PR Profile: the perks and challenges of tourism and travel PR
PR Profile with Philip Engelberts
Born in the Netherlands, Philip Engelberts moved to Australia in the late 90s and founded PEPR Agency in 2003, which specialises in tourism, travel, lifestyle and property PR. Philip has been awarded Communicator of the Year by the Australian Society of Travel Writers (ASTW) three times, and also is a long standing member of the board of the Foreign Correspondents Association of Australia.
Tell me a bit about your career.
I studied French at the University of Amsterdam, and everyone was becoming high school teachers teaching French, which wasn’t really my thing. So I looked for some internships and I got an internship in Amsterdam at the French Tourist Bureau. I interned there for a couple of months in the PR department and then they offered me a job. I was there for a number of years and then I moved to Sydney in ’98. I worked when the Olympic Games was on in Sydney, I was involved in the media centre there. And then I just never left!
Then I worked for several years as in-house PR with the South Australian Tourism Commission. Because I speak five languages, and being Dutch, no one speaks Dutch, so that’s helped me in hosting international media on behalf of South Australia Tourism.
In 2003 I thought I’d do something different and so I started PEPR, the agency, with South Australia as my kickoff client. We held their account for ten years so I have a lot of friends and wonderful memories in South Australia.
Another client that I started off with was a business called Great Southern Rail, and they’ve now changed names but they own and operate the Ghan and the Indian Pacific, our long distance trains. I did that for eight years as well, so I’ve had many transcontinental train trips.
The agency kind of grew organically, we took on more travel clients and cruising started to boom so we ended up with five or six cruise clients, we had some big hotel clients. In about 2008 I took over another agency and we moved into property PR. So currently we do about two thirds travel, one third more corporate clients, including property.
How have you dealt with the challenges of working in the travel and tourism industry over the last year?
I think the most important thing is 15 months into the pandemic, as an agency specialising in travel, we are standing strong, in face we are thriving. So we took some drastic measures when international borders closed, because close to half of our clients were overseas based tourism products. To use that word, we ‘pivoted’, we took on some clients outside travel, we just made some big changes and we’re slowly rebuilding now with domestic tourism clients, New Zealand tourism products, and some international clients are slowly coming back as well.
You entered the PR industry through practical experience and internships, rather than formal training. Do you have any advice to other people who are just getting started in the industry?
You have to have your basic foundation knowledge of how the media works and the “school of life” in combination with the personality. But the most important skills you pick up on the job, that’s a given. And often when you can prove yourself in a corporate environment, doors will open.
Tell me about some of the perks of working in tourism and travel PR.
Before the borders closed I was very fortunate because as an agency we don’t really take on clients without seeing and feeling the products first hand. It’s only fair enough for us to be able to make a convincing case to our media partners. So there were hotels to be visited in the Maldives, or in Hawaii or in Dubai or London. We do a lot of travel for work in order for us to have credibility and to sell it well to our media partners. So I was very fortunate to be hosted on lovely trips and by our clients.
Once the borders reopen, Australians are just desperate to travel overseas again, and that will happen in the near future. At the same time, I’ve got fresh eyes coming from Europe and I think Australia is an unbelievable destination, so we’ve got a lot of corners to explore within our own country as well.
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