Three questions travel bloggers must address right now

NB: This is a guest article by Matthew Barker, managing partner at HitRiddle.

The annual TBEX networking shindig is over and several hundred hopeful travel blogtrepreneurs (*) are heading back down from the rarefied air of Keystone, Colorado.

Their notebooks will be stuffed with motivational ideas on converting their travel sites into publishing powerhouses, advertising platforms and profitable online businesses.

The travel blogosphere is a huge and diverse place, but TBEX is quite consciously aimed at a specific segment: people who want to go pro and make their living from blogging.

For those of us on the other side of the industry fence, PR people, advertisers and web marketers, this is a hugely important audience.

The role of bloggers in the travel marketing ecosystem has long been established and will only increase in importance as content creators, audiences and platforms all diversify and become ever more embedded in the principles of effective web marketing.

But given that most doubts about the role of bloggers have long since evaporated, it appeared to me as a first-time TBEX attendee that the blog world’s leadership is failing to help bloggers adapt, evolve and, dare I say it, mature to fulfil their rightful place at the top table of the travel marketing mix.

This is not to criticise the event organisation in any way. Aside from a few lengthy lunch queues and the absence of any free coffee this was one of the best and most professionally organised conferences I’ve ever attended, and I’ve been to more than my fair share.

What I’m griping at is less the quality of the event, and more the substance of what was actually being said on the stages and podiums themselves.

So in the spirit of constructive criticism, here are three questions that I would want to see addressed at the next TBEX conference and other travel blogger-focused events.

1. How do we improve the quality of output?

The most surprising feature of the two-day program was the near absolute absence of anything concerning the quality of output, or journalistic skill in general. Out of several dozen sessions, just one addressed the question of how to be better at travel writing.

This is important to me as a content commissioner because bloggers tend to produce travel writing that is more amateurish than their traditional travel writing counterparts (**)

Writers who have cut their teeth on professional magazines and newspapers are generally more likely to produce journalism that is well researched, detail focused and engaging to the reader than writers who write mostly for their own blogs.

Sure, it might be common sense that professional journalists can usually write better than (most) self-publishers, but for us in the industry that just ain’t good enough: we need bloggers with large online presence, reach and influence.

But we also need them to be good writers too. If bloggers want to take their rightful place in the marketing mix they need to upgrade the professionalism of their output.

2. How do we improve innovation?

A second surprise was the anaemic level of innovation on display by many of the big-ticket speakers.

Although “monetization” was the undisputed buzzword of the conference, the reality is that many of the big personalities in the travel blog world are locked in to an out-dated model of mass user generated content (UGC) publishing.

Many of the speakers represented sites that have followed the traditional route to online travel publishing success: pack a site with vast quantities of UGC that is either produced for free or for pennies (usually between the $10-25 mark) and aimed at no real audience or purpose, and pursue a rapacious approach to social media follower building, regardless of the quality or value of your connections.

This quantity over quality approach to travel publishing is easily commercialised by showing naïve advertisers huge numbers of unique site visitors (but little qualitative visitor engagement) and selling Adsense, sponsored posts, text links or banner ads on a CPM model.

I should point out an honourable exception here: Ross Borden from the Matador Network was emphatic in his rejection of the CPM advertising model and called on bloggers to find more innovative commercial partnerships with the travel industry. But what are those strategies? No one seemed to know.

As it is, it’s the marketers who have to come up with all the new ideas. But why should it be that way? Why isn’t the innovation flowing in the other direction too?

3. How do we improve value and ROI measurement?

For marketers, entrusted to make significant decisions on the best use of our clients’ scarce budgets, the question of value and ROI is by far our most important consideration.

What we do with those marketing budgets has an immediate and direct impact on bottom lines, and if we screw up we’re in trouble.

But in the blogging world ROI seems to be a secondary concern. The most interesting comment I heard all weekend was an exasperated request from one of the ski resort’s PR guys:

“How do I put a value to all this? Do I give a blogger a free day pass, or do I put them and their entire family up for a week?”

I share that guy’s pain. If pro travel bloggers want to be treated as equals by the industry they need to learn to play by the rules.

As a marketer I don’t only care how many uniques per month, subscribers, Facebook fans or anything else your site has. I also want to know about your engagement rates and ROI. I want to know what you can do in exchange for my client’s money.

That I didn’t hear the phrase “ROI” once this entire weekend suggests how far we have to go.

In summary, none of the above is intended as blanket criticism levelled at the community as a whole. Overall the blogging community is doing great things and has deservedly earned the industry’s respect.

But from my perspective I would like to see more leadership on the issues that really matter, and much less emphasis on the fluff. Travel blogs have a bright future in the industry ecosystem but after TBEX 2012 it’s clear that we’re not quite there yet.

NB: This is a guest article by Matthew Barker, managing partner at HitRiddle.

NB2: * I’m definitely claiming that phrase in the unlikely event that someone else hasn’t already invented it.

NB3: ** I’m choosing my words very carefully so as not to tar all bloggers with the same brush: many of the bloggers who write for us are excellent travel writers.

NB4: Traveller writing, child typewriter and ROI images via Shutterstock.

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Viewpoints

About the Writer :: Viewpoints

A founding principle of tnooz was a diversity of viewpoints from across the spectrum. Viewpoints are articles by guest contributors from around the travel and hospitality industries. The views expressed are those of the author. and do not necessarily reflect those of the author's employer, or tnooz and its partners.

 

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  1. Anthony The Travel Tart

    Travel blogging is still evolving so it will be interesting to see what happens in the next few years. Get ready for the ride!

     
  2. How to Be a Better (Quality) Blogger

    […] heart of the debate is how, as Bruce Rosard, Vice President of Sales and Marketing at PhoCusWright, commented, “bloggers need to think and act like the professionals or they won’t be relevant. If you […]

     
  3. Robert Gilmour

    Clearly this was going to get a big response – its about blogging after all!

    Try entering the real practical world of hotels and travel, where success means making a real difference. And where you succeed or fail by tangible results, not rhetoric.

    Please define the ‘blogsphere’ for me, also the ‘blogtrepreneur’ – total nonsense if you ask me. You need to make a distinction between a ‘casual/trying to make a cheap name for him/her self’ – blogger – and someone who has real respect and reputation in the travel business, earned by proven results and success – i.e. an authority

     
  4. mark

    Good article about travel blogs. comments are gold..some big egos in this game 🙂

     
  5. The Responsibility Travel Bloggers Have to the Travel Community | adventureswithben.com

    […] additional convincing, read Three Questions Travel Bloggers Must Address Now by […]

     
  6. Doreen Pendgracs

    I’ve been a freelance writer for 19 years and began focusing on travel writing in 1995. It’s been such an incredible journey. But like Mariellen, I’ve moved away from writing mag articles and into blogging and authoring books. I’ve been working on my book about chocolate travel for the past 3 years and blogging about my ongoing research.

    I definitely see writing of any kind (be it for periodicals, websites, other clients, my blog or books) to all be part of my business plan. Writing is my business, and I like to think the quality of my writing reflects that. And finally, now, after 3 years of forging relationships and blogging about chocolate travel, I am getting chocolate companies as well as destinations coming to me, asking for my time and attention. How wonderful!

