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Do travel bloggers impact the travel industry?

Digital Innovation Asia Conference in Bangkok, DIA Bangkok

How travel bloggers impact the travel at the Digital Innovation Asia Conference in Bangkok

I’m recently back from the Digital Innovation Asia conference in Bangkok.

Held for the first two days, at the Lebua at State Tower Hotel, I got the chance to meet up with cool travel bloggers and mingle with travel industry folk, while porking out on  canapes and finger desserts, attending after parties and jazzy Bangkok nightclubs, taking a press trip of Kachanaburi and sprawling in five-star luxury hotels, like the slick Amari Watergate Hotel and the Lebua! (Thanks to Jeannie of Nomadic Chick, who put me up in her room for the first two nights -when there was confusion about my hotel location- and not making me sleep on the floor!).

It was my first travel blogger’s conference and this was Digital Innovation Asias’s first event. We had a lot to learn from each other.

Living in Asia, my teaching schedule and finances didn’t make it easy for me to attend travel bloggers conferences like TBEX or TBU. Now living in Hawaii,  though I have a more flexible schedule,  getting off this island reaps monumental flight expenses. But, I needed to do errands in Asia and there was a window for a travel break. The timing worked  perfect!

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The Digital Innovation Asia conference, its sponsors and nightly events against Bangkok’s dazzling backdrop, all made for an impressive and (might I say) sexy travel bloggers heaven.

For a moment, I felt like I was part of a hip, jet-set crowd in Asia. I was seeing the glitzier and more hip side of Bangkok that my backpacking solo street-smart M.O. had forgotten it liked.

I felt like a stylin’ traveler …

Until I realized my purse was really a dirty traveler’s day pack and  I was showering in my sweat amidst the Bangkok humidity.

Alas, you can take the girl out of the travel dirt, but you can’t take the travel dirt out of the GRRRL.

Amari Watergate Hotel Bangkok, executive style

One of my posts while staying at the classy Executive Suites in the 5-star Amari Watergate Hotel in the Pratunam district. Closest BTS Skytrain station is Chit Lom

 

Meeting fellow travel bloggers and making new travel friends

Thanks to Digital Innovation Asia, travel bloggers got to meet, make friends,  share inside trade secrets and talk shop!

Some bloggers I knew online; others, I met for the first time.

If you’ve ever followed a blogger or someone on Twitter and then met them in person, you might agree it feels strangely surreal.  A traveler blogger takes you on their personal journey, inside their thoughts and feelings, into their lives. When you meet them in person, you don’t know if they’ll be their online personality or someone different.

Mostly though, it’s this weird feeling, like you know too much of a person you’ve just met, as if you’ve stalked them!

I don’t like feeling like creepy, stalker girl.

Lebua Hotel Bangkok, Lebua Hotel Skybar

Breakfast at the Lebua Bed & Supper Club Bangkok How do travel bloggers impact  the travel industry ? Awards night party at the Bed Supper Club Bangkok DIA Awards Event at the Bed & Supper Club DIA Awards Event at the Bed Supper Club Kinki Sushi Restaurant Bangkok After party and sushi at KINKI

 

Social Media Trends: How does social media affect travel ?

At the conference, travel bloggers and travel industry folk mingled with a bit of nervous excitement, as panels and lectures pointed at topics, like How to create effective blogger campaigns and how to organize effective blogger trips.

The big topic of the conference seemed to be ‘How can bloggers and travel industry folk work together?”

For myself, that was something I was still trying to figure out…

The Blogger’s Match Up was the big event many of us were waiting for. It was like a speed dating event between bloggers and travel industry folk to see if there’s a potential match of interests or future partnering on projects.

How do travel bloggers make an impact on the travel industry ? Why would travel industry and PR professionals want to work with travel bloggers?  One of the DIA forums spelled it out– traditional advertising is dead (check out the Google poll by Traveler’s Road to Decision).  This was the first time I’d heard it spoken out loud.

