Welcome Tom Power for a guest blog post. Tom runs a rather nice boutique tour company called Pura Aventura which specialises in tours to Latin America and Spain. It's on a theme I've touched on before... but, coming from an operator rather than a journalist the perspective is different. Would anyone take him up on his offer? I know he'd love to know your thoughts and, of course, so would I...

What if, rather than asking travel journalists to take a trip with
us, commission a story and write about it, we simply offered free
holidays to travel bloggers?

I’m polling opinion here and would really appreciate your thoughts.
I can’t help thinking that there’s a potentially great idea here with
potentially great vulnerabilities. Where do you think it falls?

This is where I’ve got to:

1) Selective: we’d have to be picky about the blogs we select,
that’s hardly controversial. We would want to associate ourselves with
blogs that have decent reputations and rankings.

2) Prescriptive: we would want to define the number of posts and
links back to our site. Probably in the order of 4 posts pre-trip, 1
per day on the trip and another 4 on return. Presumably it is
reasonable that we expect an output in return for our investment.
Anyone see any issues with this?

3) Controlling: what are the acceptable limits of editorial control?
What if the blogger just hates the trip and is relentlessly nasty? (I
should say that I have full faith in what we do and I can’t think of a
time that it has happened to a customer so am not by nature worried.)
However, what if a blogger is the only one in a group to dislike the
trip? Do we retain editorial control? What would be the acceptable
limits and lines?

4) Profiling: our holidays are generally taken by people later in
life, median would be in the 50s I guess. If we were to send a blogger
on this walking holiday to Chile
for instance, would that work? Are there bloggers who would broadly
match the profile of our existing customers? Does it matter? Are travel
bloggers generally outdoors types or do they sit in still rooms lit
only by the glow of computer screens?

5) Boring: is this an offer which regularly drops into the laps of
travel bloggers? This isn’t my idea, I’ve nicked it from a Springwise
newsletter (cool business ideas from around the world), I think they
saw it being done in New Zealand. Is anyone else offering similar here?

6) Toe treading: and this is one for the TravelBlather and Travel Lists and many, many others I’m sure. Professional travel writers. How does this idea sit with you guys?

7) Fine print: the trip would usually not be 100% free as we don’t
tend to include international flights. If you had to buy a flight to,
say, South America, in order to claim/earn your trip, would it still

46 thoughts on “A free holiday… or a job with no salary?

  1. Great stuff Tom - really interesting and i am intrigued to hear the response.... I have wondered myself about this, but you seem to have thought it out better!

  2. My only reservations would be about the amount of posts - not during the trip - but before and after, if you stipulate the number, it feels as if you might almost stifle creativity. Perhaps better to say/ask the person to submit their own pre and post blog plan? Am I wrong?!

  3. I've been thinking along these lines myself. We have literally hundreds of destination holidays (again flights not included) that we want reviewing (independently). But finding the resources and time to do it properly is tricky.
    Tom, I think a fairly strong brief in terms of what kind of review angle you are interested in is fine, but I'm not sure about editorial control over the overall positive / negative sentiment, could be a can of worms, you could probably circumvent by choosing the right writer for the right trip.
    You could also get an additional version of the review written to publish on your own site, giving you some great original content both for conversion purposes and SEO purposes. I'd love to hear what others think?

  4. I'm fairly sure my reaction would be the same as Jeremy's. In a nutshell, it's: "Why would I spend money on an international flight and take a week or two essentially without pay to promote your product?"

    I'd only consider it if I'd a few paying commissions that would makee it worth my while.

    There's a whole minefields of editorial control ethics that I won't get into.

    It's a nice-ish idea, and I'm sure you'd get some take-up, but from a personal point of view, it's a financial non-starter.

  5. As a professional scribe I wouldn't do this kind of trip without having the flights paid for/fixed for me either by the operator or the airline... and a particular problem in my opinion is that flights from the UK to Latin America tend to be really expensive and hard to organise for free. Now I'm getting a regular salary from my work with iCrossing, if I could fix the flights, I'd definitely consider an arrangement like this if it was a place I wanted to visit - particularly if you did me a discounted deal to take the wife too!
    In my prior days as a full time freelance... no way... for the same reasons David mentions. But as he also says, there probably are bloggers out there who aren't full time writers and would be interested. The issue is then quality control? Can they write OK and - more importantly if we are being totally hardnosed - what value will links from their blog be worth? And that's all about the authority of their blog and the traffic it generates... so you'd need to deal with someone quite web savvy too. And you need to be quite web-savvy yourself (or work with a good SEO agency who can advise on blog selection).

  6. Clearly this wouldn't work for a professional writer as they would clearly exist on the 'salary free job' side of the fence in which case it's not surprising that you would think in terms of promoting our holidays for nowt.

    I think the point is it has to be an engaged amateur or pro who has a secure and separate income source who would genuinely enjoy the holiday, would choose it, and for whom frankly writing a few hundred words would come easily.

