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835 days ago
 

Two tourism industry problems that travel bloggers can solve

The profession of travel blogging is apparently on the rise (defined as those who find employment through writing travel blogs).

There is always plenty of discussion (and a plea to stop) about commercialising the craft, but in order to make money there are two ways these bloggers can evolve:

  • Solve consumer problems.
  • Solve travel industry problems.

People pay to have their problems addressed and problems are a solid basis to form a business or maintain employment.

As a distant cousin of travel bloggers, travel startup entrepreneurs constantly strive to understand problems and so-called pain-points (with ideas and innovation being the by-product of understanding the problem with sufficient skill that they spot a commercially viable solution).

For travel bloggers it should be no different.

Here are two travel industry problems that travel bloggers could address in order to earn their keep:

1. Destination data

The future of travel websites (and services) revolves around data and building tools to understand this data and present appropriate versions of it to consumers.

Product data tends to be openly available in API form. Even review and other data is nicely standardised and able to built into a global travel system at scale without too much fuss.

But destination articles and data is hard to source that matches the brand criteria of the travel website (a luxury tour operator would have quite different demands to a backpacker website).

At this point travel bloggers and writers are often brought in, sub-contract, to research and write a handul of freetext articles about that destination.

So far so good. But with personalisation coming (increasing demands on data) and global websites wanting to give equal prominence to all destinations (requiring content from everywhere, globally, within a short timeframe) this can’t be serviced by just a few travel writers.

I want to see a marketplace system where, as a content consumer (a travel website), I say I want to know the top five spas in 100 destinations….. and 100 travel bloggers, each knowledgeable about their own specialist region, can answer that question for a small fee.

Quickly, I have sourced a unique database of 500 spas that I own the IP to, written up in my brand style specification, based around what I need for my new service.

Travel bloggers and writers will need to become masters of destination information, not masters of prose (or link-building). There is money to be made there, but only if they collaborate via a central marketplace such as my idea above.

2. Multi-day itinerary based tours

Specialist tour operators are crying out for help promoting their products (and tailor-made tour booking services). Many of these tours are booked at 100-130 days prior to travel.

My hypothesis is that travel blogs are often read during the consumer research phase, which happens to correspond to the same time-frame that specialist tours are booked (versus, say, hotels or flights, which tend to be booked at a month or so prior to travel).

When you have travel bloggers writing inspiration oriented content and failing to monetise it, and you have specialist tour operators crying out for more help promoting their services, and both active in same 100-130 days prior to travel phase, then someone has to be able to create a business out of this to the benefit of both sides.

Any more?

There you go, travel bloggers, two clear opportunities for new startups to focus on monetising the skills and experience of the new travel blogging industry by providing solutions to the travel industry (rather than consumers).

Any other ideas I have missed?

NB: Image via Shutterstock.

 
 
Alex Bainbridge

About the Writer :: Alex Bainbridge

Alex is a contributing Node to Tnooz and writes about travel technology, travel startups, specialist tour operators and the tours & activities sector. He has previously led ecommerce, social media and reservation system projects for airlines, leading mainstream tour operators and hotel distribution companies in both leisure and business travel sectors.

He is the CEO of TourCMS, a web based software-as-a-service reservation system and distribution platform used by many specialist tour operators worldwide to take online bookings and distribute to 3rd parties.

He also moderates Small Fish Big Ocean, a community that welcomes small tour operators and niche travel agents to come and discuss travel ecommerce issues. Alex has a computing degree, is passionate about usability, speaks French and still writes and reviews code.

 

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  1. Jason Reese

    Hi Alex-

    I’ve been following your articles for a while helping to build a travel startup. I must say that I’ve quoted you several times in presentations as your concerns like this article are very on point with what our startup is trying to address. Outside of bloggers though, data is being collected through review sites. Foodspotting, for example, can help you find the best cheesecake in the UK. The problem is parsing all that data in an intelligent way, allowing the user to search the data based on their interests, and then presenting it for easy consumption. We’re working on exactly that, and expecting to start really helping with this issue in early April. More than reviews though, we’re having a hard time finding good, free-use photography for destinations, POIs, and unmarked (nature) POIs. Anyone have a collection of great travel photos from around the world they wish to share?

     
  2. pam

    I wonder if you’re familiar with Fortnighter, a relatively new company that creates custom itineraries using local experts. Some of those experts are bloggers and the pay is okay, it’s not a bad way to pick up a few extra dollars if you know your region.

    Guidebook style data gathering is tedious but necessary, targeted at specific demographics it does, become a lot more useful.

