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Past Webcast - December 4, 2007

Research Forum

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VT Cast #17: Online Public Relations & VolunTourism


How does one address a negative posting on a blog? How does one utilize the internet to present a unique and positive angle to what you do as a VolunTourism Operator? How does passion play a role in online com-munications? Guests address these questions and others during this episode of "The VolunTourist."

[Listen To The Cast] (Click Here To Download)


Peggy Bendel, Senior Vice President of Travel Marketing, Development Counsellors International [Bio]; and Alexia Nestora, Director of North America Operations, i-to-i. [Bio]


[Is people's personal passion, as it relates to VolunTourism, having an impact on com-munications? - - Peggy Bendel offers these thoughts...]

"Very much so, David, and, of course, it's a very important component of communicating well. We sometimes talk about what we do for our clients, who are all destinations, as selling because we are trying to convince somebody to go to a particular place in the world - whether it's Dubai, or Tasmania, or Chile or any other of our clients. And that passion is so valuable because when you believe in that product, and I know, Alexia, that I'm sure that that's true of you representing i-to-i, you're so much more convincing because you're speaking from your heart.

But, the downside is that someone who has taken a trip because of their own passion will be - - if there's a high of the positive passion - - when they're disappointed, there is a corresponding low, often. First of all, they have had, perhaps, a limited amount of time and a limited amount of money to spend, they've chosen to spend it in this way, and they have been disappointed in some way. And I've forgotten the precise statistic, but in almost any situation, there's a statistic that says if you've had a positive experience you might tell, let's say, three people; if you've had a negative experience, you'll tell dozens. And they will repeat it, if it's dramatic enough or negative enough, to all of their friends and acquaintances - either, by word of mouth, literally, or, now, on a blog. And that kind of stuff lives forever and it can be very vitriolic. And so, that's the other reason that you need to pay attention to it right away.

This is not VolunTourism-related, but, I think, David, I mentioned to you that within the last year, one of my former clients ignored a comment that came through to him about their marketing program. And just thought, 'Oh, I'm so busy; I can't handle it, right now; I'll respond to him later, and besides the criticism isn't really valid.' Well, six months later, he lost his job, because the guy was so annoyed at being ignored and he had a podium - he had a blog. And not only that, he became proactive about sending links to his blog to people who were influential in this person's career.


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And so, there's really an enormous amount of emotion - this computer screen that, I'm sure, we all have up in front of us, is not just a three-dimensional object - it is imbued with the emotion of anybody whose fingers are on the keyboard. And you really have to take that into account. You use the term 'public relations,' and that's really what it is now. We certainly do media relations as well, but right now we are all in this communicating-with-the-public era, which I think is an enormously good thing; but it's enormously challenging as well. Because it's, as you said, two days ago, two hours ago, there wasn't a blog on a particular subject, and now there is. And so it is a challenge in monitoring it that did not exist before." Peggy Bendel

[Listen To This Quote]

[How has i-to-i addressed its recent online public relations challenges?]

"We were forced to come up with an online PR strategy about six months ago when this all started to take off. We've made something simple, and I think simple is best most of the time.

What our first thing to do, and I think this applies to any company out there, is to make sure you delegate responsibility for who's going to be monitoring as well as who's going to be responding to the posts - whether they're good, bad, whatever - someone has to responsible to make sure that they get every single one of those comments - whether it's a good comment or a bad comment. What we've done is - we have an internal newsletter that we send out once a month - we copy all the blog posts, all the comments that relate directly to us, and put them into that newsletter. So if people do want to read it and they just don't have time during the month, they can kind of stay up-to-date with the pulse of how our company is doing.

But the main thing is, as Peggy said, is to deal with the public and the comments that are online. So we have someone who's responsible for monitoring that and responding. Our second rule is: when you answer the questions, don't be defensive. It's only going to make you look guilty; and if we made a mistake, admit that we made a mistake. I think Americans above any other culture respect that and respect that you're trying to learn and you're always trying to improve.

I think our third rule internally that we have with dealing with it is: never start a long dialogue over a blog. Respond once, maybe respond twice; but don't start going back and forth with a person who's obviously had a bad experience or is not happy. It's only going to get your blog higher rated; more people will see it, the more responses it has. And number two, it's just going to get, it'll get emotional then. So we have a rule that we'll respond twice, and after that we'll try to get the person to contact us directly so we can have an on-the-phone conversation with them." Alexia Nestora

[Listen To This Quote]

Guest Bios

Peggy Bendel, Senior Vice President, Travel Marketing, Development Counsellors International

Peggy Bendel, Senior Vice President: Named "Lifetime Achievement" award winner in 2006 by the Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International, Peggy has headed DCI ’ s Tourism division since 1985.  A principal in the seminal "I Love New York" campaign, she serves on the boards of the Public Relations Society of America's Travel & Tourism section and the Association of Travel Marketing Executives (ATME), and is a former Board member of the International Ecotourism Society. Peggy speaks frequently on crisis communications, media relations and travel marketing. She has been a voluntourist in Australia with her nephew.

For more information, please contact:

E: peggy.bendel@dc-intl.com

W: www.aboutdci.com

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Alexia Nestora, Director of North American Operations, i-to-i.

- After graduating from Georgetown's School of Business, Alexia moved to New Zealand to introduce the concept of Pilates to a new market and start her own business.

- A year later the business was sold and her visa expired so Alexia moved on to Washington DC where she started new divisions for a gourmet food chain and eventually moved up to Director of Marketing and

- Being married to a Swiss, Alexia felt it was time to live in Zurich for awhile so she repeated what she did in New Zealand and helped introduce pilates into the Swiss market.

- While in Zurich, Alexia started a Cupcake bakery, sold it, and then took on various consulting roles for expats looking to start their own businesses

- Alexia then moved on to facilitate the marketing/ communications for a merger between BP Oil and NOVA Chemicals as well as consulting on intercultural relations for UBS Bank in Zurich.

- While planning her own around the world trip Alexia stumbled upon i-to-i and after clicking the 'jobs' tab hasn't looked back.

For more information, please contact:

E: alexia.nestora@i-to-i.com

W: www.i-to-i.com

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