    I take Ben's point about editorial, if the shoe fits then you have to trust your product. That sort of deals with what I presume would be David's concerns.

    I also take Linda's point about pre and post trip blogs, seems sensible.

    So, seems like it can be tweaked and banged into a useable idea which would work for some. Now, where are they? As Jeremy says, no point taking them unless they can write, have a popular and well regarded blog which would absorb and benefit from this kind of content. Oh, and they also have to really want to go on holiday to Chile, etc...

    Simple enough then - shall I just go to Good-Travel-Writers-With-Job-and-Blog.com and pick someone or Fiona, are you the magic bullet?

  7. "Clearly this wouldn't work for a professional writer"

    So why would it work for a blogger? How are they different.

    You want someone to pay for a flight and then spend their own time to write you tons of nice positive content, nice SEO links, and not want to pay them for their time, but hey they get free accommodation and dragged around a destination taking part in activities that does not interest them.

    What do you think their readership will think of them that they are writing content that is not impartial, is all nice and positive for your company because they have got the chance to go to South America. That person would lose respect because they have no editorial control over what they write about.

    It annoys me that some travel companies tarnish bloggers as cheap ways to get free content and nice SEO links. Sorry, but I have more respect for myself and my brand than to do that. I chose what I want to write about and no freebie trip is going to change that.

  8. There is nothing new about this idea. There have been a lot of press trips specifically for bloggers and Twitter users in the US. However, they do include international flights and I think that would be essential to the proposition.

    Speaking for myself, and the RoamingTales.com blog someone needs to pay for my time. As much as I love to travel, I'm not going to go on a trip and then spend days writing free content for you, without any payment other than the trip itself. My blog has a good audience but it doesn't make enough in advertising to pay for itself so that's not a viable proposition for me.

    If you were willing to pay a professional rate for my time on the press trip, then I would be willing to write sponsored posts on my blog in return. However, that's going to wind up being more expensive than sending professional travel writers since their time will end up being paid by the publication/s they write for.

  9. "Clearly this wouldn't work for a professional writer"

    So why would it work for a blogger? How are they different.

    Most Professional writers know the difference between your and you're - why would you pay someone to write who does not know the difference?

  10. So, in that case Thomas, why not pay professional writers then rather than look for bloggers? Would it because it is cheaper to ask a blogger to come on a free trip, and sit there for hours churning content out for you for free?

  11. ... if only they did sit there for hours churning out content! Perhaps they would be producing something that did attract money and more commissions!

  12. I wouldn't go on a press trip unless my flight was paid. I go on European press trips if all my expenses are covered. If I can write interesting content for my blog that brings more readers and more advertising revenue.

    Darren does make a valid point about the time cost to bloggers while on the trip and then writing free content about the trip afterwards. I'm a full time travel blog editor and I need to earn money from my job. For example I could spend these days on a campaign to attract advertisers as opposed to a free time (my time is precious, not free.

  13. I think it's verging on exploitative. This specific proposal wants too much for too little. There should be no editorial control and a lower number of minimum posts. The airfares would put off a lot of bloggers as well, unless they were also professional writers who could sell an article at a profit, or unless they could bring friends or family and treat it more like a holiday.

  14. First, travel bloggers ARE travel journalists. And like all journalists, I retain editorial control. There are no guarantees about what I write, but if you feel confident about your tours you shouldn't have anything to worry about.

    Ten posts is an unreasonable expectation. I labor over my posts - they are not full of grammatical errors or boring "I did this, then I did that" articles. They are colorful, get-into-the-real-essence of a place pieces that each require hours to write and tweak. One good post, backed up by social networking, is worth a hundred poor posts.

    With regard to airfare, I echo what most of the bloggers have said above. Writing is not a hobby for me, it is a passion and the way I earn a living, thus I expect to be paid for it and that includes airfare, unless the destination is close to home. As it is, writers earn way too little for what we do, so I'm not interested in shelling out cash for a flight on a "hosted" trip.

  15. Barbara, it shows that you take time over your posts. But for everyone of you there are 100s who do not. Today, everyone 'blogs' - real credentials count for very little. As someone who used to teach PhD students I can, with authority, say that the idea of 'research' for many travelbloggers is not something I recognise. Sensationalist posts/pointless diaries do not in my humble opinion equate with professional travel writing.

    Anyone who decides to start a blog can do so in a matter of minutes. It is not surprising then that bloggers (in all spheres of interest, not just travel bloggers) are 'taken advantage' of. Tour companies are no different - when most people do not care what they read, why should tour companies care who writes for them? If they can get it for nothing when there are 100s out there who want the exposure at whatever costs - why not.

    BTW, not all journalists do retain editorial control.

  16. There are a bunch of things in this proposal that I would say no to.

    Defining the number of posts: I may write three short posts. I may write one long essay. If you want to define my content, hire me for my writing skills, pay for my trip, and then, we can refine what's produced as needed. That stuff isn't going on MY blog though. It will go on yours.

