There have been several moments this month when I’ve been struck by a mis-match in the way that travel media and travel professionals talk and think about travel. It’s a bit like that old GB Shaw quote about how America and Britain are “two cultures separated by a common language”; the words are the same but their meaning is different.
In particular there is a lack of recognition on both sides. Travel blogger Neil Barnes highlighted it when he wrote about the mixed messages he picked up as a first-time visitor to World Travel Market (WTM):
Upstairs in the seminar rooms travel bloggers were hailed as being the future of travel. Our work was appreciated and travel companies were urged to reach out to bloggers and utilise our skills and audience.
Downstairs when approaching various stands the mention of being a travel blogger bought only blank stares, awkward looks and silence. Maybe the people on the stands weren’t the right people to be talking to about working with travel bloggers, I assume they’re at WTM to sell their product so that’s probably fair enough, but the mixed messages made my head spin.
Well, they are there to sell their product to each other, and the media – the ones with black badges – are supposedly there to listen in, observe and report. Strictly speaking, from a WTM point of view, if travel media want to ‘sell’ themselves – pitch for work or sponsorship – they should perhaps wear a yellow (trade visitor) badge, just as the non-editorial Sales & Marketing staff from newspapers, magazine publishers and TV companies do.
Of course the issue has always been blurred – not least by all those PRs who want to engage with influential travel media, and more recently with the evolution of travel bloggers who are by definition editors, marketing managers and publishers all at the same time. No wonder the sourcing of ‘press facilities’ and advertising/sponsorship, not stories, has become the primary focus of most black badge holders at WTM.
I suspect most travel media, and travel bloggers in particular, don’t really think about travel industry professionals as people who have much to do with ‘travel’ at all.Indeed I suspect most travel media, and travel bloggers in particular, don’t really think about travel industry professionals as people who have much to do with ‘travel’ at all.
The only interest a travel writer/blogger is likely to have in a ferry company for example, is as a cheap or possibly free way to get across the water, or maybe as a source of advertising. They don’t see people with years of commitment and engagement with the communities of their destination ports and hinterlands.
How does the travel industry view travel media?
To be fair, I’m not sure the travel industry thinks that travel media have much to do with travel either. They are struggling to understand the fast-changing blogosphere and for the most part, ignoring it and getting on with their own world. Last week there were two events involving the top people from the top UK travel brands that I thought demonstrated that point rather well.
The British Travel Press Awards featured 20 categories, judged by 60 senior figures (CEOs, Directors) in the travel industry. They were all about traditional media, except one for ‘Travel Blogger of the Year’.
The next day senior managers and directors from all the top UK travel brands gathered as delegates to learn about the developing digital marketplace and online trends at the Travolution Summit. Around mid-morning I noticed I had not yet heard the word “blogger” and began to keep my ears peeled (sic) for it. It never came. A whole day’s conference on the digital marketplace, on social media, on Mobile and ‘local’, and the word ‘blog’ appeared only once – on a slide, in parenthesis with other content types, as part of the legend for a graph!
So maybe travel writers/bloggers are getting the lack of recognition they deserve for speaking the same language – travel – but not listening and engaging with the industry, who clearly speak it in a different dialect.
Part of the problem could be arrogance.Part of the problem could be (reaches for tin hat) arrogance. Or, to put it more gently, ‘ownership’.
Most travel bloggers are experienced travellers, and passionate about it. That’s why they are good at travel writing (passion always comes across on the page) and that’s why they are so experienced – they travel. A lot.
So it’s a bit like being a fan, and we know how that works. There you are, let’s say… Justin Bieber’s biggest and most devoted fan (!) and somebody comes along and launches the “official” Justin Bieber fan website. How do you react? With a little indignation – “What the hell do they know about Justin!?” – and then studied shunning, probably.
It’s easy, when travel is ‘your territory’ to forget that it belongs to the people who work in travel too. Even worse, they have just as much ‘ownership’ and probably more expertise.
Give me some examples
Take tour operator, Max Lawrence, for example. His dad drove to Morocco from England in 1966 and then set up as a tour operator. Max and he built one of the best known and most successful UK tour operators to Morocco, which they sold on and then Max set up another. They’ve created tourism villages, several individual riads/hotels, and local businesses. I’ve listened to Max talking business and joking with his suppliers in the fluent arabic he has learned over years of living and working there. I know some really experienced and knowledgeable travel writers, but none who have that level of knowledge, love and passion for Morocco.
The nature of that role is different too, observes James Mundy from specialist tour operator, Inside Japan. Travel writers, like clients, are observers in a destination. Travel professionals are participants.
Seasoned travel writers may get ‘under the skin’ of a destination, perhaps over an extended period living there, but there’s a fundamental shift in the relationship with locals when you do business with them or they work for you. Then you begin to really understand how things work and what makes people tick.
When the tsunami devastated Japan last year it wasn’t travel writers or the mainstream media keeping the Japanese diaspora in the UK up to date with events on the ground on social media. It was James’ partner Simon King, Inside Japan.
Anyone blogged on a cultural event recently? Like the Bregenz festival or opera at Verona’s ancient Arena? Do you feel you got the emotional intensity across, or any of the historic & cultural significance? You could always ask a tour operator like Martin Randall. I’ve seen heavyweight lecturers and academics meekly defer to Martin’s knowledge of the arts. They don’t defer to any journalists I know in the same field.
How about Africa? Any specialist writers or bloggers with expert knowledge on safari in Botswana or the skeleton coast of Namibia. Wait. Don’t bother. I’ll ask the Managing Director of tour operator Expert Africa. After all Chris McIntyre wrote the definitive (Bradt) guide to both in 1990 and has been taking people there ever since.
I could go on all day, making the same point…
Hotels? The travel media community is stuffed full with experts on hotel accommodation. I doubt many have the sheer love of the industry and experience of somebody like David Morgan-Hewitt, Managing Director of The Goring hotel in London.
What about the ocean? I know dozens of very experienced specialist cruise writers/bloggers, but even they would acknowledge the amazing enthusiasm and depth of knowledge of some longstanding cruise travel agents like the late Bill Whalley of Tappers Travel, or Edwina Lonsdale at Paul Mundy Travel, or the industry knowledge and experience of longtime cruise line managers like David Dingle, who started out as a trainee at the P&O Steam Navigation Company in 1978 and is now CEO of Carnival UK, whose brands include P&O Cruises and Cunard.
You want passion? Take Michael Krafft who as a young boy rowed out to the derelict hull of the 5-masted tea clipper Preussen in a Swedish estuary and fell in love with her. Michael spent the rest of his life in the marine industry and founded the Star Clippers cruise line, who’s flagship, Royal Clipper, is his modern replica of Preussen.
I worry that unless the new generation of travel writers & bloggers acknowledge and engage with the travel industry instead of looking simply to exploit it, they won’t tap its richest seams – its passion and expertise.
Where to start? Well, almost every week I see a travel blog post with yet another interview with a ‘star’ in the travel firmament, IE. a blogger. I don’t see any with the kind of travel lovers/experts listed above.
Ok, they are particularly UK-centric, but those same travel industry characters with a knowledge and love of travel every bit as passionate as any travel writer, are to be found in large numbers in every country…
Take Canada for example, where a decade ago Andrée Boivert, the Commercial Director of inbound tour operator Misa Tours, was a little disturbed to find one of her guests sobbing as he watched the sun setting in Quebec.
“No, you don’t understand,” he told her when she asked what the matter was. “All my life behind the Iron Curtain I dreamed of this and it’s better than my dreams.”
“THAT is why I love working in travel!”, she says.