    On both of these, what your arguing for is a specific skill set, tightly focused on quality information, not on story or prose. I’m going to make the generalization that most self-identified travel bloggers aren’t interested in that. They want the experiential assignments and most of what you see on the travel blogs represents that. (With some exceptions, of course. There is some good factual content to be found.)

    This amorphous mass of travel bloggers that you’re implying could work as data gathering worker bees — if I were a travel company, I’d be damned picky about who I hired to do that for me. So the premise — travel bloggers could do this — is a bit broad. Hell, travelers who aren’t bloggers could do this too, they just need a list of requirements, time, and compensation for their work. And I wonder if this type of project might better be staffed by data geeks (or bloggers who love data) — that’s who I’d want were I sourcing database style information. Or I’d at least want my data gathering bees to have a strong tendency in that direction. Do these generic travel bloggers have those characteristics? I’m sure some do, but I’d totally screen for it before signing anyone up to create the data my business relies upon.

     
    • Alex Bainbridge

      Hi Pam
      I agree – but (BUT!) a lot of what I hear from travel bloggers is that they can’t monetise their knowledge. Here is a mechanism (proposed, not actual, yet) for them to do exactly that. It might not be to their tastes, but going back to a salaried job somewhere else may be even less to their taste.

      @ everyone else saying you write your own reviews etc….. YES – keep doing that – and you are right to do so…. what you are missing is the move to personalisation that is happening in the wider travel industry – and the increase in data demands that this leads to. Data that computers (!!) can understand, not humans. The wider industry works at BIG SCALE with BIG DATA requirements. A single tour operator reviewing 10 of their local establishments is not the same problem as a global website saying, eeek, we need to know this very specific data, but we need it in 200 countries, and we have 3 weeks to get it.

      Really this post could have been written about travel industry problems rather than travel bloggers…. me, why I brought travel bloggers in (rather than locals) is because travel bloggers tend to be able to create data with a critical, outsiders, perspective…. a local tends to have a different viewpoint. Also travel bloggers, it seems to me, tend to be generally broke and open for opportunities that keep them travelling ;)

       
  3. Peter Syme

    Alex has great points about the actual data but I do think it will be needle in a haystack stuff . Huge amount of data required and only a small % ends up getting used.

    On content production I as a small adventure operator can say tat without doubt the production and distribution of decent well written content is a major issue for us. Issues

    1. We are adventure people and our engaging writing skills are limited
    2. We are niche so purchasing content is no use as it is never relevant enough
    3. Travel bloggers experience so far is good if they have done what we do but otherwise limited use

    Solution? Pay a great writer to spend months doing what we do so they can write about it but as has been pointed out above by many the cost versus speculative return just does not stack up.

    Someone brighter than me will figure it out how to bring the content producers and the operators together but not happening in any great scale at the moment.

    Then we come to distribution of said content. Do not get me started on this one!

     
  4. Rodney Wedge

    I launched a culinary travel business this year. That’s right, this year. My experience is in the hospitality industry and I’m quickly realizing that marketing in this industry has different challenges. I would appreciate any insight from the seasoned travel businesses out there.

     
  5. Dave and Deb

    Excellent points Alex. The multi-day tour is especially interesting…but why not take it a step further. We are developing custom tours with a adventure travel company where people can come and travel to a destination we have been before with us, benefit from our experiences and travel like us. These are custom itineraries developed by us. I think this is a great partnership that allows both parties to benefit and just another way travel bloggers can partner with companies.

     
  6. Travis

    Back in 2004 we began bugbitten.com where travellers could upload their own journals/blogs of their travels. To date our users have added 3 million photos in over 100,000 blog entries… also, from the beginning we allowed travellers to tag which tour operators they travelled with or if they did the trip independently. This allowed us to capture highly targeted UGC… for example if you visit http://www.bugbitten.com/Contiki-Photos-Blogs-9/ we have got over 50k photos just for Contiki alone.

    Our experience has found that travellers are researching/booking these multi-day tours anywhere from the 100-130 days you mention right up to 6 months (and for some trips, even much longer than that).

    We created TourRadar.com in 2010 to do exactly what you’ve said above in point 2 – help tour operators promote their business to more travellers. One of the ways we do this is through our affiliate ad network and in particular, for travel bloggers – our contextual ad units (just like Google’s AdSense, however we only show tours in the ads). If you visit http://www.bugbitten.com/blogs/South_America/ribtickler/Macchu_Picchu_cont_and_The_Amazon_Basin.html you’ll see a skyscraper ad unit on the right which features tour operator’s trips. On bugbitten, we tried allowing our users to monetize their journal content via Google Adsense, however the traffic they received simply wasn’t enough to make it attractive. In saying that, with the type of following that some of the bloggers out there have these days – that does change the ball game of what they can earn.