    I don’t have a large audience (yet) but am working hard to forge alliances and build my reputation in the world of chocolate. I nurture visitors to my blog, make them feel welcome and noticed, and hope they’ll spread the word so that it is a REAL audience and not just meaningless numbers that won’t have an impact on potential “partners.”

    I think that means a lot and will hopefully soon translate into book sales and sponsorships for my blog and ongoing research.

    I haven’t yet been to TBEX, but may attend next year if I see value and if it’s held at another time of year. I have 3 national writers’ conferences already in the cue for next June!

     
  7. Stuart Lodge

    Enjoyed this article on how Expedia work with Bloggers – struck me as some good guidelines for travcos

    http://www.eyefortravel.com/social-media-and-marketing/bagging-bloggers-expedias-content-strategy-pays

     
  8. Murray Lundberg

    Thanks to Matthew Barker for this thoughtful article. I’ve been publishing online since 1997, and have gone through several phases but my current situation is that I write for my readers. My early years paralleled those of Durant – I started writing for The Mining Company, then for About.com for a few years. That CPM-driven part of my network still exists and still provides the bulk of my income, but my primary blog at explorenorthblog.com, while generating little income, provides most of the personal satisfaction. Matthew’s comments about writing quality are very valid, but don’t apply just to bloggers – many of the articles now found on major online content sites are amateurish garbage. While I’m traveling, though, my focus is not on quality writing, it’s on posting quick and useful facts to accompany my photos. My recent 15-day Vancouver-Alaska trip ( http://bit.ly/KXS9td ) resulted in some 300 captioned photos being posted. But my quality writing isn’t done while traveling, it’s done at home – in a similar situation to the conditions that traditional journalists write in. Some of that appears on my blog, other at various places in my CPM-driven network. Taking my travel blog to the next level that many bloggers aspire to would take an effort that I’m simply not willing to undertake – making sales calls. When advertisers find me, that’s great, but I enjoy writing and photography, and while I find marketing to be quite intriguing, I don’t enjoy raw, cold-call-style selling. If I was 30 years old I might make that effort but at 61 I simply don’t need to.

     
  9. John O'Nolan

    Interesting post, however I think your perspective is off on all 3 of your major points:

    1. Quality
    You are over-valuing this massively. The cream will always rise to the top, it’s quite simply a case of supply and demand. Quality of writing rarely what makes or breaks a successful blog by itself. See everything Gary said in https://www.tnooz.com/2012/06/18/news/three-questions-travel-bloggers-must-address-right-now/#comment-1705741 this comment so I don’t have to repeat it.

    2. Improving Innovation
    This is an unfortunate and unfair generalisation of “almost all the speakers at the event” given that you saw less than half of them. This year there were 5 consecutive tracks and 3 keynotes. There were 43 speakers in total and it’s logistically impossible that you saw more than 16 of them due to the concurrent nature of the sessions. Some of us were talking about new ideas, new concepts, and innovative ways of approaching online publishing.

    “Why isn’t the innovation flowing in the other direction too?” – because travel bloggers aren’t technologists. They never will be. It’s an unrealistic expectation for the majority of travel blogs who don’t have dedicated designers, developers, or marketers. You come from a company at the bleeding-edge of online technological advancement – you have to understand that not everyone has the same values or priorities.

    3. How do we improve ROI
    The reason that you didn’t hear about this all weekend is that travel bloggers don’t care about it. It’s not upto travel bloggers to figure out ROI – it’s up to the industry. What does a travel blogger care if a sponsor gets anything out of the relationship? At the moment, they’re getting sponsored either way. The biggest flaw in the travel blogging industry is people (PR companies especially) becoming so obsessive about how “cool” it is to work with travel bloggers that they don’t bother to even look at ROI. This is an utterly moronic practice, and it is rife within this industry BECAUSE the industry isn’t looking at it.

    Once the industry comes up with a model for ROI that works, and starts requiring it – travel bloggers will start to place value on the needs of the industry when it comes to attaining sponsorship.

    So – overall – “3 questions travel bloggers must address right now” ? More like 1 question that isn’t particularly relevant, 1 that the industry needs to get over, and 1 that the industry needs to figure out.

    I find it pretty funny when the entire travel industry turns to bloggers and goes “Omg, you guys are new and doing stuff that appears to be the future – please show the entire industry where to go!”

    Are you kidding?

    If you really do think they’re the future: Figure out how to use them properly and then YOU show the industry where to go. They’re not fucking MBA rescue workers here to save floundering profit margins and redefine business models for you. They’re bloggers.

     
    • Stuart McD

      I’d have thought if you were trying to make a business out of taking dosh or swag from others in return for “sumthin” then it would be sensible to at least keep half an eye on what you were delivering. You know, to make what you’re trying to do somehow sustainable.

      Or are you kidding?

       
    • Matthew Barker

      John, thanks for your honest & forthright feedback.

      You’re right, I couldn’t physically attend all the sessions, but then again this TBEX weekend wasn’t my only snapshot into the relationship between bloggers & industry. Like you, I work in this world and experience it on a daily basis. I think this also contributes to my qualification to comment on the subject.

      To answer your points:
      – Quality: in the work that I do it is IMPOSSIBLE to overvalue the quality of output. As Gary rightly says, blogs don’t necessarily *need* professional quality journalism to succeed, but where Gary is wrong is that not all of the industry is concerned *only* with the blogs themselves. PRs and (outdated) marketers might only be concerned with wringing ads, links and promotions out of travel blogs but that does not apply to my work. I commission journalism from authoritative, influential writers and use it and the contributors’ influence networks strategically on my clients’ sites to drive their inbound marketing campaigns. Anyone who says that quality is not paramount to this is naive and wrong.

      – Innovation: neither am I a technologist, and I certainly don’t expect bloggers to be. But I do wish that more people could at least stay current with the trends that directly concern the industry that they have chosen to join. A huge section of the community including some speakers that I met at TBEX still see “partnerships” with industry as text links, sponsored posts and sponsored trips, in that order. As someone else has commented above: PR/marketers helped to create this beast, but too many bloggers are willing to fit the role without considering the alternatives. Interestingly, in my experience it’s the more established players who are most guilty of this.

      – To say that bloggers don’t/shouldn’t care about ROI is just plain ridiculous. Those bloggers that want to professionalise their platforms and deliver services to the marketing industry need to accept that they’re trying to emulate a business model that already exists. When an advertiser charges people for exposure on their platform, the price is (usually) based on some tangible data concerning reach, demographics, engagement, etc. This allows marketers to estimate a connection between the cost and the return and is a fairly basic and well established principle. Bloggers that want to enter this arena must learn to play by the same rules. Many already do, but many still don’t.

      Finally, I have a great relationship with all of the bloggers that I work with and I was glad to meet many more at TBEX. A lof of my original article seems to have been misinterpreted and I reject those that seek to contrive a false antagonism between bloggers and marketers. We’re all in the same boat and trying to achieve the same things in a difficult market. I get the feeling that certain people fan the flames simply because they see it as their job to do so, and it is very, very tiresome. Likewise I probably should have chosen some of my words more carefully, given the emotive subject.