And I had to agree.

If you didn’t notice the changing social trends for advertising, you’ll learn– marketing is no longer controlled by advertising; it’s controlled by consumers, internet engine searches and social media. Advertising no longer has what it used it… consumer trust.

Today, consumers are inundated with social media and buying choices. They no longer want to divulge blind trust to advertisers. Instead, they want to make smart, more informed decisions. They’ll read reviews before purchasing things or playing patron to a business. Their real life experts are peers, people they trust have experience and will share the honest truth.

It’s a fact,  technology is pushing us to be more “connected through social networks”. We’ve built our lives around it, trust and protect it. Many are on one– or more — social media networks, as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Google Plus, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Vine, etc…   More folk, own smart devices, tablets and feather-weight laptops. Most seek their social networks as a trusted source for feedback and inspiration.  As a result, businesses now have their own Facebook and Twitter pages.  Mastering social media is key.

‘Sponsored ads’ are infiltrating our social networks through friends’ “Like” preferences– enter a contest or ‘Like’ a page and that ad is now lodged and set on repeat in your friends’ news feeds, turning your friend into a viral walking campaign ad. I’ve even seen marketing campaigns and sponsored contests on Pinterest, where you pin your photo entry to your board and link it to the contest. Other people who like your photo, pin it and the word of the contest gets spread. Advertising has always found was to operate below the belt of consumer awareness. Now that it can’t do it through traditional media, it’s found a way to do it with social media.

DIA Blogger Matchup, Blogger Speed Dating, DIA Bangkok event, Travel Blogger Conference

That’s me (GRRRL TRAVELER) at my table moments before the speed dating began. Cute how they’re playing ‘Love in the Afternoon’ on the screen

Did you know, according to 2013 Nielsen ratings, over 50% of the U.S. own mobile phones?  “Norway, Sweden, the U.K., South Korea and Australia also passed the 50% threshold in 2012, and six more countries (Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands and Finland) are projected to reach that milestone sometime in 2013.“- Adage.com

A month ago, I bought a hybrid point-and-shoot camera (to my tech equipment) to shoot my travel videos with ; it’s touch screen face acts like an iPhone,  connecting to wi-fi and allowing me to post photos to Facebook. My laptop, external hard drive and smart device all sync my latest changes with a “cloud” storage nebulous. Technology is working is pushing for more effective solutions in information accessibility, hybrid productivity and connectivity.

If you ask me, social media and technology doesn’t seem like it’ll be dying down anytime too soon.

How do travel bloggers  impact travel and tourism ?

It’s fairly obvious.

Traditional advertising needs to convince people to travel. Travel bloggers’ main audiences are people, who want travel. So why spend thousands of dollars on advertising, to target the masses, in the hopes of reaching the few, who want or are ready to buy your product? Why not spread your word through the travel bloggers, who have trusted readers that already love to travel and are looking for viable options? Keith Jenkins’ iAmbassador brainchild is one example of turning press trips into a valuable business for both, tourism boards and bloggers. It’s proving that travel bloggers have the potential power to influence interest in destinations and travel services. Unfortunately, it’s not an open door to bloggers, but a carefully picked handful. Which leaves other bloggers to create their own system of value.

This is where travel bloggers  need to be more scrutinizing with travel partners. Matt Knepes wrote this great article about The Real Business of Travel Blogging. One of the points he touches on, is that readers are smart to recognize when your articles smell of sales and press trips don’t grow your reader base. It’s something that can potentially detract.  Take too many sponsored press trips and not give your readers anything back and your reader trust may dwindle.  This is how I’ve fallen away from some of my favorite blogs.

 

The Business of Blogging : What’s free about a press trip?

A concern raised at the conference was how some travel bloggers see press trips as a form of “free travel”, “freebies” or “complimentary travel”. Apparently, some take advantage of that.

Hmmm…

Okay, so maybe some bloggers have become press trip whores.  It’s their prerogative.

