How can travel tech start-ups increase their profile beyond “mere” public relations? This is the central question faced by anyone shouldering the overall outward communications effort in the new connected world of commercial digital business.

In terms of its place in the so-called “marketing mix”, PR obviously has value. As a route towards press recognition and, ultimately, media coverage, PR outreach, whether conducted in-house or through a formal agency agreement, should form part of any travel tech start-up’s branding plan… in the longer term at least.

Beyond PR

Although the PR world of old has been busy reinventing itself for the digital business generation, many of the tools, systems, processes and networks that power connected communications can be directly accessed (some for free) for competitive advantage.

Social streams, including Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, are an invaluable channel for generating not just general buzz, but also a type of more specifically aligned and relevant buzz that talks directly to defined audiences and interest groups. Mostly free to use unless start-ups decide to use a software package for automation, management and distribution of social content, these media streams are extremely dynamic with new elements and functionality being added all the time.

Emotive visual-centricity

In an emotive market like travel, the visual-centricity of image sharing networks such as Pinterest, Flickr and Instagram cannot be ignored. What matters now is how travel tech start-ups personalise their work with these forms of media and how they use it to do more than just try to sell a product. They need to describe a user experience and tell a story.

According to media expert Mike Maney, the media world is changing. Shunning the traditional PR label altogether, Maney describes himself as a “visual storyteller and communications consultant” and says that he has witnessed a seismic change in the media landscape.

“Over the past couple of years, I’ve seen a different model emerging… and it is a model where clients aren’t looking for massive media coverage. This new model is a place where executives want someone to guide them, to be their trusted counsellor and sounding board. It’s a model where stories and narratives are uncovered and told, instead of key messages being delivered that mean nothing outside a slide deck or conference room,” argues Maney.

Looking at the way firms are changing their operational models in this way (the change applies to start-ups just as much as it does to established enterprises), Maney says he is changing his practice models and market approach accordingly.

Travel tech start-ups need to think about how prevalently we are seeing businesses of every kind selling services and experiences, rather than the traditional shunt to offload products and packages the way we used to.

Digital business is not impersonal. In fact it is anything but.

Creating digital empathy

While some of the new communications tools for travel tech start-ups will be surface level and still appear to form some element of the traditional marketing mix, other tactics will run deeper. For example, the first Travel Technology Europe Disrupt Award was won late in 2016 by bd4travel, a start-up successfully using data analytics and what has been called “digital empathy” to help tailor online travel searches to each user.

Without going into a deep data analysis discussion, travel tech start-ups can think about how they will grow and start to absorb process and analyse all the customer and industry data that’s out there. From social sentiment and opinion, to location destination updates and airline data, there is a whole universe of information that start-ups could be using to get ahead if they have the resources, competency and expertise. This is why we often call it big data as there’s more of it than we can actually consume.

Getting ready to embrace the new digital side of the travel business should be an integral part of any start-up’s total strategic growth plan as the notion of putting out a press release.

Has everything changed?

Special offers, seasonal promotions and traditional travel industry PR still have a place for every travel tech start-up. But, overall, the travel market has been digitally disrupted and travel tech start-ups must go with the new route map that has been carved out not just for the travel industry, but for all businesses.

Has everything changed in the post-millennial era of Internet and mobile? Well, the beaches are still there and the city locations are all mostly found on the same part of the world map, give or take the odd political revolution. The revolution that travel tech start-ups can’t ignore is digital business. Get that part right and the PR toppings can come later… and they can, indeed, be absolutely fabulous.