Junkets: not bad

I’m a travel blogger – pay me

September 24, 2011 · 6 comments

Here’s the thing about travel blogs: anyone can start one, but very few people can make money from them.

There was an interesting debate going on on David Whitley’s blog a few weeks ago about exactly how much travel bloggers are earning, and despite claims from a few well-known exponents of making some serious coin, I find it hard to believe that many people are making a genuine living from blogging.

It’s no surprise, of course, that the big topic of conversation in travel blogging circles is monetisation – how to turn your hobby into a living. There are eBooks on it, seminars being conducted, advice being dished out by highly qualified and not-so-qualified members of the community.

I’ve heard a few different ideas, but none more brash than those of an Amsterdam-based blogger I met at a travel media convention in Canada recently.

Thing is, the popular travel bloggers are now being invited on “famils”, the travel writing slang for junket travel. They get free flights, free accommodation, and a free tour of their destination, usually taken care of by a country or city’s tourism organisation. It’s the same way a lot of traditional travel writers get around, and frankly, accepting trips like these is the only way to make a decent living as a travel writer.

Tourism boards are now recognising the influence and exposure that bloggers provide, and have begun offering them the famil treatment as well. So far, so good. Only thing is that for bloggers, a free trip doesn’t put food on the table. It doesn’t pay the rent. It helps ensure fresh content, but it doesn’t make you any cash.

The blogger I met in Canada’s solution? Payment. From the tourism boards, airlines and hotels – the hosts – to the bloggers, direct. He reckons that within a few years, tourism boards will not only be hosting trips for travel bloggers, but they’ll be paying them a daily retainer to visit. Say, $100 a day to secure the privilege of a blogger’s attendance.

His reasoning, obviously, is that bloggers have few other avenues for making money, and if tourism organisations want to harness their audience and their influence, then they’ll have to pay to keep the bloggers in business. He also thinks that with several organisations competing for top bloggers’ attendances, it could turn into a price war.

There’s also the idea of personality. Traditional travel journalists are just bylines in a larger section of a magazine or newspaper. Bloggers, this guy says, are the star attraction of their own show, and therefore deserve to be recognised as such – with money.

It’s a nice idea.  However, it’s a bit pie in the sky.

With a few exceptions, most tourism organisations are cutting back on their spending, hosting fewer journalists each year. All have tight budgets to stick to. Right now, the idea that these guys will start effectively paying a salary to travel bloggers seems like wishful thinking.

Plus, are travel bloggers really well-known personalities? They might be big fish within their own community of fellow cyber-scribes, but does the average Joe really take much notice of the face behind the website? I’m not so sure.

There’s another problem, too. Once you’re on the payroll, all notions of objectivity as a writer – already questionable on junkets – are thrown out the window. Start accepting payment for travel and coverage, and you become little more than a PR agent for whomever is handing out the cash. You’re hardly going to be critical.

Like I said, being paid to attend junkets is a nice idea. Until you really start to think about it.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

DisarmDoors September 25, 2011 at 3:50 pm

Great post, Ben.

I’m a travel blogger, but with 13 avid followers, I won’t be giving up my day job in a hurry.

I’ve worked in communications roles in the (travel) industry for yonks and I can’t imagine ever paying a blogger to join a famil/junket.

Pie. Sky. That kind of thing.

Alastair McKenzie September 30, 2011 at 11:46 pm

It already happens. I know at least two travel bloggers who have been paid stipends (several hundred dollars daily) on fam trips.

That said, it is extremely rare and as you point out, in tough economic times, unlikely to take off.