But press trips aren’t contract jobs.

One problem could be that travel bloggers haven’t defined realistically,  what their business brand needs out of a travel partnership. Another problem could be the operator isn’t specific or clear with the blogger about their expectations. If it’s the latter, then it’s quite possible that the blogger can feel like they’re attending a benefit gala and getting a bag of schwag.

Now maybe I don’t have much experience with hosted press trips to compare how operators and PR personnel handle this unspoken contract, but bartering work, creative services and one’s trusted readers in exchange for cool schwag  … this doesn’t sound like a very smart blogging business plan for the future.

The business of blogging is hard work– it’s more work than a full-time salaried job. Optimally, some travel bloggers  juggle anything from social media, site management, analyzing SEO and site traffic, writing, shooting photography and/or video too.  Others, hire assistants and designers, etc… to help with the workload.

These days I’ve heard of press trips, where travel bloggers are expected to deliver a multimedia, social marketing campaign for the duration of the tour. They’re doing work; a press trip doesn’t equate “free”! If a blogger’s business is to replace an entire creative, marketing and social media team, then well…that blogger might want to reconsider, who’s got the shorter end of the stick!

To put things into perspective of where this fits in the working world: I once worked with the PR of a well-known hotel resort on the Big Island of Hawaii, who hired a commercial photographer, who charged them thousands of dollars for a single shot of their property. One photo.  Additional expenses were bore by that client too– flight expenses, hotels, car rental, meal stipends, equipment rentals, an assistant, etc…  I’m not sure about Asia, but this type of work treatment is standard for professionals in U.S. media industries. This wasn’t a press trip, but a work trip. When I’m contracted to shoot a video or television episode, my terms and rates are the same as above and my job isn’t to create the finished product or to promote it. I’m hired just to shoot it.

Lebua at State Tower Hotel, Skybar Bangkok, Bangkok's Best Hotels, The Hangover Film

Lebua at State Tower Hotel (near Saphan Taksin) is home of snazzy Skybar, with one of the most amazing views of Bangkok.

Now something I’m hearing from bloggers these days, more and more– How do you make money from a press trip?

Good question.  You don’t.

Of course, I’m not saying travel bloggers shouldn’t give away their services in exchange for a press trip. Our passion is travel and many of us are redesigning our lives to live that dream.  Having just experienced a press trip with Khiri Travel, I realized they have the potential to expose me (and my readers) to places in Thailand, I might never have known about or known to try. Before the DIA conference, I didn’t know that Lebua Hotel’s Skybar was one of the top sexiest bars in Bangkok with an gaaah view or that my  hotel, the Amari Watergate would teach me how to appreciate rambutan!

rambutan, grrrl eats rambutan, amari watergate

How do travel bloggers impact travel: Mega GRRRs to my Facebook friends who told me what it was and how to spell it!

But as an industry of travel bloggers, not only do we need to learn how to work with travel and tourism professionals. We in turn, have to restructure  and figure out whether we’re treating what we do as a profession or more like “a labor of love.”

How do you work with travel bloggers ?

Everyone seems to focus on numbers and site stats to gauge ‘influence’. I get it. If you want that, check out the Professional Travel Bloggers Association or TBEXConnect, where they have website stats on their members (I’m listed with both) . But numbers doesn’t always determine the type of campaign you’ll get from a blogger. High influencers don’t necessarily mean quality. High quality doesn’t always mean good numbers…

So how do you work with travel bloggers? My best advice is to get to know the bloggers.  Human relationships are key. If I stay at a place and I get treated like family or a client remembers a personal detail about me and sincerely wants to work with me, I feel connected. It becomes a personal relationship and I’ll go out of my way, to make sure I give over and beyond my best. Moreover, if I’m  looking to develop my brand, then I’m looking for people and brands I work well with; who I like.