       
      • John O'Nolan

        “Anyone who says that quality is not paramount to this is naive and wrong.”

        That is a beautifully idealistic statement. I respect you for it immensely because I that is how I would love the world to be, too. But it isn’t. Quality is paramount to me, paramount to my personal values, paramount to my morals. Sadly, it isn’t paramount to success. That’s not to say you can succeed by doing something bad, but your emphasis was on people obsessing over the improving the quality of their writing – which really is rarely necessary. These aren’t books. They’re blogs. Wanna go take a look at the editorial quality of Engadget’s writing?

        On innovation – they really haven’t been given any alternatives. None that I’ve seen, anyway. I could be wrong – i’d actually be interested in who’d doing other things. I’ve seen a few (read: Gary) doing different things, but not many.

        I never said that bloggers shouldn’t care about ROI. I said that they don’t, and I don’t blame them for it. This issue is perpetuated by the industry, not the bloggers. Let me give you an example:

        Blogger A amasses 80,000 followers – tweets a lot – has a website – talks about how they are very influential. Company B starts working with blogger, failing to note that all the followers were amassed by following/unfollowing 500 people every single day, no one replies to the tweets, and the website gets very little traffic, other than being visited by other travel bloggers.

        Blogger A writes a success story about working with Company B, and now has posts and ebooks teaching bloggers how to work with brands based on this case study. Bloggers C D E F and G now think that Blogger A is successful, and should be emulated.

        Company B gets nothing out of it, but Company B’s PR and marketing department assure them that “it’s just a matter of time” – So they say nothing. And look, they’re in the limelight on a travel blog about how other travel bloggers should work with them. Why kill a good thing?

        This is where we are. Until companies stop blindly working with bloggers cause it’s trendy – this story will repeat itself.

         
        • Matthew Barker

          I think you’re exactly right in your analysis of how some relationships work, and why it is barely useful to anyone other than Blogger A and Company B’s PR people, and particularly not for the readers or customers. I’m glad we could find some common ground there John.

          Which brings us right back to my original point and probably where I will be leaving this discussion: This year’s TBEX had a lot of Blogger A types on the stages. Next time they could do with less celebrity and more alternative voices.

          Cheers, Matt.

           
        • Stuart McD

          Agree – to my mind that’s a very accurate characterisation. Over time one hopes that the current status quo will change — one hopes with input from both industry and bloggers.

           
  10. Jan Ross

    I love blogging. I love the instant gratification of seeing the words I created on the page and a casual comment from someone who liked what I wrote can absolutely make my day. On the other hand, I agree with the commenter above who said they were “a travel writer who blogs”. That’s precisely how I define myself. The ROI which I provide the clients I work with has to do not only with the blog but also with the other online and print venues for which I write. When I take a press trip, they can count on a large number of articles in a variety of venues about the experience – and many will talk about the trip from different perspectives. I am a blogger but I am also a writer and a journalist – which is maybe what we should all strive to be. If we write well, provide good and interesting information to readers and work ethically and conscientiously with clients, most of the problems you mention will no longer exist. Oh. And have fun with it as well! That might very well be the most important thing.

     
  11. Mariellen Ward

    Thanks for writing this thoughtful post. Travel blogging as a profession is still in its infancy and we all need to work together to make it viable and credible. No one is “right,” we are in the process of evolution, and it remains to be seen how all of this will play out. Some bloggers will achieve success with one combination of skills and another, with another combination. There is no cookie-cutter model. So everyone play nice.

    I was a professional travel writer before I became a blogger, and quality travel writing is extremely important to me. By the same token, I need to eat and pay my rent, which is getting increasingly hard to do, especially in a small market like Canada, which is where I live.

    I started my blog, Breathedreamgo, because I enjoyed blogging while I was travelling in India and because I saw that my industry — publishing — was drastically changing and if I didn’t keep up, I would be left behind.

    I have followed a strategy that is a little different than most, concentrating on quality content, a specific destination (India) and theme (what I call “meaningful adventure travel”) and taking the slow road to building my name as a good writer and destination expert. I’ve been waiting for the industry to mature so that I could begin to turn from writer to publisher and make my blog financially self-sufficient.

    This TBEX made me feel that time is nigh. Now I need to develop the skills and contacts to help me “monetize.” (Is there a better word?!?!)

    I know that I inspire people with my writing, I get emails all the time. I know that people go to India because of my writing, I get lots of those emails too.

    But how to put a value on this? And how I can make a living from this? I don’t know yet, but I’m willing to hang in, work hard, listen, learn and figure it out. To those who are genuinely contributing to the dialogue in a constructive way, thanks for your thoughts.

    Mariellen
    Breathedreamgo

     
    • Kevin May

      Kevin May

      @mariellen – only point i’ll disagree on is the “infancy” element.

      been hearing the same arguments about professionalism and careers in travel blogging for years and years, so not sure if it is such a new discipline at all?

      Perhaps it is only considered “new” because the processes are still fluid and it is incredibly fragmented?

       
      • Gary Arndt

        Blogging isn’t new.

        The travel industry working seriously with bloggers is.

         
      • Durant Imboden

        “been hearing the same arguments about professionalism and careers in travel blogging for years and years, so not sure if it is such a new discipline at all”

        Most of the issues that are being discussed today date back to the heyday of print. Take “sponsored posts”: Are they really so very different from articles in ad-driven local tourist publications, plugs in guidebooks where businesses pay to be listed (either openly or under the table), or boilerplate articles in local weekly newspapers that are supplied or subsidized by corporate PR departments?

        In “traditional media,” there’s a pecking order of sorts, with editorial media at the top of the pyramid (where they enjoy the highest ad CPMs and are the most sought-after by PR agencies). Media that rely heavily on marketer-supplied content or “pay to play” coverage are on a lower tier. I suspect that, as travel blogging matures, blogs will tend to find their own level: as legitimate editorial media, as blog counterparts to free local tourist magazines and “weekly shopper” newspapers, or (in most cases) as personal labors of love. And to quote a line from SEINFELD, “There’s nothing wrong with that.”

         
  12. Caz Makepeace

    This is a really interesting read and thank you for putting these views across. It’s an uncertain time for all sides as we are venturing into new territory.

    As a blogger who has worked on many campaigns with huge corporate brands and tourist boards we are constantly astounded by the seemingly attitude of the PR and marketers of just wanting to check off the box to say they are doing blogger outreach without really caring as to whether it is a valuable and worthwhile partnership.

    We’ve offered creative ideas which have been ignored, we’ve seen CRAZY spending on the company’s behalf knowing that we could utilize that budget in a much more efficent way, we’ve seen companies bring bloggers on board just to bring them on board without doing their research to see if they have, not just the followers and page views, but the engagement and influence, and we’ve never been asked to show ROI.