    Editorial control: See number one, again. You may be able to provide me with a flawless experience that's tailored to my every whim, in that case, you will probably get glowing reports as a result. But it's likely to be dismissed and my reputation is going to be at stake. My readers are looking for insightful, honest writing, not PR shilling. Take the risk. If you're confident that your experience is awesome, you shouldn't have to even worry about this.

    The fine print: I couldn't touch this without airfare. I am inundated with offers to explore various things that are nowhere near where I am right now. They're useless to me because I can't afford X hundred dollars to get there. If I'm going anyway, well, maybe. But if I'm not, why wouldn't I just book my own trip, do what I want, and then, write what I want?

    On the other issues:

    Profiling. Wow, take a look around. Realize that sometimes, the best person to tell your story isn't who you think it might be. Please don't generalize about "who bloggers are." Find a voice that matches the story you want to tell. For the record, I think a walking holiday in Chile sounds AWESOME and I am neither a 50something early retiree nor a sit in a dark room at a computer type. I'm not making a play for this, I'm just saying that the thinking here seems narrow. There is no magic bullet. As an aside, I think expat bloggers get overlooked for this kinda thing. They're a great resource, they're already on the ground where your services are. There could very well be an English language blogger who's a skilled writer and wants to do your holiday and doesn't have to shell out the X hundred dollars to get there.

    Boring. Nope. Not boring. But not actionable either.

    Professional travel writers. Seriously? I'm so tired of the adjective "professional" being appended to anyone who's in print or who's been published. What does that MEAN, anyway? Argh.

    On the comments, I'm an "engaged writer" with a day job and yeah, I might add this on were I going to Chile, say, but with the editorial constraints, I wouldn't touch it. I actually did something like this recently -- I added a tour because I was in the region. But the piece I wrote went on the provider's blog. And they gave me complete editorial freedom.

    Apologies for the length of this comment. There's too much to be be very brief.

  17. Way to go Thomas D. You rock.

    I would go in a heartbeat, if only because the airfare is no big deal with award miles, and the air transport seems to be at least one sticking point that will eliminate bloggers (along with demands for their daily compensation, bringing along wailing kids, etc. etc. and so forth). Done it more times than I care to think of that way with the award miles, and trans-Atlantic too. The irony is it's bloggers that expect the prima donna treatment on the road while accusing travel writers of snobbery and then spending inordinate amounts of time on bloggers-only press trips and their subsequent blogs hating on travel writers and actually, anything with the word "writer" in it, it seems.

  18. Hal you need to get a hold of yourself. I do not know one blogger who hates travel writers. All that I am saying is that a freelance writer gets the trip, and can then write and get the piece published in a publication, and get paid for that work. Job done.

    A blogger goes on the trip, and then has to spend days writing content, publishing and editing video, and does not see any compensation for this other than being dragged around a destination. The only reason why companies/DMOs etc want to organise a blog trip is because they know what they are going to get a lot of content and primarily links.

    As Caitin has said its verging on exploitative.

    I do not class myself as a travel writer, I'll leave that up to excellent writers like of Caitlin and David.

  19. Wow, I never expected such a vitriolic response. This is after all a polite offer from Tom, not a demand. I would have thought a "no thanks, not for me" would suffice.

    There are people out there who would do this, and be able to do a fantastic write up, however they are unlikely to have a worthwhile media outlet and it is going to take a lot of work to recruit and manage them. The flights element is a big issue, one solution is to look for writers who may already be in destination either because they are based there or visiting for another assignment.

    It would also be handy if there was one website to see which writers were on assignment where. Writers could then get more assignments into a trip and brands could spend less on transport costs.
    Another idea is to give the writer the rights to sell a version of the review as a feature to other media outlets.

  20. Ben, good points.

    Maybe bloggers with good writing skills need to think outside of the box and write another verson for media outlets. This way they receive some form of compensation for their time.

    If Thomas is so concerned about the quality of bloggers content then why is he looking for bloggers? We know why. They want links on quality blogs. Simples.

