and exciting concept of tourism.

I really hope the industry doesn’t try to make a thing of revenge tourism, as I fear doing so would have an unintended consequence for the sector.

More generally, the industry needs to prioritise resetting its PR and marketing filter, particularly as the UK death rate from the pandemic continues to remain stubbornly high.

When a British airline called for cabin crew to be made a priority in the vaccine rollout, one instinctively knew it would not sit well with the general public. During the first lockdown, we saw some corners of the trade call for retail agents to be classed as key workers as they dealt with repatriation and customer refunds. And in the autumn, we saw an industry-wide campaign encouraging people to book holidays to help save companies.

While these initiatives were well-intentioned, they were never likely to go down well with consumers who had lost jobs, were struggling for money or had seen loved ones pass away.

The backlash on social media quickly showed that the industry may have been a little tone deaf.

There are lots more examples of this inability by travel brands to ‘read the room’, but the distinct PR skill of message development is going to be more vital than ever in the uncertain next few months.

Word of warning

Obviously, it is not the whole industry. There are many travel brands doing great messaging and getting the tone of their communications just right.

But let me make a plea to industry bosses. Or maybe it’s a word of warning. Make sure that any marketing message or PR announcement your brand makes over the next few months is finely measured. Ensure you weigh up what impact it will have on target audiences who may not always see the world the way you do.

Remember, words matter.