    I’m dying to work with a company that values a blogger as someone who can come up with creative and innovative ideas and forming a partnership based on this. Instead of a company trying to check off boxes and reach massive traffic numbers by working with mass bloggers who probably don’t check off the boxes, work with one or two who have a highly engaged audience and can do so much more. Absolutely DYING.

    So I think on the PR and company side of things there is also a severe lack of innovation. I’m working on a huge campaign at the moment with a major international company and I’m banging my head against the wall at how it is being implemented and once again will be offering my suggestions how to best make it work, because I understand blogging, the audience and how it can be best done.

    I agree with what you have said but the PR companies need to be educated and step up to the plate as well.

     
    • Durant Imboden

      “Partnerships?” Working with companies on “campaigns?” How does that fit with writing for readers?

      IMHO, bloggers and other writer-publishers need to decide whether they’re writing for clients or their audiences–at least when they’re publishing content under their own bylines on their own domains. If bloggers want to enjoy the respect that professional journalists and publishers receive from advertisers, PR people, and readers, they need to earn that respect by acting like professional journalists or publishers.

       
      • Caz Makepeace

        You don’t know anything about me so don’t say I’m unprofessional. I’ve had plenty of references to say the contrary and we get emails daily from my readers thanking me for the value we provide.

        Not all of the campaigns I work on are associated with content I produce on my blog. But I’m still a blogger and am able to create partnerships and work with companies on campaigns because of this.

        We absolutely enjoy the respect that professional journalists and publishers receive. I doubt we would have been asked to speak at a professional journalist conventions otherwise.

        Who are you to draw the line between those who are unprofessional and those who aren’t, especially when you don’t know them, what they do and how their community of readers respond to them? I know plenty of bloggers who work with companies on campaigns who do an outstanding job and still provide me with a place I want to hang around.

        It would be nice to have a discussion without people like you, who have no manners, jumping out, being rude, and trying to grenade it into a massive argument. We all need to work together on these sorts of things to make it better for all.Being rude, argumentative and negative will never help anyone.

        If you have such a disdain for bloggers, why might I ask are you reading and commenting on a post like this except to just fuel fires?

         
        • Caz Makepeace

          I do apologize to Matthew and Tnooz that something like this had to erupt on your post. You’ve provided a very valuable article and information which I really appreciate. And I would love to find ways to work together with everyone to make this work because there is so much valuable potential.

           
        • Durant Imboden

          I don’t have “disdain for bloggers.” After all, blogs are part of my own toolkit. I *do* question the eagerness of many travel bloggers to demand pay for coverage, or to regard PR people and marketers as “partners” or “clients.” (And when I say “many travel bloggers,” I mean just that,; I’m not referring to you personally or individually.)

          PR people and companies can be great sources of information and support, but bloggers are endangering their own credibility–and the credibility of the medium–if they don’t understand and respect the difference between coverage and promotion..

           
      • Gary Arndt

        Durant, there is more to the world than creating online content farms like you run and doing display advertising. You seem to be incapable of seeing any other way of doing business online.

        There are other business models and it works.

        As someone who has a large audience (as opposed to generic, anonymous search traffic) I can tell you that the readers really don’t mind so long as you are transparent. They know that traveling is expensive and working with companies is no different than a magazine taking millions of dollars for advertising.

         
        • Stuart McD

          How are you measuring that large audience? If you’re devaluing anon search traffic, just wondering how you’re quantifying it?

          Cheers

           
          • Theodora

            I’d personally devalue Stumble traffic over devaluing anon search traffic. Searchers have found something they’re looking for. Stumblers are, well, just passing through.

             
        • Durant Imboden

          Gary, I don’t understand your aversion to search traffic. Do you have the same aversion to traffic from Twitter, Facebook, and other social-networking sites? And do you somehow think that active travelers who are researching trips are somehow less deserving than your personal followers and fans?

          BTW, you’re mistaken if you assume that travel-planning sites attract only search traffic, or that sites which focus on readers’ trips (rather than on the site owner’s trips) are somehow less engaging than a first-person blog. On our own site, nearly 20 percent of our page views last month were from visits of 30 minutes or longer. You may regard sites that provide comprehensive travel information on selected destinations as “content farms,” but we (and the editors of sites like Lonelyplanet.com, Frommers.com, and Fodors.com) don’t share your prejudice against serving the needs of travelers.

          As far as business models are concerned, somebody used the word “sustainable” in an earlier comment, and that concept is worth keeping in mind. Selling links (a popular “monetization’ scheme among certain travel bloggers) is already losing its allure in the wake of Google’s Penguin update, and I’m skeptical about the long-term viability of “pay to play” coverage (e.g., expecting Quantas to supply airline tickets and pay $5,000 for a blogger’s first-person report on a trip to Australia).

          Unless a blogger can show that his or her influence extends to putting bodies on beds or in berths, as opposed to supplying entertainment, the notion that DMOs and travel vendors will line up to pay cash for coverage this year, next year, and the year after that strikes me as being unrealistic. (When I hear first-person bloggers talk about their supposed influence, I can’t help thinking of a line that I once read in the Travel Channel’s guidelines for production companies: “Our viewers aren’t interested in travel, they’re interested in watching TV.”)

           
  13. Chaney

    From what I’ve gathered from talking to this year’s attendees, while the conference’s organization improved vastly, its substance did not. I attended TBEX last year, where I had the misfortune of witnessing a seminar on how to write “Top Five” lists. The experts teaching the course were telling newbies to BS about destinations they’ve never been to.

    It seems to me that many travel bloggers (including some of the very established ones) have undermined their own credibility . Having said that, I don’t know if I agree with point 1, Matt. Terribly written blogs that look pretty (and rank highly on search engines) continue to do just fine, with plenty of followers and advertisers courting them. I don’t see that trend changing any time soon.

     
  14. Durant Imboden

    OK, let’s talk about the “three questions” one by one:

    1) QUALITY OF OUTPUT

    No matter how much the quality of travel traveling is or isn’t discussed at conferences, most bloggers will write like amateurs (often talented amateurs) because they *are* amateurs. On the other hand, their readers are reading the blogs by choice. That suggests that the bloggers (at least the ones with audiences) write well enough to interest the readers who care about them or their topics.

    I’d also point out that self-publishing by travel writers is hardly new: Karl Baedeker self-published more than a century ago, Temple Fielding and Arthur Frommer self-published with great success in more modern times, and–in the last 15 or 20 years–Rick Steves has gone from being a young self-publisher to one of the biggest names in travel writing. (For that matter, Karen Brown–author of the respected Karen Brown hotel guides–published and sold her first guidebook from her dorm room at UC Berkeley.)

    2) INNOVATION

    The problem faced by most travel bloggers isn’t a lack of innovation; it’s the inability to attract the kind of audiences that can be “monetized” (sorry for the overused term) with proven methods such as advertising and affiliate programs.

    By and large, travel advertisers and marketers are looking for audiences of people who actively travel, as opposed to people who merely enjoy reading about a blogger’s trips. That isn’t to say that all armchair travelers are shut-ins or stay-at-homes; it simply means that, if bloggers want respect and advertising dollars from media buyers, they’d better be prepared to back their claims of “influence” with raw data. If they also can supply demographic data about their audiences, they’ll have a better chance of being taken seriously.