  21. Great debate... thanks everyone. (Typepad is playing up so have had to log in as a guest GRR)
    A few thoughts of my own - for what they are worth
    1) I think a key differentiator between a 'Travel blogger' and a 'Travel Journalist' is that many travel journos don't 'get' web. Good travel bloggers absolutely do. So they know stuff about authority/page rank, outreach, networking... they appreciate that it's not just the quality of what you write, but how you network it, how you build your readership.
    Barbara sums it up really well:
    "One good post, backed up by social networking, is worth a hundred poor posts." So I'd agree that Tom should let the blogger(s) suggest the correct approach and leave them complete freedom. It's about establishing a relationship of mutual trust before the trip happens.
    2) I know Tom very well and his post was completely sincere. Regardless of the lack of pay for the writer/blogger he is still giving away a place on a trip - which for a niche operator is a significant investment. I think there's an interesting time lag here between the US and the UK. I know that many US travelbloggers now get invited on trips and that many operators and DMOS are actively engaging bloggers and designing trips that are a bit more tailored (in theory at least) to bloggers as opposed to old school travel hacks. This is really not the case in the UK yet - it's very early days... so offering an opportunity like this to UK-based bloggers isn't 'the same old thing that's been done loads already'. Far from it. I'm sure UK based bloggers (or yes indeed Chile-based bloggers too - great suggestion Pam) would go for this... it's then a case of Tom deciding if the blogger in question has a blog with high enough authority, enough followers on twitter etc, enough credibilty with their readers to make it worthwhile. If I were Tom I'd actively consider finding a Chile-based blogger and working with them on a more long term basis... making them their local expert who can comment about all kinds of stuff relating to trips both on the Pura Aventura site and on their own blog. And looking for ways to support them financially a bit without compromising the integrity of their writing.

  22. 1. Basically, a lot of publicity is being asked for but for no compensation - actually it costs the blogger money in flights. I'm not sure that this would have been offered like this for a major publication - but bloggers seem to getting different non-preferential treatment.

    2. Even ignoring the financial side, there's no way any blogger could accept any form of editorial control and retain credibility. In principle, I have no problem with free trips (as long as they're diclosed as such) as they can be expensive to do at ones own expense. BUT, I have a major issue with the provider attempting to enforce editorial control beyond that. Being independant and (hopefully) objective is one of the major advantages to blogging and is not something I'd be prepared to compromise on.

    3. Being prescriptive about the number of posts to be made isn't such a great idea as it won't suit every blog to provide exactly what you ask for. Of course, you'll be looking for some publicity and some writing as a result of the investment but the number of posts should be decided on a case by case basis.

  23. Some things:

    1. I totally get that Tom was sincere in brainstorming this on a public post. I don't know why it's gotten so heated in the comments. Not everyone knows the intricacies of what we do or how we do it; calm down, peeps!

    2. I echo the sentiments of those who said that there can be no editorial control. Like, NONE.

    3. I agree with Pam and Jeremy - get someone who is already in-country. And they should be allowed to bring another person with them - if only to see first-hand another point of view.

  24. I'm a travel writer, I'm also a travel blogger (although fairly new to that). I am also an editor. What I would say, having spent the last few months studying the travel blogs in an effort to learn is that most of the best and most interesting writing online is being done by professional writers who are also blogging and by some great new talents coming in and moving the other way and monetising their blogs.
    Either way, the pros have it. They are taking it seriously and spending the time to hone their skills, build their sites and create something worthwhile.
    To me, the joy of the blogosphere is that it lets writers off the leash of editorial constraint and allows them to write what they want, so the writing is freer and more honest than most of what appears in print. It is what we actually want to say as opposed to what we are commissioned to say.
    So selling out for a free trip and no pay seems to be the worst of all possible worlds. You are constrained in what you want to say (you may want to write an ecstatically good review, but it is no longer your choice). Nor are you paid for providing marketing content (which is effectively what you are doing).
    So if you are to put time, effort and energy into researching, writing and publishing carefully thought out and crafted work, also put some time and energy into getting rewarded for doing so. You and your fellow travel writers (journalists and bloggers alike) deserve it.

  25. Interesting proposition, Tom, and an even more interesting debate, Jeremy.

    I'm a 'professional' travel writer and blogger. All that means is that 100% of my income comes from writing and blogging about travel, hotels, food, etc, and that I don't only write for print (although that's still where most of my income comes from, because print still pays more), but I also earn money from writing posts for blogs (though not my own!). As a result, I don't 'get' the increasing number of writer versus blogger debates I'm seeing on the web. I see the boundaries as being much more blurred than is often suggested, although I have to admit I'm finding the debates compelling.

    Like David and Caitlin, my problems with the proposal are the issues of 1) writing for free (I would require a fee per word in addition to what is essentially comp'd products in lieu of expenses) and editorial control (I would require complete freedom).

    As others such as Pam have pointed out, that's what travellers demand: honest, critical, opinionated, tell-it-like-it-is writing. If Tom's as confident in his product as he claims, then that's what he should allow.

    Like David, I might consider such a proposal if I could line up other paying commissions to make it worth my while, but editorial freedom would have to be part of the contract.

    Interestingly, my husband and I are being paid by a company to maintain a blog and write for print/online/(whatever) for 12 months in 2010 - we're being provided with free stuff (exactly what that is will be revealed soon), plus being paid by word. We're also being offered bonuses as an incentive for securing additional articles in print. We're being given complete editorial freedom and determining the content of our own posts, although only 3 out of 14 posts will be about the product itself, the others will be about related experiences. It will be an interesting experiment and it could be a model for the future - for bloggers and writers. I'll keep you all posted or you can visit us here http://twitter.com/gran_tourismo until the blog is launched.

