Where are travel bloggers heading beyond the next free trip?

After attending and being on the panel at the very well organised Travel Bloggers Unite TBU11 event  in Manchester 26-27 March 2011, I’m left pondering where are travel bloggers heading beyond the next free trip?

TBU11 presentation on bloggers and prs working together

Of course, it depends on the aim of your travel blog and if you are treating your blog as a business and as a way to earn a living. I outlined what I saw as the main types of travel blog in my presentation “The Future of the Travel Blog” at Travel Blog Camp in London in November 2008.

  1. Personal travel diary or travelogue
  2. Online interactive travel magazine
  3. Marketing tool for travel company

Europe a la Carte is in category two and being run as a commercial blog and is my full time occupation. I’ve written about “What Defines a Successful Travel Blog” in preparation for my “So You Wannabe a Travel Blogger: Keep in Real” presentation at TBEX Europe in Copenhagen in November 2010.

In my opinion, there’s far too much hype about this dream job as a travel blogger, where you ditch your boring day job and live out your dream to travel the world while earning a living writing about your travels. One of the perceived ways to realise this dream is to be offered and take part in press trips, Imagine staying free in 5 star hotels, eating at the best restaurants, doing fun activities and all you have to do in exchange is write about it in your blog.

5 star Lopesan Boabab Resort in Gran Canaria

However in the real, business world there really is no such thing as a free lunch. Now we travel bloggers are told we should be grateful to be offered this wonderful perk of press trips and that we need PRs to get our content. Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve had some fantastic press trips, which have provided interesting content for the Europe a la Carte Blog.

Bear in the mind that PR companies are being paid to provide a service to their clients, travel companies, so the PRs aim is to get their clients as much positive exposure/coverage as possible, as they need to keep that client satisfied and retain that account.

Now this can lead to a conflict of interest with a commercial blogger, like me and the PR companies. Offering me a press trip is not buying/guaranteeing positive coverage on Europe a la Carte. I’m offering an honest and (as far as possible) objective coverage of the travel companies product/service. I’m not into writing fluffy reviews to keep the PR and their clients happy while also trying to ensure that I get invited on plenty of other press trips, as I become know as “safe pair of hands”. You can read my debate with Lewis Shields of Flagship Consulting in his post, “TBU11 – A call to action“.

For me there’s also the issue of the opportunity cost of going on a press trip. I put a financial value on my brand/expertise, as I’ve invested nine years in Europe a la Carte. If I go on a press trip for say four nights and then spend a couple of days writing several blog posts about the trip, I have to consider what else I could be doing with that time e.g. running a campaign to attract advertisers. Now I know that the travel company is spending a lot of money on PR for their brand but all the money is going to the PR company, when the exposure is being given by Europe a la Carte. Yes, facilitated by the PRs company (for which they should be paid) but in the end the coverage is provided by me. I’m saying that as I’m running a business, a free trip isn’t offering any financial compensation and won’t pay my bills at the end of the month. It’s different for a freelancer who’ll be aiming to sell articles about the trip to several different publications but I mainly write for Europe a la Carte.

My opportunity cost views have been criticised by John O’Nolan in his “TBU11  Round Up“. However I’d like to ask if PR/IT/web design/SEO companies would take on a travel company as a client, who didn’t have the budget to pay them, offering them some free trips instead?

Group blogger press trips also equate to very similar content by all the bloggers on the trip. Now I’ve been told that a good writer can put their own spin on a story but how different can ten writers accounts of visit to a cookery class or a boat trip be? I prefer Europe a la Carte to be featuring something different to nine other travel blogs. I also suspect that my readers would prefer that too.

Naturally, every travel blogger has to define their own aims and their method of achieving these aims.  I ask myself is it a win-win situation for me to spend six days of time to give a travel company permanent links and exposure on  the Europe a la Carte Blog, as well as through my Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and youtube network?

For me it comes back to the reader, I will only have readers, traffic and earn a living if I give my readers something that is useful, entertaining or informative to them.  Readers are pretty smart and if they think a blogger never mentions anything negative about a press trip, they won’t trust what’s written in that blog, they’ll just see it as advertorial and the social media equivalent of a press release.