There is no profession more rewarding than being a travel writer. It is the career in which one informs the public on modes of travel and best destinations to look forward to. Whether it is about cruising, theme parks, or exciting train journeys, it is simply the greatest work experience anyone could have. I have been a travel writer since August 2011. It started with a story in my hometown’s local newspaper about Amtrak’s Student Advantage Program. Over time, and with the patience of a saint, things blossomed. That’s the tip of the iceberg! It’s not always that easy. Writing a story on a destination or any pertinent travel topic isn’t always a cake walk. It’s all about establishing solid ties with public relations managers. Without the public relations managers, no story would be possible. Without them, key information cannot be obtained. At best, no inside tips or inspiring moments arise. As a travel writer, I have had my share of experiences with public relations managers. I’ve had my ups and my downs with them. From this account, I am hopeful that many travel writers and journalists alike will benefit from my experiences. In good times and bad, public relations managers make travel writers stronger in the long run.
In August 2019, I set out on a travel writing experience completely outside the box. I was assigned to do a story for Tourist Attractions & Parks Magazine. Tourist Attractions & Parks Magazine is a tourism and theme park trade magazine. The story was about a new floorless steel roller coaster at Six Flags America, in Largo, MD, in the Washington, DC area. The new steel roller coaster was called “Firebird”. The public relations manager was tremendously attentive to my requests and needs. When I submitted my Q & A to her via email, she responded within a week’s time. The level of communication was exceptional. As requested, she provided me with the photographs of “Firebird”. Upon my arrival at the park, she set up a VIP media tour with one of her interns. Her intern took me around the park, coaster after coaster, telling me the story behind each coaster and the reasons why each was built. The public relations manager also arranged for a food and beverage voucher. She took extremely good care of me. I’ve been to other Six Flags parks around the country, but Six Flags America was the very best. I greatly credit the public relations manager and her team for making my visit one to remember.
Along came the summer of 2020. The COVID pandemic struck. Theme parks around the country were closed until further notice. Until it was “safe” enough to open, they remained closed. What’s a travel writer like myself supposed to do during this unimaginable time? A travel writer just couldn’t do nothing. I forged ahead, looking for some topic to keep readers engaged and their spirits up. I pitched to Tourist Attractions & Parks Magazine the story about the new steel coaster “Steel Curtain” at Pittsburgh’s historic park Kennywood. It was a “go”. Kennywood had constructed a new themed section to the park, “Steelers Country”. Kennywood was the first ever theme park to feature a section named after a home city’s professional sports team. In Pittsburgh, Steelers football runs 24-7, 365 days a year. “Steel Curtain” boasts what no other steel roller coaster has ever featured-a record shattering nine inversions. If the COVID pandemic had not struck, I would’ve been on the train in a heartbeat. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to do so. However, I managed to get in touch with Kennywood’s public relations manager. I submitted to him my Q & A, asking him many vital questions about the park’s business in the long run relating to “Steel Curtain”. Through our consistent communication, I never learned so much about the behind-the-scenes planning behind the new coaster. He shared details relating to the business aspect of the coaster, the guests’ expectations, and various seasonal events “Steel Curtain” was going to be weaved into. Despite not having the opportunity to visit Kennywood in person, the public relations manager painted an incredible picture of the park. Further, he accurately described the experience for which all theme park goers and theme park tradespeople would truly appreciate. The story was indeed a “steel” of a deal.
This year, I was planning to visit the historic city of Savannah, GA. Savannah has so much to see, do, above all-experience. The one attraction I was truly looking forward to visiting was the American Prohibition Museum. I pitched the story to Tourist Attractions & Parks Magazine. I was given an immediate green light. The museum’s creative and production manager was highly attentive. The creative and production manager functions similarly to that of a public relations manager. Since the first day I got in touch with him, he was tremendously communicative. He and his colleagues were truly looking forward to hosting me. Further, he was going to arrange for me to attend one of the museum’s cocktail making classes. Without any delay, he emailed me the answers to my Q & A. He also emailed me a set of photographs of the museum. I successfully submitted my story draft and the photos to the managing editor. Now, I’m anxiously awaiting publication. Unfortunately, I had to postpone my trip and hold off until the Fall. I recently learned from a local restaurant owner that Fall in Savannah is gorgeous, and the humidity is half of what it is during the summer. Despite cancelling, the creative and production manager came through for me. The communication was crisp. My potential visit in the Fall cannot be higher on my to-do list.
The most challenging experience I had with any public relations manager arose when planning my trip to Busch Gardens in Virginia. I was supposed to do two story projects at Busch Gardens. The first story was a feature story about Busch Gardens’s new steel coaster, “Pantheon”. Pantheon is the first ever multi-launch steel coaster in North America. It was delayed from Spring 2021 until March 2022, due to staffing issues caused by the pandemic. The other story I was commissioned to write was for Food, Wine, & Travel Magazine. The story was going to be about Busch Gardens’s “Food & Wine Festival”. In February, I spoke via conference call with the public relations manager and the park’s vice president of marketing. All three of us spoke in depth about my planned Memorial Day weekend visit. Upon request, I provided to the public relations manager the media kits to give her a background scope of both magazines. As directed, I submitted my online request for a media pass. Next, I emailed to the public relations manager two sets of Q & A, one for each magazine. From there, the communication was merely non-existent. Over a two month span, I heard next to nothing from the public relations manager. I followed up with her once a week. The only communication from her was two emails saying “my park leaders are working on it”, and “your answers will be ready soon”. First, those are not definitive answers. Secondly, that’s not to any degree effective communication. One week prior to my trip down, I had no choice but to cancel my plans. The cancellation was a bitter pill to swallow. It was a tough one for me having worked my butt off, going through the preparation steps, not including booking the train and hotel. I’m positively sure it’ll be a valuable lesson learned for Busch Gardens’s public relations manager, too.
Being a travel writer is the greatest part-time career I couldn’t ever dreamt of having. The places I have visited, the people I have met, and the many experiences I have had; all have helped this rewarding career evolve what it is today. I have ridden new roller coasters, learned about new attractions, and gained an in-depth understanding of the theme park, museum, and tourism business. None of these experiences would have been possible without the assistance of the public relations manager. From past experiences, I have developed solid relationships with the public relations teams at Six Flags America, Kennywood, and the American Prohibition Museum. Busch Gardens, on the other hand, has spawned some reluctance on my behalf to keeping the line of communication open. The unsatisfactory level of communication by the public relations manager has left me with some doubt. Will I consider pursuing Busch Gardens again next year? It’s all a matter of communication. As far as the travel writer and the public relations manager are concerned, candidly, there is no substitute for communication. It is the chief ingredient that forges the strong relationship between the two roles. Travel writers and public relations managers are meant to work as a team. As they say, “two is a team”, and communication is what makes this team relationship unshakable.