  26. Hm, lots of interesting points. Here are my thoughts:
    Editorial Control – this is the issue that would make me say “No, thanks.” The good reputation that you (rightly) want a blog to have depends upon this. Yes, journalists in traditional media do not always have full editorial control but I think that’s a side issue here.
    Obviously you want to protect (and enhance) your reputation – that’s why you’re suggesting this – and you want to see some return on your investment. I would suggest that the way to do this is to choose the right blogger (one who can write, has integrity and a popular blog), invite them on the trip and then leave them to it.
    Then you don’t need to worry about post frequency because the blogger will choose the one that suits them the best. Some bloggers love to post while they’re on a trip, others prefer to come home, take their time and then write about a destination. Some write lists or publish photogalleries. I think it would be reasonable to ask for a link every time a blogger uses material that they gained while on your trip. Instead of this occurring every day while they’re on the trip you could see this bringing in links and traffic over a much longer period.
    Personally, the airfare would also make me say no, right now. However, if I were planning on travelling to Chile anyway in the next few months then that wouldn’t be a problem. I would also only go on a trip that I was interested in, otherwise it wouldn’t make sense financially. (I also have to echo Pam here – walking in Chile sounds great – and I don’t fit your profile!)

  27. Mr. Cronian:

    "Hal you need to get a hold of yourself. I do not know one blogger who hates travel writers."

    Then perhaps you're just speaking for yourself and really don't know all bloggers. Or do you? An easy enough ear to the ground and looking around and listening to the tone and content will reveal quite the opposite. As I alluded, the funny part is that travel writers by and large do not care about the type of outlet someone else on a press trip is covering for. We're not the ones obsessed with this non-issue, or spending endless hours ranting about the "ethics" [sic] of taking press trips. As I also commented elsewhere in recent times, no problem for me if the NYT sends writers on press trips. I hope they had a fantastic time in Jamaica/Chile/South Africa/etc. (..which is just my way of saying people will do what they have to do, and it's none of the business of any god-damned blogger on Matadornetwork, Worldhum etc. who is basically just jealous they weren't also invited).

    "All that I am saying is that a freelance writer gets the trip, and can then write and get the piece published in a publication, and get paid for that work. Job done."

    If that's all you're saying, then you've way oversimplified the working life of most freelance travel writers. But...don't bother taking my word from it. Instead, talk to someone whom you're not dead set against and ask them what their working life is about as a freelancer. More than one will tell you, even on the most organized all expenses covered press trips, they spend endless hours before and after that trip lining up additional stories, additional markets, following up on endless sources for stories. If they're like me, they will be revising and coming up with even more story angles and pitches to additional markets for years to come, depending on the destination. Really, it never stops with a destination once you've traveled there, if you are a true journeyman travel writer. So you are way off.

    "A blogger goes on the trip, and then has to spend days writing content, publishing and editing video, and does not see any compensation for this other than being dragged around a destination. The only reason why companies/DMOs etc want to organise a blog trip is because they know what they are going to get a lot of content and primarily links."

    So? If a blogger goes on the trip, then that's surely one of their most obvious tasks to do as a matter of course, and if they want guarantees of payment then presumably they've also monetized their site sufficiently and have a working model for it that makes the ROI worth it for the trip. Anyway, that's not the only reason why companies "want to organizse a blog trip", far from it. Tourist boards get relentlessly pitched directly and through the PR firms that rep them from bloggers insisting that theirs is the only valid medium and method at the moment to reach the maximum audience, and that all other media are (essentially) dead.

  28. Thanks for canvassing my (Travel-Lists) opinion, Tom.

    Not much to add to what's already been said.

    Professional writers need to earn a living, and diminishing rates & commissioning outlets make that harder than ever. On the other hand, if a travel writer does pay for flights, then he/she has to find as many subjects/commissions as possible in that destination to make it worthwhile. So I don't see anything wrong with inviting visiting bloggers to stay.

    Total editorial independence is essential. I don't know any professional travel writers who would even consider a 'fam visit' with strings attached.

    Examples of bad reviews are rare. It's more likely that if a visiting journo/blogger hated your product, the piece wouldn't get published... though blogs are more likely to 'publish & be damned' than traditional media.

  29. Like David Whitley, I'm just going to leave aside the huge subject of editorial control ethics.
    I'm sure there are plenty of people with an alternative/private income - writers/bloggers, however they define themselves - who would take you up on this. There must be a rich seam of early-retired people - your typical clients - with both the time and financial freedom, who were previously professional writers in some capacity and would really enjoy a project like this. So it could be a good deal for the right person.
    The key point here is that you hope the venture will generate bookings; the same aim as if you took a professional travel writer for traditional media, who would get a fee from the publication.
    Maybe you should offer a percentage of the income generated, which would depend on how powerful and persuasive the writing is.
    Obviously, it's an ethical minefield...
    ... which seems to be allowed in the travel business but not others. Imagine if you had a fashion company, say, and you said to a new/retired (or even established and successful) designer whose stuff you liked: I'll provide the fabrics, and I want you to come to my premises at your own expense for a couple of weeks and design and make a collection of clothes, in accordance with my taste, as that is how you like spending your time. I then sell the clothes and make a profit.