If I’m treated like “a number”, who’s there to service a product and that’s all a marketer cares about, then if you were in my shoes, how would you feel?  You’d probably do what’s expected, but how much would you care about the project? Perhaps, this is why some operators don’t get the great coverage they want. Like a bad employer, they’ve treated the blogger like a subject, a minion tool and that blogger knows it.. and they’re not getting paid!  Whether or not you’re giving a travel blogger a “complementary” anything, selling that travel blogger on your product doesn’t start when the trip begins. It starts the moment you contact them.

Put time in and research and look at a blogger’s site, how they work, what medium is best for the campaign and set clear and specific terms with them. Good PR and marketing is about the ‘business of people’. Travel Blogging is a business for some of us, who are trying to turn it into a career. Overall, develop a relationship with them. Building good relationships builds loyalty… and trust.

Wrapping things up,  the Digital Innovation Asia conference had a good first year!  It posed questions for everyone to think about and it’s fueling the fire and bridge for travel bloggers to merge with the travel industry in Asia. Looking forward to seeing it grow and spread the word about travel in Asia.

 

Weigh in about what you think about this….  How can bloggers can work more effectively with the travel and tourism industry? Do you think travel bloggers impact travel and tourism? 

33 Comments

  1. aldo says:

    It’s great post!

  2. Nguyen says:

    Thanks for your article. I agree that bloggers affect the travel industry in a positive way. Especially nowadays with social media, people can review the places before they travel thanks to bloggers.

  3. Pensando en la experiencia como blogger en Sudamérica, el impacto es mayor en los individuos más que en la industria, ya que por lo general, los tipos que usan blogs de viaje como referencia, son mochileros (backpackers) que quieren realizar sus viajes con el menor gasto posible. Tal vez, en latinoamerica el único lugar donde los bloggers son una influencia en la industria es Brasil, el resto, su influencia aún está en pañales.

  4. I agree with some advertisers treating their bloggers like ‘whatever’… Like you said, you get out of your way to do it if you feel connected, in my case, since I have not encountered advertisers that took advantage of it I always post the link ahead of time and adjust it when they want changes but NOT underpaying just because its posted ahead and have not replied to the questions of what they prefer.

    A simple reply to emails asking what do they prefer (renewable text link or permanent link) is not hard to do specially if you’re in an online advertising business. All of a sudden will send out a scathing email from top to middle and trying to get away at the bottom part just because they said something like, I apologize that you said this and that but then attacking you with all they can using some polite words, that is something deeper than showbiz ethics.

  5. noelmorata says:

    I also liked the comment about archival, it is almost everlasting free advertising to sponsorships with an individual post that has great SEO to be searched and bring relevant information to that viewer, something worth its own weight in gold!

  6. noelmorata says:

    Well I was wondering how this conference turned out, maybe I’ll get the opportunity to do this next year. You raised some great thoughts especially in regards to photography, because that’s what I do, but I don’t intend to give my images away for free for a free press trip, that’s for sure!

    • @Noel: I hear ya. But here’s an angle to pose to an industry person like you . If you wanted to start building clients say, in the hotel industry and provided the hotelier does work on their end, to help promote your posts to their followers and industry (which I’m not sure happens gauging from my very recent experience and the fact they’ve not promoted my posts or video on their Twitter or Facebook accounts), then it might be a win-win in terms of exposure for both. Maybe? A couple of those and you can broaden your client niche or have references.

  7. Fantastic article, Christine – you raised the following interesting questions:

    Do I sense a shift in advertising methods changing towards social media?
    + Yes, but as a travel professional, I’m not sure if we are properly harnessing the social media outlets or if our multimedia efforts and social marketing campaigns are effective. It’s yet to be seen if all the hard work you bloggers and savvy social media folks are doing is really paying off – not just for you, but for us, too!

    How do I think bloggers can work more effectively with the travel and tourism industry?
    + It’d be great if more travel bloggers reached out to us with concrete proposals on what their needs are, what talents they have and what they can offer. We’re always willing to help out and even have a budget to cover additional costs beyond lodging, transport and tours and are willing to establish a “working” relationship, as long as the blog is transparent about said relationship.

