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.