  30. Darren Cronian's scepticism is absolutely spot-on, although it seems perhaps slightly unfair that Thomas has copped it here on this thread.

    Mainstream media travel sections are arguably rather predictable, over-used, same ol' writers (often celebrities), so why not get some fresh content and new inbound links from blogs with high rankings.

    Boooo, hiss?

    Well, not really, it's just being creative about how to improve search engine rankings. Anybody with responsibility for sales via the web, publishing via the web, servicing via the web, should be thinking about this all the time.

    There is a Catalunya bloggers junket taking place in the next few weeks. Those invited are all well ranked in Google and would give Catalunya some nice and new Google juice.

    Despite there being nothing wrong with this approach, treating bloggers differently from journalists is becoming an increasingly irrelevant approach.

    If you are happy to pay for national press hacks or travel writers to go on a trip, then why not bloggers?

    They *should* be approaching the trip and the production of any content from it in the same fair and balanced way as we all hope a journalist would, so why treat them differently in terms of their expenses.

    But for fear of opening a completely new can of worms, whenever these debates crop up I always think of dear Simon Calder, travel editor of The Independent in the UK.

    He famously refuses to accept free transportation or accommodation on any trip he takes where he is likely to pen a review. Refreshingly transparent maybe?

  31. Thomas, I agree on the research point: many travelbloggers write just commercial, sensationalist posts with the sole purpose to attract advertisers, but so do the main travel magazines. Too many travel articles seem "fancy advertising", just they are paid for...

  32. I agree with the writers above who complained about the "writing for free" issue. It's unfair, writing takes time and energy, and it needs to be considered a proper job. Would a lawyer/teacher/doctor/shopkeeper work for free?
    Also, I'm not a fan of "editorial control": bloggers owe accuracy and honesty to their readers. I'm by no means against sponsored posts, but as long as bloggers say what they really think, otherwise their readers won't trust them anymore. And if the bloggers lose credibility, you won't make these offers to them anymore as they won't meet your point #1!

  33. Individual journalists might not have editorial control, but the publications they write for do. Those publications are edited by journalists.

    Some women's magazines allow celebrity PRs editorial control over celebrity interviews, a practice that in my opinion is quite wrong. However I have never heard of an organiser of a tourism press trip having editorial control over a travel article in a mainstream publication. Let's not confuse the issue.

  34. The New York Times doesn't send writers on press trips. Nor do they allow writers, even freelance writers, to submit any article wholly or partly produced from a press trip.

    And, like Darren, I also don't know any bloggers who hate writers of any kind. Where are these writer-hating bloggers of which you speak?

    I see a few bloggers who are not real big fans of newspapers and mainstream media outlets. I don't think that equates to "hating writers" or even "hating journalists".

  35. Dare I summarise?

    If you want (1 - selective), then you probably won't get (2 - prescriptive) or (3 - controlling) or (7 - not 100% free). Blogs with a good audience that will be worth your investment tend to take their editorial freedom seriously. They also (in the US at least) get enough of these offers that they won't be willing to take the offer with the strings or hidden costs attached. You might be able to prescribe posts, retain editorial control and not include airfares on some very low-traffic, non-professional blogs. So I guess (5 - boring) does away with (7 - not 100% free).

    In terms of (4 - profiling), there are a lot of bloggers who are outdoorsy. I know I would love a walking holiday in Chile. I know others would too. Many of us are travellers first and bloggers second. And if you are looking for specific demographics, I do know quite a few travel bloggers targeting the Baby Boomer audience.

    I think (6 - toe treading) is a non-issue. Speaking as a professional travel writer as well as a blogger, I don't think anyone views press trips as a god-given right. There is also no reason why you couldn't go for a mixed approach.

    I would take a press trip for my blog if I had editorial freedom (control over both how much and what I write). But I would only do so if I thought I could sell enough articles to paying outlets (both online and offline) to make it worth my while. Unless, the PR or tour operator were paying me for my time or to write for _their_ blog, as Lara suggests.

  36. I think you are mixing me (Thomas) up with the Tom who made the original proposition .... I was making valid comments about 'quality' (no doubt you pay attention to the quality of your output)I am not looking for bloggers at all.

    You are right, Tom is looking for links on blogs for free. No problem there. You are simply not willing to oblige. No problem there. But there are those who are prepared to oblige, for whatever reason. There is nothing new or problematic about that either. Professional writers have, long since blogs came about, been doing work for nothing in the hope of getting some exposure, and with the hope of then being able to command payment. Its the way of the world. Nothing new, and nothing sinister. There really is nothing to get sanctimonious about.

