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.