Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Finding the PR in Peru

        A couple weeks ago I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to spend a week in Peru with my stepmother, her best friend, and my sister. It was something that was on my stepmom’s friend’s bucket list, and they decided to make a girls trip out of it and invited my sister and I. Looking back on the trip from a PR perspective, there are some lessons that can be learned, from both the highs (quite literally - we were up in the mountains, above the clouds) and the (very few) lows. When it comes to travel PR, the experience itself is the biggest advocate for the destination itself, and the travel companies involved (travel agencies, tour companies, hotels and accommodations, restaurants, destinations, and attractions). Leading up to the trip, social media played a role in learning about the destination and getting excited about the trip. The best tool for us was simply searching hashtags on Instagram of the name of the trail we would be taking and names of specific destinations we would be visiting. 
The trip itself was what is called a packaged trip; it was booked with a travel agent who sold us a specific tour, with many pre-paid arrangements including transportation to and from destinations, entry to those destinations, accommodation and some meals. I was very happy with this outcome: we had enough free time to do our own shopping and exploring, and were advised as to how much extra money we would need to bring for food that was not covered in the tour. It was also helpful because none of us had ever been to South America, so we were saved the work of planning our own excursions and shown some worthwhile destinations and archeological sites by knowledgeable guides. The trip was booked by a well-known travel agency in Canada, Flight Centre, and the tour company, On the Go Tours, is universally recognized. Both companies had knowledgeable representatives who were available for any questions or concerns we had, and were happy to assist us in booking the trip and any extra amenities while there. While in Peru, our guides recommended local restaurants and massage therapists, which had wonderful results. These experiences helped build trust in our guides and reflected well on the tour company and the overall experience.

The culture of Peru itself is wonderful, from a public relations perspective as well as in general. The tourism industry has grown exponentially in the past ten years and has allowed major economic growth and development. Although it is a friendly culture in general, the prevalence and effect of the tourism industry may partly have a hand in the people being so open and helpful to tourists. This has also led to the many merchants that try to get tourists to enter their shops and buy their souvenirs. When we were with our guides, they were helpful in navigating these situations for us, and telling us where to find good quality items. At first, being called to constantly by vendors was a little annoying, however we got used to it fairly quickly and overall it didn’t effect negatively on the trip.

      A few bumps in the road during the time in Peru became learning experiences from a public relations perspective. When we arrived to Cusco, the city we were mainly travelling out of, the hotel we were told was booked for us was closed and there was no answer at the door. After waiting in the pouring rain at 7 am for 30 minutes, we learned that the hotel was under renovation, but that a second location where we had alternate rooms booked was only a short walk away. At some point, there was a break in the lines of communication. The change in accommodation should have been made clear to our travel agent ahead of time and the change in plans communicated to us. Another aspect of the trip that was not represented well was the challenging three-day hike on the Lares Trek. It was described as suited for moderately-fit people, however all of us found the hike to be extremely gruelling, even though I consider myself to be moderately fit, my stepmother works out regularly and her best friend is a marathon runner. We all got through it, however we were frustrated because at times it felt like we could barely continue on, and the pain during the descent was difficult to take. I am glad I did it and it was very rewarding, however not everyone in our group was able to finish the last day of the hike, and felt that the level of difficulty was mis-represented. A third issue that reflected negatively on the tour was that during the the final ride back to Cusco on the last day of the trip, the bus was not solely dedicated to our group, and the driver picked up other people wanting to hitch a ride for a fee. One woman on her own rode with us, as well as two men who smelled of alcohol and were clearly intoxicated. One of the men in particular was behaving in a rude way during the trip, and our guide had to ask him to please be quiet. It was translated to us after the fact that the woman was very upset at how the men represented Peru to us travellers. This situation could have been avoided by the tour company hiring the bus for tour members only, and not taking the risk of picking up strangers in order to fill the bus. Addressing these three issues would have made the trip more seamless and better represented by the travel agent and tour company. That being said, our guides remained positive in these tough situations, and helped us through them.

Ultimately, the trip was a success, and the positive experiences far outweighed the negative. In a short time I got to see a little bit of Peru, and learned just a bit about its rich culture and history. The PR lessons learned were that communication of issues and changes is vital to avoiding stressful situations, representation of tours must be honest, and that the safety of travellers should be the number one of the tour company. I also learned that when it comes to travel, the best PR is the amazing experiences that people have in and of a destination. 

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