    Another problem for travel bloggers is the fact that nearly all of them (even the so-called “superbloggers”) have relatively small audiences. This limits their ability to attract big-budget advertisers who buy millions of impressions at a time. Until vertical ad networks and rep firms in the travel sector show an interest in aggregating the traffic of travel bloggers (as they’ve done with travel-planning and booking sites), the huge sums of money that are being spent by corporate travel advertisers, large CVBs, and national tourist offices won’t trickle down to bloggers.

    3) MEASURING VALUE AND ROI.

    Metrics for measuring value and ROI already exist.

    For example, Google Analytics makes it easy for bloggers to supply proof of audience size, location, engagement, etc.

    Quantcast offers a free “U.S. Demographics” widget that can be helpful to any blogger who has a reasonably large American audience.

    The challenge for most travel bloggers isn’t how to measure value and ROI; it’s how to *provide* value and ROI to advertisers or how to attract revenue from readers (e.g., through affiliate programs), as I discussed in point 2 above. Let’s be realistic: The 80-20 rule applies to travel blogging just as it does to most other endeavors, and attending a conference isn’t going to change that. Blogging, like most forms of self-expression, is a pursuit that will be profitable for only the hard-working, persistent, and lucky few.

     
    • Durant Imboden

      Something else to think about:

      Unlike bloggers in other “lifestyle” categories like fashion, home decorating, and food/wine, most travel bloggers have a limited impact on purchase decisions.

      If a fashion blogger writes about a new line of hip handbags made from recycled traffic signs, any reader with $49.95 can buy one–and many readers just might.

      If a star RTW travel blogger writes about his or her visit to an eco-resort in Belize or a spa in Thailand, only a small percentage of that blogger’s readers are likely to book (or even seriously consider) an expensive, time-consuming vacation to Belize or Thailand. Obviously, there are some topics that may work better than others (cruising, say, or family travel to theme parks or National Parks), but they aren’t typical.

       
  15. Peter Daams

    I’m not sure what to think of this post. You’re definitely right that there needs to be more focus on quality writing and providing real value (most importantly to the readers, not marketers).

    Let’s face it, most travel blogs are making money by selling text links (there are notable exceptions, thank heavens). Either in exchange for cold cash, or for a free trip, or whatever the marketer is willing to bribe them with. The quality of the writing has not mattered one bit to writers, since all the focus has been on the blog’s authority in Google. They haven’t cared about how much traffic the blog gets, so why should the bloggers? As long as the blogger can sneak the phrase travel insurance with a nice link into the article, everyone’s happy.

    Really, in my view, it’s the marketers (particularly of the SEO variety) who created this monster.

     
    • Durant Imboden

      If you’re correct about the selling of text links being a major revenue stream for travel bloggers, it will be interesting to see how long it takes for the applecart, which is already tilting, to tip over. Link buying for SEO purposes is sooooo 2011. 🙂

       
      • Peter Daams

        I think it explains why marketers are suddenly interested in other metrics. The value of the link alone is disappearing, so “heya bloggers, give us something else won’t you?”

        Let’s hope it does in fact drive some focus on quality engaging content rather than just slapped together link fodder.

        I think link selling will be around for a while to come mind you. If for no other reason than there’s still plenty of buyers and bad advice floating around.

         
  16. Durant Imboden

    Just out of curiosity, what’s the problem with CPM advertising? It can pay pretty well if a site has the right topic and target audience. Ask Travora Media (formerly the Travel Ad Network).

    Maybe the Matador guy’s problem is that his site’s readers aren’t active travelers who are planning trips.

     
  17. Stuart Lodge

    Enough red herrings on here to make up a rather colourful fish pie. Nigella does a nice one with saffron by the way. First of all congrats to TBEX organisers. Folks were squealing like piggies *strums banjo/uke* last year, about the organis(z)ation, now only high praise. Building stuff is hard (ask Noah or Costner from Field of Dreams) so well done.

    Re innovation, quality and monetization – all lovely topics oft discussed (youse lot love it) but just one point. Am sure this is not news to anyone but most (not all) of he travel industry is having a rough old ride at the moment. Take your pick as to why – the economy seems to be the favoured reason this week. So everyone waiting for the big pro-blogging revolution may need a bit of patience. Sure models change (as Gary and Matt pointed out at #stm2011) but a lot of travcos are reining in marketing spend. Bear that in mind.

    Ora Best
    Stu

    ps I followed that @randfish (Big in the Brain as Jodi from @legalnomads wisely pointed out) talk on Saturday night on twitter and slideshare and I enjoyed his spiel

    http://www.slideshare.net/randfish/how-to-earn-traffic-without-selling-your-soul

    Lot of good tips for building traffic focused on best (white hat) SEO and SM practice and building through quality. Good stuff. Cheers

     
    • Jodi

      Ha, yes he is Big in the Brain! It was great to see the focus on quality content and judicious selection of where you put that content.

       
  18. Chrystal McKay

    I’m just curious as to what you consider is ROI of a travel blogger. From your point of view. I could describe many different ROI’s but am curious to understand what you feel PR professionals and marketers are looking for in terms of ROI from the travel blogging community. Thanks for the great article.

     
  19. Dave

    Reading through the various travel blogger groups, tweets etc there’s a huge number of people who have never and certainly the newer batch of bloggers who still don’t get “advertising”. Many still referring to SEO links as their “Their Advertisers”. I hope someone at TBEX addressed this.

    Ditto “sponsored posts” That little tag line at the end “My trip was paid by but my views are my own” has me turning away from blogs. Either add “sponsored post” to the title or stop inserting this altogether. After reading people saying they “don’t want to upset these sponsors and should they say what they really though” it’s simply hypocritical. Sooner or later this crap catches up to you.

    Having watched travel blogs come and go over the years I’m seeing and reading more fluff these days than ever. Kinda like watching the Travel Channel turn into a food channel. It might be putting cash on the table in the short term, but in the longer term it’s devaluing what I take as good content.

    Quality over quantity or vice versa: “A good marketer will get better returns than a great writer” this holds true in “travel blogging” too.

     
  20. TBEX Takeaways « Katie on the Map

    […] Three Questions Travel Bloggers Must Address Now by Matthew Barker of HitRiddle […]

     
  21. Bruce Rosard

    Interesting post Matthew and some good comments. I attended TBEX for the first time, with no great hopes, but had some great conversations and met some very interesting people. (I also never found free coffee, and chose not to stand in the very long line for lunch on Saturday). My comments are in line with what Gary says above, and are also relevant to the way the company I work for (PhoCusWright) has evolved the way we look at bloggers over the past 6 years. We created the first travel industry Bloggers Summit at The PhoCusWright Conference 6 years ago, and it has evolved to the point where it isn’t needed any longer.

