Explore The World Of Blogging

by , Nov 15, 2010, 8:26 AM
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A delegation of Orlando tourism executives -- representing everything from hotels to museums -- recently visited New York for a media blitz, including an evening event on the rooftop of the Gramercy Park Hotel. Most of the media on hand represented magazines or were magazine freelance writers. The next morning's schedule, however, called for the delegation to meet with 12 travel bloggers -- no "traditional" media invited.

That same week, the president of a mid-sized public relations agency specializing in travel told me that bloggers had become central to his efforts -- including attendance at the annual TBEX (Travel Blog Exchange) conference (the first TBEX Europe was held this month in Copenhagen.)

The explosion of travel blogging has brought with it many of the same issues, and some additional ones, that travel writing has always involved: Who's legit? Who's in it for free trips? Who deserves sponsorship? Who, if anybody, is reading which blog?

No question that some bloggers have made their marks, enjoying readership -- even sponsorship and advertising. But there is one big difference between a blogger and even a contributor to a local weekly newspaper. The latter has to get through some kind of editorial screening to appear in writing. The blogger, of course, does not.

And the other difference with travel as opposed to other products: the stakes can be high. A luxury cruise or a trip to the South Pacific ain't cheap, and the ROI for the supplier must be significant. There have always been travel writers whose main interest was free travel -- and it was always up to editors/public relations professionals to do the best they could to keep "freeloading" writers from taking advantage of familiarization trips.

It's a lot cheaper to send sausages to a food blogger or makeup to a beauty blogger. Travel is a big ticket item.

The profusion of blogs makes it time consuming to figure out who's who -- and who's worth investing in when it comes to an expensive a trip. While there are few media outlets that forbid free travel, their number has dwindled as travel budgets have collapsed. There was a time when a newspaper travel section editor was a heavy hitter. Now few even hold that position. And bloggers rarely have to answer to anyone.

And consider that TBEX claims membership of 2,900 members -- far larger than any "legacy" travel writers association. How many of them have a serious following?

Bloggers have become an issue in older travel writer organizations -- such as the Society of American Travel Writers and the New York Travel Writers Association -- with many members resistant to blogger membership no matter their credentials. It does seem an extreme position to take to keep members out simply because of the medium in which they operate. Besides, there are many bloggers who have no interest in joining those organizations -- now that they have their own, with colleagues who share their experiences and worldview.

For marketers, the vetting process has gotten more difficult because of the sheer number of travel bloggers. Blogging itself is in transition as many bloggers move to "microblogging" and social media. That will make the job of finding and developing relationships with productive bloggers even more complex.

0 comments on "Explore The World Of Blogging".

  1. Rick Mulholland from Novell Design Studio
    commented on: November 15, 2010 at 11:44 a.m.

    Just a few years ago, I could reach out to bloggers related to my jewelry category and some would show legitimate interest in my products – often writing a post about what they have discovered or liked. Now many of these same blogs no longer offer free editorial. My last pitch resulted in responses involving advertising rates or a pay-to-post flat fee. It seems that blogging is business; maybe it’s not BIG business, but it’s enough that if the blogger has an audience, then that audience has a price attached to it.

  2. Steven Kirstein from OnProcess Technology
    commented on: November 15, 2010 at 11:55 a.m.

    Nice article. It's funny - back when I was in the Tour Operator business (pre-history: the 80s) the same issues came up with the Travel Agency channel/community. "Whose inclusion in a fam trip will give us the payback we need?"

    Interestingly enough, I suspect the same characteristics that applied to assessing valuable Travel Agents will also apply to the Travel Blogger community: Deep Niche Interest and Income. It wasn't always the biggest agencies that gave us the best business - it was those who could deliver a small, but very interested and loyal audience and (in our case at that time) had the income to afford the product.

    Blogs are measurable too - subscriber levels and visitor analytics are available. There's no reason why travel providers can't request both sets of numbers from any party interested in compensated travel services.

  3. Durant Imboden from Europeforvisitors.com
    commented on: November 15, 2010 at 3:07 p.m.

    As Steven Kirstein suggests, audience is key--and it's measurable. On our own editorial destination site, we have a public "Audience" page with Google Analytics screen shots and an embedded Quantcast U.S. demographics table. If a blogger or other site owner can't supply audience data, that should be reason enough for skepticism.

    The potential coverage's useful life is something else that needs to be considered:

    - Typically, blogs are structured in reverse chronological order, with older posts being archived by date. As a result, the coverage's useful life is likely to be short.

    - On an evergreen travel-planning site that's structured by topic or category ("Rome transportation," "barge cruises," or "Vermont ski resorts"), older articles remain easy to find, often rank well in search engines, and generate traffic, awareness, and Web referrals month after month or even year after year.

    How long coverage is readily visible and useful also contributes to the role that it plays in communicating the travel vendor's message to the reader:

    - Blog posts are useful mostly for building awareness (like the traditional 500-word teaser article in a Sunday newspaper travel section).

    - "Evergreen" articles on niche travel-planning sites can also help to build awareness, but their real value--especially if they rank well in search engines--is in providing "decision support" for readers who are researching where to go, what do do, and how to spend their money.

    Side note: Rick Mulholland mentioned getting responses from bloggers who wanted ads or "pay-to-post" fees in return for featuring products editorially. On our own mom-and-pop travel-planning site (which attracts more than 4 million visits per year), there's no price attached to our editorial coverage. I'd guess that most bloggers who confuse advertorial with editorial are amateurs who don't know any better.

  4. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited
    commented on: November 17, 2010 at 1:37 p.m.

    Travel blogs are timely. Just because something was good a year ago, it may not even be there now. Better to use blogger info if 1) it is recent 2) many people have the same opinion 3) it is a trusted source. Also note, not all writers are the same. November 14th issue of the Philadelphia Inquirer reprinted an article from the Los Angeles Times by Chris Erskine about 5 days in Paris. The article was so very horrid. It sounded more like a political statement of not to go (or that he/she really didn't go or exceptionally lazy) that the amazing places and things to do in Paris that are much less expensive than here in the U.S. with its $20-30 entrance fees to museums. It is up to the traveler to read many sources while planning their trip. I have found the Insight books very informative and resourceful, for example.

  5. Laura Griffin from Colorado Mountain Media
    commented on: December 4, 2010 at 2:52 p.m.

    I have worked in marketing and designing for various travel businesses and web portals. I have learned that people trust real people's opinions. Oftentimes, readers are aware that magazines edit their columns, where as a blog is a direct opinion of the writer.

    Many of my clients turn to blogs, comments, and Yelp! to see what their customers have to say.

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