    Bloggers can be signing up for free and customising TourRadar’s ad units in a matter of minutes and adding these to their blogs to start showing contextually relevant tour ads and earning cash on a AUD$0.40 per click basis. If you’re interested, please visit http://www.tourradar.com/affiliate-signup/

     
  7. Leith Stevens

    “I want to see a marketplace system where, as a content consumer (a travel website), I say I want to know the top five spas in 100 destinations….. and 100 travel bloggers, each knowledgeable about their own specialist region, can answer that question for a small fee.”

    There are a few startups trying to solve this problem, one which does it well, albeit one destination at a time is mygola.com.

     
  8. Alex Bainbridge

    Thanks for the comments folk, just a clarification though – I am not interested in paying bloggers for reviews (consumer reviews, while not directly comparable, can provide a satisfactory alternative). I am also not talking about big lumps of carefully crafted or honed freetext.

    I am talking about DATA

    e.g. say I wanted to have a data set of all the best places in the UK to eat cheesecake. I would add to the marketplace – “looking for best places in the UK to eat cheesecake” – 10 USD a place, 1000 USD budget. Travel bloggers and others would see that and each reply, if they knew any. I would hope to get 100 (unique) places in the UK to eat cheesecake – nicely written (even a paragraph each). Then when I, as a travel website, knew a customer liked cheesecake – I could use my cheesecake dataset within my service – and that would make my service look great…..

    Future web / mobile services are going to need a lot of datasets as with personalisation efforts going on within the industry we know more and more about the customer (e.g. their hobbies or passions) – and now we need the corresponding destination data…..

     
    • James Penman

      Hi Alex,

      I think you’re right about destination data sets. Little chunks of data can be made to work in wonderful ways to answer questions you never knew existed until you created the chunk of data in the first place. One problem is quantifying the value of the chunk of data. Some chunks are quite valuable, others less so. Also, some chunks you don’t think will be particularly valuable turn out to be winners.

       
    • james dunford wood

      Alex / James

      “Little chunks of data can be made to work in wonderful ways to answer questions you never knew existed until you created the chunk of data in the first place”. They don’t exist because no one has asked them.

      I once emailed 1000 hotels asking if they had a swimming pool, and if so, was the length under 5 meters, 5-8 metres, 8-12 metres etc. Got loads of messy emails back, spent a week making a wonderful pretty hotel swimming pool search (ie find me all hotels where I can swim a decent length) etc. No one ever used it. I can see the attraction from the tour op/publisher’s point of view to getting access to all this data quickly from ‘experts’ (PS cheesecake can mean different things to different people) , especially those like me with a similarly anal attachment to the stuff (data). A good way to waste money. Honestly, there is already too much data. Bring back the travel agent! I will pay to avoid all this data!

       
      • James Penman

        Hi James,

        Whilst writing this, I’m looking at real time referral logs full of people looking for information on little chunks of data and combinations of chunks of data. It’s UK specific and the sort of stuff you’ll find on OS maps but there’s massive demand. I have no idea about swimming pools.

         
  9. Andy

    Karen,
    Bang on the money. As an owner of a website we regularly get asked if we can do x,y or z property for cheaper than another website. With hotels I guess it is much worse. If you’re going generic or even toward the high end with content you’re wasting your time, because of the ‘I can get it cheaper brigade’. I think Alex refers to niche type tours and the smaller operators and herein lies the problem. Those sort of niche operators simply do not have the cash to be throwing it around at bloggers to write unique content on. Especially when, I tend to think, the actual niche operator knows more about the niche product than a blogger who has probably never been to the place, experienced the tour or even the country for that matter. I think the idea is dead. I say that because the only way a blogger can write about a niche product is to experience it and we are again in the realm of finance and cost. So, to sum up, it won’t work for generic/high end because the cheap brigade will digest the info and then book elsewhere and it won’t work for niche operators on a cost basis. Nice idea but essentially a dead duck.
    Did I mention we do free content (tongue in cheek).

     
    • Ginger Aarons, CTC, Director

      I’d have to agree with the above statement. Small operators like myself tend to write their own reviews to save money. For those that don’t enjoy writing, it might be a bigger problem. It’s part of our creativity however.

       
  10. james dunford wood

    Yes, Karen is spot on. The challenge for all the selective and ‘expert review’ led websites like Mr and Mrs Smith and Travel Intelligence was always that people would read the lovely reviews and then book the hotel direct, saying “I saw your hotel on XXX.com for 200 USD’, can you offer it to me for 190? Of course they could, still better for the hotel than what they would get after XXX’s commission is taken off.