Lance Richardson October 4, 2011 at 10:06 pm

I find the idea slightly appalling. Objectivity goes out the window, surely. As travel writer’s we get hosted, but the tourism boards get no say over our writing. I struggle to see how a blogger could legitimately write negative press (if it was warranted) without bringing down the walls on top of them. Interesting piece though Ben. L

Angie October 5, 2011 at 10:01 am

I am working as a PR Manager & Spokesperson for an airline AND I have my own little travelblog. Since I started blogging, I learnt a lot about that scene and what’s going on in this community. Travelblogs for me personally are a valid source of information, a source to rely on if I am looking for true experiences – that’s what I blog about on my page aswell. As a reader I can only hope that this is NOT advertisement, but an opinion by a real person. On the other hand, PR departments are getting kind of desperate – as in these days it is quite difficult to find a “normal” journalist for smaller /shorter press trips. Some of them simply don’t have the time to join or the trip is not “exclusive” enough (flights overseas…). Others are not travelling anymore but are working with freelance journalist only, who – if they are good – can choose which trip they wanna go on… so again, smaller trips are hard to sell. And there are those journalists who read travelblogs and use them as a place for research. And sell good. This is the reason why in my company, we also started to work with bloggers occasionally. Ok, it’s a small community and ok, it’s not easy to find good bloggers (especially in Germany, very tough task!). And ok, it’s sometimes difficult to find understanding for the fact, that as a cooperation partner, you are at least expecting the bloggers to mention your service if you give it for free. This is of course a mixed blessing, the bloggers normally are quite happy when they are invited and most of the times directly agree to join the trip – but on the other hand, they won’t understand that a press trip SO FAR is always a two-way cooperation. You give, you get. You get, you give. I guess, if this is going on, every side has to learn and rethink. PR departments need to understand that bloggers have to be independent to be authentic, bloggers need to understand that PR departments will not pay them extra for joining atrip, but give them something to MAYBE write about.

Brooke vs. the World October 5, 2011 at 3:47 pm

Interesting post — it touches on a lot of topics I often wonder about as a blogger myself. Not even sure where to start!

I am a full-time travel blogger, and I would say I make an OK living off my sites (plural) and the sites I blog for, but… it is a LOT of work. My idea of an OK living might be very different from yours, though :)

Also, I think famils for top bloggers is a great idea, or bloggers in a certain niche. For example, I really only take famil trips in Australia because I write for the WhyGo Australia blog, so it is a very focused site with a decent following that makes offering the famil worthwhile. However, I have been seeing lots of travel bloggers (you know, travelers that have blogs) getting trips to Egypt, Spain or Canada (random examples) and the like when they haven’t ever blogged or talked about that destination before. Sure, it’s one thing to grab the attention of a direct audience of travelers, but it would make more sense to grab bloggers that have a genuine interest in the subject already. Otherwise, after a trip, they might not talk or blog about it again, whereas someone with a genuine interest in Roman history will probably refer back to those trips to ruin sites well on down the road.

What I’m getting at is there is definitely a value in inviting bloggers on trips, but the PR companies need to be selective – both in who they choose, and the activities being given away. When normally budget travel bloggers get high-class hotels and tours — it doesn’t make much sense, right? Unless their website gets huge numbers of searches from Google, their direct audience isn’t going to be partaking in, or interested in, extravagance.

Then you touch on the idea of getting paid and losing objectivity… a very tough subject to talk about indeed. But… celebrities get paid to promote stuff all the time, so why can’t a well-known blogger do the same? Why does it have to be so taboo? I think it can be done well. You might want have a read of this post: http://www.mojitomother.com/2011/09/bloggers-brands-and-pr-relationships-a-new-manifesto/

Lisa Wood October 12, 2011 at 7:55 pm

We have a travel blog, and we make money from blogging. Its not enough to travel around Australia with, but it is an industry that is growing, and changing. I can see many changes for the travel blogger. I can see many companies taking notice of us bloggers. Its a matter of how you look at the world.
Its also a matter of the mindset. The internet is a easy place to make money, its a matter of connection. If you have the mindset of “I can and I will succeed” then you will. If you have the mindset of “I cant” then you wont.

The blog site also has to have a huge following. Our blog site had a huge amount of traffic last month – traffic that is growing every single month. So why not make money from what I love doing? Blogging and Travelling. Combine the best of both worlds :)


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