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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.