    Why? Because I no longer think of bloggers as different than other journalists, photographers or videographers. Bloggers put their content on the web (Web Log) – most journalists, photographers and videographers put their content on the web as well, like those who work for Travel and Leisure, Conde Nast, National Geographic, etc. So bloggers need to think and act like the professionals or they won’t be relevant. If you are a relevant journalist, photographer, videographer, you’re relevant to the marketplace, and you’ll be treated as such. It won’t matter if you work for T&L or if you have created a great blog.

    Lots of journalists just want free press trips, fam trips, and to be invited to beautiful locations for conferences. But serious journalists (and bloggers) need to be professionals and figure out how to earn a living. (Many pros aren’t allowed to take press trips).

    The day that bloggers make the transition to thinking of themselves as professional journalists, photographers, videographers is the day they’ll start thinking more about ROI and how to really impact the travel industry. I agree with Matthew that TBEX needs to move past the current format, which is a great networking event featuring lots of fun and free events for travel bloggers and get serious about providing content to bloggers who truly want to be professional journalists.

     
  22. Gary Arndt

    “Although “monetization” was the undisputed buzzword of the conference, the reality is that many of the big personalities in the travel blog world are locked in to an out-dated model of mass user generated content (UGC) publishing.”

    Who?

    I’m having a hard time thinking of any successful blogger that relies on user generated content. Only sites like Matador which take submissions would be close to that.

     
    • Matthew Barker

      Hi Gary, thanks for commenting. I should have chosen my words more carefully, I wasn’t referring to bloggers who use UGC, even though that does happen by the bucketload in the form of mutual guest posting.

      What I’m referring to are the big publishers out there who are based on UGC and are often presented as examples to the blogging community.

      While I’m NOT criticising their models – they’ve created hugely successful businesses, so who am I to judge – I am saying that the inbound marketing strategies that I build for my clients need more than what they have to offer in terms of content quality.

      You say in a previous comment that ‘“great writing will conquer all” just isn’t true.’, but I see that increasingly, it is true. We commission professional content at professional rates because only proper journalism can drive bookings and conversions where it counts. You can’t achieve what we want to achieve with free UGC or stuff that cost $25 to write.

       
      • Gary Arndt

        If it were true, magazines and newspapers wouldn’t be going out of business and writers wouldn’t have to sell their words to other people.

        Again, I’m not saying quality writing isn’t important, but it isn’t the end of the discussion.

        Pointing to writing benefiting conversions for other companies not owned by the writers says more about the markting talents of you or your customers, than it does to the importance of writing.

        So long as writers view themselves as only writers and refuse to dive into the business end of things, they will forever be at the mercy of someone else’s goodwill to provide them with a paycheck.

         
    • Jerri Stephenson

      “I’m having a hard time thinking of any successful blogger that relies on user generated content.”

      We do, Gary. And I can prove to you that we are successful. I’m constantly confused by what your definition of successful is. I feel like you live in a Gary bubble where you think that unless you have heard of that travel blog they aren’t successful. I know of several people who tried to talk to you at different conferences in the past (including TBEX) and you blew them off. Just like you blew me off at SXSW as soon as I told you what my blog was and you hadn’t heard of it. And even if that isn’t what you meant to do, perception is EVERYTHING. Being one of the most popular blogs, doesn’t necessarily make yours the best or the one to emulate. There are many, many travel bloggers out there quietly kicking ass that you probably haven’t heard of.

      I’ve gone on to create a successful travel blog with mostly UGC and sold it for 5 figures. That’s successful by anyone’s definition.

       
  23. Rachel

    This is an intriguing recap of TBEX–I’ve not been to any travel blogger conferences before, and I’m trying to decide if I should go to the one in Girona. It does sound like a great and well-run event, but I’ve got to consider what the ROI would be for me. What I would like to get out of the event is connecting with other bloggers and seeing if there are suitable opportunities (being one of those bloggers that will say what I think no matter what). While I would certainly like to learn more about how to use social media effectively, I’m far more interested in sessions about writing and how to improve it, like what Pam mentioned, than monetization.

     
  24. Nico

    As a follow up to Peter’s comment, I feel that travel bloggers may actually be surprised about where their hobby has taken them, surprised that they’re suddenly back to being daily-grinders who spend more time on their laptops than actually out there exploring. The blogosphere is moving toward a money-driven land grab leaving bloggers as workaholics with dollar signs in their eyes who two years ago just wanted to post pretty pictures of their RTW trip.

    But they’re the one’s taking the press trips and feeling the rush of the high life because industry marketers are knocking on their door. I’m not sure they realize how temporary it all is. I’m also not sure that feeding amateur writers goods and services with the hopes of a hundred retweets is the best way to promote a tourism business. When that realization hits the industry people, we’re all sort of back where we started.

    Either way, I feel it’s the editorial component that’s leaving the most obvious hole, and since blogs have VERY few filters about what gets disseminated for search engines to pick up, biased, unengaging, and even misleading content will be spread around the web.

    I suppose there are two ways all this can go. As the blog cream rises to the top, industry PR people will get more critical about who they send on press trips OR they’ll begin to realize their investments in hotel rooms and swag aren’t providing that expected return and they’ll begin to look for other avenues.

     
  25. Andy Montgomery

    How wonderfully refreshing to read your words, Matthew. I begin to despair that what started out as a brave new world of travel by the people, for the people is degenerating into games of gather the followers to win the blog trips.
    Not only has there been an almost complete lack of focus on quality content, ROI and innovation, but we also have one of the (allegedly) top bloggers around telling us that the writing is pretty much irrelevant and people just want to see great images.
    It’s time to change the rules of this game – ditch the over reliance on vast numbers of Twitter followers and focus on excellent content, relevance to market and reader engagement.
    I’m hoping we’ll see a move forward at Costa Brava.
    Thanks again for such good food for thought and for stimulating the debate.

     
    • Gary Arndt

      Andy, let me address your points because I can only assume you are (allegedly) talking about me.

      First, I have NEVER said that “writing is irrelevant”. Never, ever, ever and if you think that you have clearly misinterpreted everything I have said.

      Second, writers seems to have an inflated view of their importance. The idea that “if you write it they will come” or “great writing will conquer all” just isn’t true. For starters, good writing is highly subjective. There is no objective measurement of what makes writing “good” or “bad”. Every writer seems to think that they are good writers, as if poor writing didn’t exist before the advent of the internet.

      There are plenty of magazines with great writing that don’t have high circulations. There is a reason why every popular travel magazine in the world has gloss images of exotic locations or infinity pools on the cover. Look at the amount of column inches devoted images vs text in any popular travel magazine. The reason is that photography is a vital part of any travel publication. Just because writers aren’t involved doesn’t mean that is doesn’t matter.

      Finally, the fundamental problem in travel media today isn’t quality. It is economics. Newspapers aren’t shutting down travel sections because of poor writing. Travel magazines aren losing advertising revenue every month despite hiring some of the best writers in the business.

      Every print publication has a back room of people who out number the writers who are responsible for circulation, marketing, sales and accounting. For years writers have been able to blissfully ignore that end of the business and just worry about writing.

      You can’t do that anymore.

      A blog is a publication and you have to treat it like a publication. If you want to just showcase your great writing, you are free to do so, but you will probably suffer the exact same fate as a magazine or newspaper who choses to ignore photography, circulation and sales.

