The Real Value of Press Trips?

When a blogger becomes more established in the travel industry they will likely be offered opportunities of free press trips travelling to various tourist destinations across the globe. Sounds great right? Not so much. Press trips are not free holidays they are obligations with expectations and strings attached. While this may appear somewhat cynical to the industry my intentions are aimed to better the industry for both us beginner bloggers and destination marketers. Personally (to date) I have not accepted any press trips and while there have been times of temptation I have never followed through. This post is about the value of group press trips and highlights 5 reasons at why they can be off-putting. Note there are better opportunities further up the ladder and this post relates more to the first steps into the world of press trips for us wannabe bloggers.

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1. Uncertainty and Dissonance

Uncertain destinations, uncertain transport, uncertain accommodation and sharing experiences with uncertain groups of people. There is no doubt a lot of uncertainty in many press trips and to accept them without knowing exacts and specifics takes a brave decision. Travel in itself is tiring and if forced far from your comfort zone it can easily turn into a nightmare situation. Every time I consider a press trip I already have my excuses nailed down for bailing mid-travels. There are few circumstances in which I would accept press trips without knowing exact dates and times, hotel standards and more importantly how much free time and privacy will be given during the trip. As everyone has their own levels of comfort there has to be a happy medium for this and for me accommodation needs to be guaranteed in advance as the thought of downgrading to shared rooms or dorms is an absolute no.

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2. Freedom of Expression and Creativity

Freedom of expression and the expectations of bloggers would be my second niggle. This issue has obviously become a grey area in blogging where ‘freebies’ do come with strings attached and there is often implied pressure put on bloggers to only write nice things about everything. Here I feel a better compromise is to let bloggers write only about the positive experiences during the press trip and ignore those attractions which do not appeal. With this approach the only risk to the campaign is receiving no coverage at all given that the blogger fails to find positives along the trip. Very unlikely. I feel that bloggers should not write negatives more out of manners and general etiquette. If someone is happy to host you then to write bad reviews is no less than rude. If you want to be critical go back in your own time. With this approach I feel that disclosure is not necessary unless with paid press trips.

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3. The Importance of Niche

For most press trips I have found the blogger sample in itself to be a little off-putting. While packing a tour bus with backpacking bloggers sounds all good and fun I don’t feel it creates much value in a campaign. A bunch of like minded bloggers, blogging to the same audience about the exact same things is little more than a wasted opportunity. To maximize exposure a better approach would be to handpick a diverse range of niche bloggers; photographers, videographers, food bloggers, adventure bloggers… all with their own unique niche, following and audience. There should then be flexibility and optional opportunities for each blogger to pursue their own areas of interest en route. Again this approach should be used to vary between the regions and demographics in which the bloggers influence. If a campaign is targeting an Asian market for example then obviously South American or even nomadic bloggers will not gain the same coverage. Regional bloggers will generally rank higher with targetted keywords and on regional search engines. It may also be easier to keep the sample low making it easier to schedule and manage the press trip and again remove much of the uncertainty in organization.

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4. Short Term Social vs. Long Term SEO

In the past I was often put off by the emphasis on constant communication through online social media. While Social shares are effective in the short-term they will not have the same impact in long term and for most bloggers are a given in their blogging portfolio. If you want social bloggers on the campaign then chose social blogger for the campaign. Otherwise no-one wants to see a sudden spate of spam to social media “Can’t wait for my journeys with…..”, “….. are awesome”, “I like free stuff from….”. We all cringe at over-promotion and it doesn’t help the campaign or image of bloggers. I think more emphasis should be put on the long-term benefits of SEO (Search Engine Optimization) as bloggers who are prominent on social media may completely fail on search engines. These days with many travel bloggers ranking higher than online review sites and travel magazines there is great potential there to maximize and generate search traffic long into the future. A well written article with high SEO brings a lot more long-term value than quick scribbles en route. Unfortunately SEO can be hard to quantify due to lack of transparency in blogging and this is why organisations such as the “Professional Travel Bloggers Association” can help marketers see behind the blogs with shared analytics, traffic reports, niche specifics and demographics.

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5. Blogger Professionalism

Blogger professionalism brings together much of the above and I feel anyone who considers their work to be professional would not jump on a bus, to push from one attraction to the next, while spamming social media with half-assed coverage. Passing observations and the ‘everything is awesome’ approach won’t wash with them and a professional travel blogger will write freely and without prejudice as is expected by their audience and readership. In many ways if the press trip campaign is aimed at a quick media push the professional travel blogger won’t fit well. No doubt there are countless travel blogs to choose from but only a fraction of them can generate meaningful traffic into the future. Again this is where organisations such as the ‘Professional Travel Blogger Association’ can help where membership is only given to only those with a certain level of experience and traffic and to those who  follow a code ethics.

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6 Comments

  • Great post! It’s usually pretty obvious when you read a sponsored trip blog. One top travel blogger/writer that I follow (and shall remain nameless) has a tendency to use the cliche “everything is awesome” like you stated above for his sponsored trips.

    And when it is obvious that he did not enjoy his sponsored trip, he resorts to sarcasm. It is both cringe-worthy and somewhat humorous at the same time. If it weren’t for the fact that he’s been to every country, then I doubt he’d be able to maintain the same level of credibility and readership that he has.

  • Great blog Allan, love the honest approach which is certainly missed from sponsored trips. Its a shame that many would use these blogs as there main source of a review, as it may as well be written by the tour company/agent themselves.

    • Fortunately press trips do get better higher on the ladder. Free air travel, pay packages and the clout to get your own designed press trips…. but it will always have its grey area unfortunately. I think it is best to go by your own trust in the bloggers ethics and commitment to their audience.

  • Interesting take on the world of press trips, Allan. I agree they can be bad, and things can go wrong, but it’s up to bloggers to ensure we’re only accepting trips from publicists and DMOs who know what they’re doing. If you don’t have confidence in the coordination of the trip, if everything seems unorganized in the weeks leading up to it – don’t go. Almost every sponsored trip I’ve done has been helpful and worthwhile from a content perspective.

    Good publicists don’t expect bloggers to cover every single aspect of their trip. The expectation should be that the blogger writes up what appeals to their audience and skips the rest. Otherwise as you said, we see lots of the same boring posts churned out about the same activities. The best way to ensure you’re getting what you need from a sponsored trip is to have a frank discussion with the publicist/DMO in advance. Know their expectations and your limitations so there are no awkward issues down the road.

    To your last point – not every press trip is on a bus full of people pushing from attraction to attraction. I think that generalization paints press trips in a very unflattering light. As a former agency publicist, I never planned a trip like that and now as a blogger, I’ve never been on a trip like that.

    If a blogger ends up on a trip with a crappy schedule and social sharing obligations they are uncomfortable meeting, there likely wasn’t proper communication about expectations before departure.

    My convoluted point here is this: press trips can be valuable or completely wasteful, but the responsibility to discern the difference in advance is in the blogger’s hands.

    • Excellent info Angie. To date I’ve always been in the ‘don’t go’ camp but hopefully soon I’ll get offered the right opportunity for a more positive post. I think it is part of the learning curve for travel bloggers and I am currently one of the less established ‘bottom of the barrel’ bloggers used for the quick publicity push. Climbing the ladder things should change. Most offers to date have not covered travel to the destination etc. and when I try to talk about terms the client has already filled the space… A little frustrating but at the same time I will always prefer travelling to destinations of my choice and have no obligations set over me. The idea of designing our own trips is what we aspire to but is far from a reality on the lower tiers. Anyway it is great to have insight from someone who has been on both sides and of course highlighting the good publicists which I guess the not so good will always hold down.

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