  37. I believe the fundamental questions for Tom are 1) "where is the line between unbiased journalism and sponsored advertorial?" and 2) "how transparent are the conditions to the readers?"

    The key to success in social media is to provide authenticity and authority. There is also a responsibility to prominently disclose any material compensation received by the writer in exchange for participation.

    Overt payment for positive opinions introduces the potential for conflict of interest and undermines both the authenticity of the writing and the authority of the writer. Social media has enabled covert, manipulative promotional efforts to be revealed to the community - with the trial ultimately held in the court of public opinion; the penalties can potentially be severe.

    Full editorial control will guarantee that the content stays "on message" but it undermines the authenticity of that content. There is an interesting risk-reward dynamic that applies to the sponsor, writer and reader. The playing field applies to the intersection of a financial commitment axis against an editorial control axis.

    Interestingly, the ideal states for the three parties are in fundamental conflict, but two positions are clear:

    - The sponsor ideally wants full editorial control at no cost
    - The reader typically expects no editorial control at no cost

    The writer provides the most interesting dynamic as personal ethics and professional credibility weigh heavily on where an individual is positioned in the spectrum. Many writers might be tempted to accept high compensation / no editorial control scenarios, while others would refuse to accept any form of compensation to avoid even the slightest opportunity for conflict of interest to defile their resulting product.

    This is where authority enters the mix. The question is whether the reader knows about the compensation conditions and to what degree that impacts their interpretation of the content. For prominent individuals considered to be authorities on particular subjects, the public may not consider conflict of interest to be a factor - the individual's convictions may be deemed above reproach. For individuals lacking perceived authority, even substantially lower compensation could potentially undermine the validity of the opinions expressed.

    One caveat: In this age of Hollywood "news" programming where compensation in exchange for access is the norm, lines are blurring. Celebrity is increasingly confused with authority in the mind of the public and it seems that celebrity might currently trump authority. The challenge facing sponsors is that the price for celebrity may be considerably higher than the price for authority. By the way, these celebrities will also be demanding greater editorial control.

    So, the bottom line for Tom? Dictating editorial control will be costly - either by increasing your risk if you don't proactively reveal financial terms, or by the cost of contracting celebrities with a large and loyal following who are willing to deliver the company message.

    The success formula for social media is simple - engage your community by creating an authentic conversation. Work hard to get the right people to visit your hotel or destination - either on a paid or unpaid basis. If they are compensated, openly communicate that fact.

    Finally, don't enforce editorial control. You may be able to influence the number and timing of the articles written, but you will need to leave the editorial content up to the discretion of the writer. There will not be 100% success with 100% positive outcomes, but the result will be more authentic, provide greater resonance with the audience, and promote engagement. Introducing that risk will increase the reward and monetize your promotional investment.

  38. The NYT has in fact on at least two occasions I can think of, sent writers on press trips. One was back around '07 some time when a freelancer went down to Brazil, was on a flight that crashed into a commercial jet and survived to tell about it and rake in major bucks aside from his initial commission (and other freelance ones he'd lined up). The other is much more recently which I'm surprised you feign ignorance of - to wit, the 125 some writers who went on a press trip to Jamaica that inaugurated a JetBlue flight down there from NYC, and which included two NYT writers. Staff ones, on this occasion, if I'm not mistaken.

    As to the rest of what you claim to think and see about writers and journalists, you have about as much evidence as I have, but probably less since -- wait -- mine is actually based on fact and not just preconceived opinion? There's not only more than one blogger who not only hates anyone calling themselves a writer or journalist, but I've read more than one report from several sources about new media conferences and conventions where there are mind-blowing scenes demonstrating that even between "bloggers", there are those who hate even other bloggers who are doing it for the money. So I'd say their their range of grudges towards both other media and even toward others working within their own media is rather monumental.

  39. "Social media has enabled covert, manipulative promotional efforts to be revealed to the community - with the trial ultimately held in the court of public opinion; the penalties can potentially be severe."

    When or where has that ever really happened? Just curious. Also, you need to flip that statement around a bit and you might also observe that social media is the new dynamic for possibly enabling "covert, manipulative promotional efforts" at least in the travel sphere we're discussing. You can't ever know entirely what the terms were of the deal struck between a blogger and a tourism board, their pr rep, a CVB and a blogger or any two such parties. Whereas you would know what the dynamic of the exchange is between a TB and a staff writer, or freelance journalist. I was recently told of at least one such case where some woman is out there taking kickbacks from the PR firm for bringing additional guests to book into a certain small resort -- in addition to her comped trip, her comped daily rates, additional other direct moneys she made blogging about it on other sites. So, poor starving and so very ethical-minded blogger? Not really. According to one PR rep that I spoke with recently and who staged and accompanied a blogger's trip, one of these bloggers is "very successful" at what she does and is "very opinionated" (read, hates journalists and writers, and would never have gone on the trip if any of us had also been along). Like anything, you can put social media to productive and beneficial uses in travel blogging, or it can be put to other uses that are just self-serving and dishonest.