      My position, and let me make it absolutely crystal clear, is that quality writing is important, but it is not sufficient. That alone will never solve the economic problems in travel media.

      I emphasize photography for precisely the same reason that National Geographic, Travel + Leisure and Conde Nast does.

      You can’t change the rules of the game. The readers set the rules and you have to follow them.

       
      • Andy Montgomery

        Hi Gary,

        Well, if the cap (allegedly) fits, as they say 🙂

        “First, I have NEVER said that “writing is irrelevant”. Never, ever, ever and if you think that you have clearly misinterpreted everything I have said.”
        Well, I have followed a previous online discussion in which you clearly implied that good writing was neither a prerequiste nor a necessary component of a good blog. If that is different from considering that the writing is pretty much irrelevant then I will choose my words more carefully in the future and sit corrected. I’m very glad to hear that you consider “quality writing is important”.

        However, by the same token, your response appears to assume that I place no value on images which is not the case nor was it infered in what I said. I believe excellent images are integral to good blogging but they are not sufficient to justify poor or mundane writing which is why National Geographic, Conde Nast et al also have excellent writing. To my mind, all content has to stand out from the crowd, to entertain and to educate, otherwise, what value are you adding to the mass of information already available online?

        As for writers having an inflated sense of their own worth, I don’t know a single writer worth their salt who isn’t constantly beset by self doubt.

        If readers set the rules there would be no adverts 🙂

         
        • Gary Arndt

          I never said you didn’t value images.

          Ultimately, any media of any type requires people to consume the media. If they don’t like it, they wont buy it or read it.

          In the end, I think the whole “quality writing” debate is a red herring. It is a self correcting problem. People don’t consume bad content, regardless of the type. They might be tricked into it once, but they aren’t going to return if the quality isn’t at a sufficiently high level.

          I knew nothing about photography when I started blogging. I had to make a very sincere effort to improve and I am still improving. My audience has grown as I have gotten better.

          I agree with Pam and Spud who have advocated more emphasis on quality writing. However, in the end, competition will weed out the good from the bad.

          My goal is to be a better writer than most photographers and a better photographer than most writers. If I can do that, I think I will occupy a sweet spot where I can find success.

           
          • Stuart McD

            I’m not sure that I agree it is a self-correcting problem, but regardless the more emphasis put on quality writing, the better.

             
  26. Dick Jordan

    Interesting observations. Although I’m a TBEX “member” I wasn’t able to attend the Keystone conference.

     
    • Matthew Barker

      Thanks Dick. Go to the next one if you can make it, it’s great fun, certainly very useful and great to see everyone in the same place at the same time.

       
  27. Peter Lilley

    There seem to be an awful lot of travel bloggers around Matthew who DON’T play by the rules; or don’t care about the rules. Or, in some cases, probably don’t know what the rules are. Let’s be clear: there are some very good and very influential travel bloggers who write well and informatively and deservedly have a strong following. However, there are an ever-increasing number of those who seem to think travel blogging sure beats having to work for a living; that it sounds fun and how fantastic to be offered free or discounted flights and/or accommodation in exchange for writing a report claiming that everything was first-rate. PR consultants (not all) need to shoulder some of the blame for offering facilities to these third and fourth-date bloggers and for deluding themselves that somehow everyone is a winner: the client, the blogger and the PR. The big loser, of course, is the reader who gets fed misleading reports on destinations, resorts, hotels etc posted by bloggers who wouldn’t dream of writing anything negative for fear of not being invited on another trip. The best travel writers and travel bloggers of course are those who take the view, that they will say what they damn well like regardless of any consequences.

     
    • Matthew Barker

      Agreed Peter – PR & marketing people are equally responsible and there are still LOADS of us who just don’t get it. Hopefully the relationship will improve over time but travel blogging isn’t exactly new, we’ve had plenty of time to figure this stuff out, and we’re still not really addressing it at the level needed.

       
  28. John Malathronas

    I totally agree with all three points. As a travel writer who blogs (rather than the other way around) I believe that there is a lot to be desired regards the quality of online writing, something that has not escaped PR and Marketing professionals.

    As far as ROI is concerned, we have seen recently a lot of metrics trying to do something similar (from Klout to Tweetreach). We are not there yet, but whoever gets the ROI metric right for blogging and social media will very likely be the next Internet success.

     
    • Matthew Barker

      Thanks for commenting John. I’m not a big fan of these various influence/reach tools, and I’m not convinced that there needs to be a “tool” to do it, or even that it’s possible. What I do want is to see a better understanding of our ROI requirements from more bloggers, that would be a great start.

       
  29. pam

    1. There WAS free coffee. It was in the Expo Hall, you just had to go get it. It was out every morning. But there’s never enough free coffee, is there? No, there is not. And it wasn’t out all day. Imagine my dismay, too, when I went to the cafe at the lodge at 4pm and it was CLOSED. I couldn’t get PAID coffee at the RESORT. Tragic.

    2. I had a long talk with that exact exasperated resort guy, a LONG talk, about bounce rates and time on page and engagement. And I also heard a lot of folks confused by ROI on that stuff. Thing is, if someone can really figure how how to measure it, oh, that will make some bank, no? And we’re not just talking some kind of faux Krap metric. But nothing exists to truly measure the value of analytics + other markets + offline enagement with your community + whatever. I was carrying my ukulele around one day and Nathan Kam, the supergenius behind much of Hawaii’s blogger PR said “There’s 20k impressions right there!” He was joking… I think. But he kind of had a point.

    Miine was one of four (known) ukes at TBEX, so 20k x 4 + #ukulele / Hawaii = ALOHA!

    3. Yeah, quality. Given the transition in the programming due to the Blog World takeover, I’m going to give this one a pass, this year ONLY. I suspect much of the programming was a scramble. If there’s no focus on quality material next year, or in Girona, that’s a more willful choice. I’m feeling unusually generous because it was really quite a spectacular event. And yeah, i have some skin in the game, and yeah, I REALLY missed having writing well be a topic of discussion, it’s my primary interest and has been, the slot I get to fill at the TBEX conference table. But the conversations I had lead me to believe that writing is important.

    4. Every time you hear “monitize”, drink.

     
    • Matthew Barker

      I thought someone would call me out on the coffee situation. I never found the free stuff, just paid my $4 each time at the coffee stand!

      As I just commented above – we’re really not asking for solid ROI metrics, that’s my job not the blogger’s. But just *something* more usable than the useless numbers that currently get bandied around. I rarely see rate cards with Click Thru Rates, any detailed analytics or demographic data, engagement rates or any of the other information that would help me translate visits/uniques/followers/likes into an ROI perspective.

       
      • pam

        Because I also freelance with an interactive design firm, I have an okay handle on analytics. You’re probably not seeing those figures on the rate cards because bloggers aren’t being asked for them and may not even understand them.