    Thank you for asking those questions and keep up the great work!

    Pura vida,
    Christine Krishnan
    DESAFIO ADVENTURE COMPANY
    Costa Rica

    • @Christine: Woops, I meant to respond earlier because I really appreciated your comment and insight on the travel professional end!

      I love your advice about how bloggers can work more effectively with the travel professionals. That’s good for bloggers to note as for the longest time, I assumed advertisers and interested parties would just magically find me. I’ll highlight your comment so others can read that.

      Is social media being harnessed effectively? I personally think measuring traffic, click ratios, followers, etc.. is a flawed system. It’s started an emphasis on short range performance and value vs. long-range ones and a false idea of effectiveness. I could be wrong; you can correct me.

      Traditional adverts worked to make an impression on folks so that when they walked away, the thought was still there– Buy Coke, Stay at the Hilton Grand Wailea (the latter just randomly popped up like magic, because at some point I saw an ad or image I liked,… which shows the effectiveness of that marketing, mind you)…. Most consumers won’t purchase on-the-spot because travel is not a “product” people shop at random to buy or instantly jump at, like an iPod. People research and need to mull over many variables before making a decision of how to ‘invest’ their money into an “experience”. Destinations might sell quicker than specifics like tours and hotels. I think blogs should be seen as somewhat similar to traditional adverts, you want to create valuable impressions, which incubates in the mind of consumers. When the time comes, they’ll be like- I saw some blog about the Grand Wailea… it had these amazing photos. Let’s book there! They won’t remember the blog, but the pictures. That’s how traditional marketing used to work into people- a catchy jingle, appealing concept. So to me, measuring traffic and performance is not seeing the bigger picture of how consumers work.

      I have a few posts which draw big hits daily, but were written in 2010 or 2011, which means Google’s nested it as a reference page. If anyone had advertised on those pages, they’d getting decent long-term exposure. I also recently wrote an article and did a video for a hotel I stayed at. YouTube audiences and travel blog readers are two difference audiences too . I think travel professionals have a big job ahead of them sussing this all out. 😉 sorry for the long-winded response. I’m actually really fascinated with this topic.

  8. Yes about the point you make about press trips. I worked with Discover Atlanta, and honestly, wasn’t impressed with them. The review I gave about the city and its tourists reflected that – I didn’t rave about it, and I felt like they didn’t care about developing a relationship. Then again, there are lazy bloggers out there who don’t honour commitments, and I think that’s why some PR folk get a bit annoyed and disillusioned about working with bloggers.

    p.s. I would LOVE to have hung out with you and Jeannie in that hotel. It looks swanky!

    • @Tom: I remember that post! That’s a difficult situation if a blogger doesn’t care for the tour or the treatment. You feel the pressure to make a good review, even if you may not be feeling it. That would’ve been so fun for all of us to meet there! Well, next time maybe… when you’re not in South America. 😉

  9. Thank you for this information! I’m trying to soak up as much as I can. A roadmap and union would be so useful!
    I also was newly introduced to rambutan on my recent trip to Thailand. Did you try the mangosteen? That was my favorite!

  10. Pretraveller says:

    Christine, thanks for sharing your thoughts about the travel blogging industry. As a relative newby to the travel blogging industry I am still in the early phases of developing my blog and learning about the industry. I haven’t been to a travel blogging conference yet, but I am keeping my eye out for options which I can afford.

    Your comments on how travel bloggers run their businesses (as versus people like myself who are still at the hobby stage) and earn a reasonable income for the effort, knowledge and skill they bring to the table are good food for thought.

    • @Pretraveller: You’ve got some good really content on your site, Anne. I like your informative pieces. They provide a nice base. It seems the only newbie stage you’re at is developing a larger following …a stage many of us are at (hand raises). The conference gave possible solutions but mostly triggered questions. Would love to attend TBEX and sit in on some of there forums. I’m sure I’d learn a lot!