  40. And once more unto the breach...

    There's a ton to reply to in here and some good tips.

    Firstly, my somewhat random distinction between 'blogger' and 'professional travel writer'. Any confusion will be my sloppy distinctions/definitions. For the purposes of this discussion, I have assumed a blogger as an amateur and a travel writer as someone whose income is derived from their writing, be that online or offline or on a blog. I see the confusion caused. Let's call them Pros and Amateurs (n.b. amateur not to be taken in a pejorative sense!), the media matters not.

    I think it's obvious that the original proposal is only likely to work for someone for whom travel writing is not their primary source of income so it's about the amateurs.

    There are clearly many pros out there for whom the idea does not work, I didn't expect it to. For the pros out there, do you take fundamental issue with an offer pitched exclusively/primarily to your amateur cohorts?

    This brings me on to the 'amateurs'...

    I don't picture dragging anyone anywhere. This isn't a press trip being shipped around to look at hotels with a bloody PR telling you what to look at and what to like. It's a proper walking holiday in Chile (continuing with this example) with regular clients.

    It would not be free for us to host this trip. It would be a cash expense in the order of £2,000

    Let me be clear about my thinking to hopefully dispel any sense that this comes from an exploitative place:

    1) There are lots of amateur writers out there with an audience.
    2) We want to reach that audience in an effective and cost-effective way.
    3) Some of those writers might really like our holidays.
    4) Mix it together and we invest in providing a free holiday place (nearly free/not free/free depending on your point of view), writer invests time in writing posts.

    I must admit that I'm a bit surprised by the overall direction of the posts. There seems to be a sensitivity to the idea of bloggers being treated as free pr. I get that. I've read the posts elsewhere, I should have seen it coming. In this case I think it's well wide of the mark.

    My thinking is that we put in an investment of X (£) in return for an output of Y (words). Of course it's down to the writer to decide whether they are willing to sell Y for £X.

    I would have expected the postings to focus far more on the editorial control/prescriptive side. To be fair I think answers to that part of my original post have been predictably certain: editorial control just isn't something we can or should ask for.

    What I do think is at the troubled heart of the proposition is touched on by both Pam and Darren - reputation.

    You are a blogger. You have spent time, effort and money to build your reputation as impartial comentators in the travel sphere. Let's say Darren accepts that there is a genuine and acceptable exchange going on here, that Pam and I negotiate the number of posts to be written. We're left with just one issue - where to put the posts.

    From our point of view, the whole point of the exercise is to have links come in from external blogs. Sending someone on holiday to write content for our own site is a completely different proposition. We want the content and the links to be on your blog. However, in hosting and being seen to host content derived from a freebie, how does that sit with your readership?

    I know that if I went onto TravelBlather one day and read a post from Jeremy saying "So as the sun goes down on another perfect day in the Atacama desert I thank my lucky southern hemisphere stars for PURA AVENTURA'S WALKING HOLIDAY IN CHILE....etc" (Jeremy: think I nailed your style there?) I might read on just to find out what he's been drinking but frankly it would be patently obvious what was going on and it would be a massive turn-off.

    There must be blogs out there which are more in line with a travelogue style. Of course the ones we, as travel companies, would most like to be on are the more off the cuff, editorially opinionated ones.

    You still there as I argue myself into a corner?

    I guess we simply can't define who might and might not say yes. It's clear as day that we can't expect to make our way onto our "A-list" blogs (the ones we ourselves follow) because by their very nature, they can't and should not be compromised.

    To conclude. We broadcast the offer, some people may be interested. Between company and writer, we decide whether the £X and the Ywords balance and off we go.

    How do I broadcast this offer without causing mortal offence to those of you who are inclined to read the 'offer' as 'taking the p**s'? Does anything I say above reset people's opinions as to the motivations behind the request?

    And, as a parting shot, there's a sub-text in many of the posts. Big travel company vs. small writer.

    Take Pura, we're a small travel company. I'm not going to turn this into an advert for us but we really do care what we do. We're proud of doing stuff better than anyone else. The core values of my work are surely no different to those of the dedicated travel writer (pro or amateur).

    So why the conflictual tone? Battle weariness after years of hosted trips by the big boys/girls of travel? Are we to pretend that small travel company vs. big travel writer doesn't exist as a possibility?

  41. Thanks Tom... you nailed my writing style beautifully ;-)
    I agree... I'd hoped more people reading this would be offering their services and discussing how to make the idea work for both parties.
    Clearly they either don't read this blog or else they got frightened off. Shame indeed that the most commented post ever on my blog became a bit of a slanging match.
    Perhaps you will get more luck with comments on the Pura Aventura blog... anyone reading this who would like to take Tom up on his offer please follow the link:

    Comments are now closed.

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