    As for Alex’s marketplace, yes, have thought that’s a good idea for years, never got around to it yet. However, not sure how much money there is to be made, though a nice service for bloggers and tour ops. Last time I looked the money was not there. But perhaps it’s time for another look.

     
  11. Karen Bryan

    It’s not free to produce decent content but until users, whether that be DMOs or travel brands, are willing to pay not just the travel costs but the time for writers to produce that content, nothing will change.

    I did propose writing hotel reviews on hotels at which I’d stayed in various destinaitons for a travel site but they said it wouldn’t be cost effective and that the onus was on the potential customer to do the research on the hotels on UGC sites. I did wonder if a travel/hotel booking site had decent, objective, thorough, “expert” reviews backed up with lots of photos/videos if customers would begin to trust that site and they’d become loyal to that site. Then I thought customers would probably read the reviews on that site and then book on the site which offered the lowest price. Therefore the investment made by the travel site who published the “expert” reviews wouldn’t get the financial benefit of their investment?

     
  12. Andy Jarosz

    The model of supplying specialised content on a destination to numerous buyers (tour operators, DMOs, hotel chains) could be an interesting one for bloggers but I suspect a lot needs to fall into place before it can happen.

    At the moment I write the content for a small number of tour operator, OTA and hotels and the bulk of my output is based on desk research. Getting out to Greece, Mexico or wherever else would undeniably produce more unique content but it’s not viable for me to spend a week away from my desk to produce the handful of articles that one operator might want (and not worth their investment in flying me out).

    Now if someone were to go out to a destination for a couple of weeks, come up with enough material for 40-50 blog posts and have enough clients lined up to buy that content, that could get interesting. The market for buying blog content is still weak and only growing slowly, but as more companies see the benefits they can realise from publishing interesting, relevant and search-optimised articles on their own site perhaps we’ll get there. Here’s one person hoping we do.

     
  13. David Whitley

    It’s blindingly obvious that travel companies and bloggers should be working together to get unique content that fits the brand. If I owned a company that sold cities breaks in Budapest, for example, I’d want to stand out from the crowd of other companies that sell city guides in Budapest. One way to do that is to give customers a genuinely useful mini-guide to Budapest (either on the website or in PDF format after booking). I’d be looking at what I sell, then looking for good writers that could go and do the research. A marketplace system might work for this as a time-saver, but nothing really replaces that click you get when you identify a voice that fits your brand well.

    Two problems.

    1. Inspiration is massively overcatered for in the blogosphere. Information is scant. That’s because the useful stuff is boring to research and few people want to do it. Finding someone to write 500 words about what they did is easy. Finding someone to assess and compare 20 hotels or restaurants is less so.

    2. Useful, unique content won’t come cheap enough for most travel companies. That’s why they buy generic stuff in from the likes of Wcities. It’s no secret that I’m planning to put a city guides section on my own site, and I was looking at costs the other day.
    What would be the minimum I’d accept for advertising (say banner above and beneath) on a 2,000 word, properly research Best Of guide to a city on my own site? Probably about £750 for the cities that present the fewest cost barriers in the research. The more expensive the flight, the more expensive the hotels I’d have to stay, the more that’ll go up.
    To do it for someone else’s site? Well I’m obviously going to charge more as I’m not getting the traffic. Any travel company willing to pay £1,000-plus per destination for a properly researched, exclusive guide written for them by someone whose voice fits the brand is going to be making a SERIOUS investment. Not many will be prepared to do that – so they’ll plump for the indistinguishable cheap/ free content that doesn’t serve the purpose they intend it for.

     
  14. Andy

    Alex,
    Very topical. We’ve just launched a free content system. We provide content for blogs and travel sites. We have a team of under graduates do the research and writing and supply it in return for a link to one of our websites. Not exactly what you suggest but nonetheless free content written by educated people and all unique. The problem is we can’t keep up with demand!!

    If any bloggers want to write for us, drop us an email. We do pay for you to do so.

    Regards

    Andy

     
    • Ture Strange Nilsson

      Hey Andy, sounds interesting. Do you have a link for your website and contact info?

      Best regards
      Ture

       
  15. Cole @ Four Jandals

    We are working with a tour operator now on a 37 day tour starting at the end of April so looking to see how we can promote their tour before, during and after which will then lead to bookings for next year on that particular trip. Would love ideas on how to do that some more for sure! No idea how to monetise it at this stage :) Someone want to share our profits and join us with some ideas…

     
 
 

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