  11. Chris says:

    Great article – I totally agree on the fact it seems travel bloggers are shooting themselves in the foot by whoring themselves out for press trip.
    It’s a dead end business model where the companies save heaps of dollar and gain more exposure and SEO.
    Bloggers need to attach worth to their skills – not just so they get paid and treated fairly by the industry but so that’s what the industry expects and other bloggers don’t have to fight their corner or loose out to your aptly named “press trip whores”!

    I’m intrigued to see how the travel blogging platform pans out over the next few years…

    • @Chris: Should be interesting. Travel bloggers are getting real good at executing content like professionals- photography, social media, etc. Many of us are “social media experts”, like it or not, because it’s critical to our work and the travel photography I’ve seen, could easily make any magazine cover. But mass actions, sets the standard for our industry value. The fact there’s no standard for advertising prices yet… makes it hard. Young bloggers coming in, don’t know how to begin without making the same mistakes we make. Bloggers are undercutting blogger, everyone’s making up their own system and the industry is individuated, rather than unified. I’d love for there to be a union of sort one day.

  12. apol says:

    i must read more posts like this..not just where-to-go and why-and-how-to-go-there posts 😀 I’m a newbie and there’s still a lot to learn!

    Love this post… and I see Nomadic Samuel and Audrey of That Backpacker in the 1st photo! :))

  13. nicole says:

    Wow! a very insightful article! This is really helpful for people who can’t make it to conventions. I got a lot by just reading this piece. =)

  14. It looks like it had been a lot of fun + a learning experience too! Hope I could attend the next one!

  15. erica says:

    Sounds like a fun conference! I totally do my laundry in the sink no matter the lodings, too (unless, of course there’s a laundry room).

    I completely agree with you- it’s important to know exactly what is expected of you and to lay out your expectations as well. Collaborations between the traditional travel industry and travel bloggers seems to still be relatively new so it’ll be really interesting to see the directions that it takes.

    • @Erica: Yes Erica, it’ll be really interesting to see the direction collaborations take in the future! Glad I’m not alone on the dirty laundry part 😉

  16. Jenna says:

    Very comprehensive, Christine. You really touched on all the major issues.

    Something I think many promoters undervalue is the staying power of a well-designed blog post. There’s a lot of excitement about how many thousands of people will glance at a tweet in real-time (though they might not be interested), rather than focusing on the longer term benefit of a post that ranks well on Google and ultimately entices people (who were interested but undecided) into solidifying their plans. Likewise, a person with only 100 Twitter followers can make an impact with a single tweet when someone searches, comes across their tweet, and then moves to purchase. That kind of instant access to archival material is something that traditional advertising would never have been able to accomplish.

    • @Jenna: I’m so glad you raised that idea of archival material! You’re absolutely right. Traditional advertising wouldn’t have had that ability. I wanted to mention more about the longer term benefits of a post. I’m glad you brought it up, because exactly! Some posts keep getting called in Google searches endlessly. Doing a review on something is not just a one-time-POW thing, but it has a sustaining lifetime in Google. Thanks for your addition.

  17. Iain Mallory says:

    Some great and intelligent points made here. The travel blogging ‘industry’ is a dynamic and rapidly changing one. All interested parties, bloggers, PR agencies and clients need to consider how they will adapt their working practices to work together in mutally beneficial partnerships.

    Great to hear that the conference was a success, another arena where bloggers can connect with the travel industry. It’s always great to hook up with other bloggers and have a few drinks too of course 😉

    • @Ian: I agree what you said about the industry. It is rapidly growing and sometimes it feels a bit like a dynamic mess, due to the fact there’s no standard to give both bloggers and travel industry folk a road map. But i’ve faith it’ll keep changing. 😉

  18. Such a nice article !
    Deep research and toughts about the travel industry and bloggers.
    Nice to meet you at DIA Christine

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