        I’ve NEVER been asked for the data that shows engagement, only the stuff that reflects quantity. Oddly enough, given my marginal quality numbers, I’ve also never been passed over, it’s almost like PR is asking me if I’m willing to share as some kind of litmus test. I’ve heard tell that some folks can be really hinky about sharing their data, a red flag if ever there was one, I’d suggest.

        You know what else I think doesn’t get asked? “Why?” As in why do you want to take this trip? What’s interesting to you about this destination? It’s not scientific, but I think the responses would be revealing. Were I on the PR side, I’d be offering considerably less stuff to those with uninteresting answers to that question. “I’ve always wanted to go to Petra” is anybody’s answer. “I’m interested in the mystery of the disappearing Nabateans” is the start of a much more compelling story and/or series of posts.

         
        • pam

          ARGH. What I meant to say was marginal QUANTITY numbers, not marginal QUALITY. Dagnabbit.

           
  30. Stuart McD

    Three more thoughts (from neither a blogger nor a TBEX12 attendee)

    1)  how can PR agencies better tailor their shill requests/spiels to travel bloggers?

    2)  “the marketers are coming up with all the innovative ideas”. Is that a serious comment? + re Matador, given they’re running CPM Adsense ads is that “emphatic rejection” an emphatic misquote?

    3) As long as ROI is secondary to the reader experience, I don’t really see the problem. 

     
    • Matthew Barker

      Hi Stuart,

      Ross definitely was emphatic during his talk, although yes he did admit that Matador still uses CPM advertising on their network. Which is kind of my point – even though we know it’s flawed it’s still a major part of the travel blog toolkit. The travel blog-travel industry relationship still revolves around banners, text links, sponsored posts, maybe sponsored trips for the more influential blogs, maybe mobile apps and ebooks (although the one guy talking at any length about multi channel content was Chris Baker!), and that’s about it. I’m just not seeing many new ideas coming up.

      What about qualitative influence networks (as opposed to quantitative social networks)? What about content development and inbound marketing strategy? What about social-SEO? Travel blogs are uniquely positioned to deliver this stuff, but all the talk and ideas are coming from marketers. Check http://inbound.org/ if you don’t believe me.

      Cheers, Matt

       
      • Stuart McD

        I agree that quantitative measurements (esp in social) are broken/near utterly meaningless.

        Yes there’s plenty of scope for bloggers (well everyone) to develop and better implement content dev/inbound marketing, but correct me if I’m wrong, you’ve talking about this as a blog being a cog in another’s strategy right?

        I’m thinking these would be skills and focus that bloggers could equally well use to better serve their existing readers and that should serve well to increase the readership. Taking a strategic view of not just what you’re writing, but why.

        As this is one of the two main challenges facing blogs — lack of traffic. (Other being at the wrong end of the buying stick – save an essay on that for another post 😉

         
    • Matthew Barker

      On your other two points Stuart,

      – If a travel blog exists purely for its readers, then yes – ROI can go hang. But if that blog is trying to become a professional commercial platform and charge people like me for its services, then ROI is central. That’s just the reality of the situation.

      – I agree entirely that PR & marketing people share responsibility. A lof of us still see blogs as nothing more than an easy source of SEO links, and that is just stupid, short-sighted and wasteful of great potential.

       
  31. jeremy head

    I’ve not been to TBEX either – but I really think your point 1 is particularly pertinent. It’s obviously a very difficult balance to strike for a one or two person band travel blog – where to focus your attention. They face exactly the same problem as traditional media publishers do online. Creating great content is time consuming and costly, deriving decent revenue from it is actually really not at all easy.
    Do you chase the dollars at the expense of the time you spend developing great content or spend more time on your product with less time available to try to develop income streams. I think many bloggers are really feeling this pinch right now. Sure, you can make enough money to support you as you spend a year travelling in Asia or South America cos your costs are so much less than back home in the US or UK… but once you come home, then what?

     
    • Matthew Barker

      Thanks Jeremy. The contradiction is that many of the travel blog celebrities are people who have built successful sites on the back of very thin content. There are a lot of false idols in the community which I think is a shame and might be making things more difficult for other bloggers who want to emphasise quality but find themselves in the shadow of larger, better branded blogs who are deriving their (not insignificant) income from personality and social media reach rather than the quality of their output.

       
      • Jackie Smith

        Thank you for this observation. I have time and time again gone to the more ‘famous’ blogs cited as among the best in travel blogging and thought, “How can this be? ‘There’s no there, there’.”

        And it seems to be a ‘good ol’ club’ among them so when you hear them speak, the examples of ‘good’ blogs continues to be the same-ol’ same-ol’ group touting each other’s blogs. I want to shout, “Read others!” Sadly, there are others out there producing amazing quality and they’ll probably never be ‘discovered’.

         
  32. muchbetter Alex

    Interesting blog post indeed, one that hits on points we have been discussing ourselves these last few weeks.

    Regards point 3, in our experience to date it has indeed been very hard to quantify the exact value many a travel blog brings to the table. This may be largely because there seems to be such a disparity in the levels of commercialisation between blogs. There are many poor quality blogs charging way over the odds, whilst many great blogs charging next to nothing at all. This may be the sign of a sector still very much finding it’s feet and identifying the most effective place to occupy within the industry, and where it’s true added value lies.

    Regardless, the result is that at the moment, measuring roi and value as a marketeer is difficult indeed, and until there are more established and accepted norms for commercial blogging i think this will continue.

     
    • Matthew Barker

      I’m not asking or expecting blogs to do my job for me and do the actual ROI measuring. But it would be nice to have a better idea of what different platforms can actually deliver from an ROI perspective rather than focus on rather meaningless metrics like Twitter follower counts.

      I couldn’t attend all the sessions so maybe I missed it, but I went to several talks on bloggers working with brands and turning blogs into businesses, and at no point did anyone mention the fundamental correlation between what a blog can deliver and what it can reasonably charge for its services.

      As you say the sector may still be finding its feet, but these are the questions that we really need to address.

       
  33. Gary Bembridge

    Thanks for sharing these thoughts. I am keen to attend one of their events, but not got there yet.

    I am a travel blogger and podcaster at http://www.tipsfortravellers.com but also blog/ podcast on marketing (which is my full time profession)

    I agree all these 3 questions are key. On the 1st one, I think the key is to encourage bloggers to be clear about what their offer is. All bloggers need to define what makes them unique and different. What is their “USP”. Most blogs are fairly generic, and Ia m sure that the business will better be able to connect with the right bloggers if they are clear about what they are about and offer. Too many are too general…

     
    • Matthew Barker

      Hi Gary, I would definitely recommend the event to travel bloggers and anyone who wants to work with travel bloggers. Next one is on the Costa Brava and looks set to be a great event.

      Actually, a lot of blogs seem to be great at finding and honing in on their niche. I met someone who has an Antarctica blog and someone else who has an artichoke blog. Honestly. There is probably now a blog that covers literally every destination and every aspect of travel in the entire world. Their challenge should be working towards higher standards of output and more innovative partnerships with the rest of the travel industry.

       
      • Gary Bembridge

        Thanks for commenting back. Appreciated. I have the Costa Brava event noted in the diary as just a few hours here from London.

         
 
 

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