Marketing, social media, Travel & Tourism

5 Lessons learned for bloggers when working with destinations

By William Bakker | 06.20.13 | 4 Comments

Speaking in front of a packed room

Speaking at TBEX (photo: @jaimehorwitz)

A few weeks ago I presented two sessions at TBEX in Toronto. It was a very flattering experience. The room was packed both days, and I received a lot of great feedback from attendees, bloggers, DMOs and tourism businesses. My day 2 presentation became a featured presentation on Slideshare. It was a good week!

On day 1, I shared the lessons we’ve learned at Think! working with bloggers and destinations. At the end, I gave tips for destinations and bloggers that I will now share in two posts.

I’ll start with tips for bloggers.

(These tips are based on your ability to connect with DMOs and the tourism industry. I would never pretend to know how to be a successful travel blogger – that’s your territory. But I do learn a lot by watching how my 2-year-old daughter runs her travel blog travellingwithparents.com.)


If you are a general travel blogger, it’s hard to stand out and create a group of loyal readers. By serving a niche, you have a better chance of reaching people who find your content relevant and passionately care about it. Somebody who loves to ski is more likely to read a ski travel blog. It’s also going to be valuable to people in the ski industry, since you talk to the people they want to talk to. But in order to be taken seriously, you need to able to speak credibly to the community.

Bonus tip: Your story matters too

During the speed dating sessions at TBEX, we talked with more than a hundred bloggers and very few could  describe what the story is that they are telling or what niche they serve. Some bloggers “write for themselves” and that’s ok of course. But think about your angle. Is there a thread that runs through your site? How do your posts connect as a whole? “Looking for off-the-beaten-path experiences” or wanting to “emerge myself in the culture” is simply too standard an explanation. Jürgen and Mike’s for91days blog, however is not. It’s a story that’s easy to understand. So is the 365 days of dining in Richmond campaign blog that we helped out with.


A lot of destinations still focus on web traffic as a their primary metric when it comes to selecting bloggers. It’s definitely important, but for us it’s only one out of nine criteria. Bloggers are influencers, and the degree of influence you have over your audience is what matters more. Why? Because we would like you to inspire people to come visit the place you’re writing about. Bloggers who have built a base of loyal readers and who cultivate an engaged social media community are more likely to have a higher degree of influence.

It’s easier to build a community around a niche, because people who share an interest are more likely to engage with each other (see #1). But you can also build a community based on your personality, skill or other quality you have. Whatever the case, you have to connect. It’s called social media for a reason.


There’s no right or wrong approach about how you travel or how you publish your content, but most destinations approach a blog trip like a traditional press trip. This often leads to a frustrated experience if you don’t like that format. When you’re approached by (or reach out to) a destination, make sure you’re very clear about your standard approach.

Do you prefer not to be hosted? Make sure the organization contacting you knows this. Is the only reason you want to visit, is because of a specific national park? Make sure they know as well. Otherwise you might be frustrated when your host has an action-packed itinerary filled with zoos, museums, restaurant after restaurant and other things you’re not interested in, while allowing you 30 minutes in park you came for in the first place.

Being clear about what you want and like might affect the outcome of whether you will be invited or not. But in the end, it’s better for both you and the destination to discover early if your expectations don’t align.


Before you commit to a blog trip, make sure you understand what the destination would like as a result. How do they define success? Do they have specific expectations about publishing? Do they expect you to write about specific things? Don’t forget that it’s an investment for them and it’s important to ask these questions up front so you can decide if you can or want to meet them.

We’re not big fans of  defining specific publishing requirements. We’d rather let the destination speak for itself and have the blogger decide what and how much is appropriate for their audience. That’s why it’s important that the destination does its homework and invites the right bloggers. When discussing trips with writers, we’ll give bloggers an idea of what we and the client have in mind, including explaining why we’d like to invite them. For example: “we want a ski blogger to experience this new ski resort because we believe your audience would really like to know about it. We’ll leave it up to the you to decide how to best tell that story.”

But more often than not, we’ll think outside the box. We’ll include bloggers as part of a bigger campaign. Because they’re great content producers, storytellers and often live without too many constraints.


I’ve seen some travel writers working for big publications show up for a media trip with a suitcase and massive egos. They can be demanding, unreasonable and obnoxious. What I like about working with bloggers is that their passion is truly for travel and creating great content. That’s what’s got you started and that’s what motivates most of you. You’re all unique and some/most of you are real characters… but the far majority of you are insanely nice people. Please don’t lose that when you become more successful.

Tomorrow: 8 lessons learned for DMOs when working with bloggers

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  • Ryan Wright

    Good article.

    Traveling on your own time with some minor assistance from the tourism board is one thing. Travel on a fam trip is quite another.

    While all reviews, posts, etc should remain objective on a fam trip, the fact is that you are also there as a temporary employee (so to speak) of the tourism board / organization / businesses that are hosting you. As such, you need to be very much aware of their desires and expectations for your itinerary. Rather than choosing to independently go to a destination and write about it, you are being brought there as a contractor. You do, in a way, work for them. No, this should NOT affect your reviews, posts, etc, but the feel of the trip is not one simply of pleasure but it is also a business trip and should be treated as such. It should be a win / win, both for your brand, as well as for the organizer. It is not “free” travel, and treating it as such, to me, is an insult not only to whom you are being sponsored by, but also to your audience and your brand. I’m sure others may disagree with that assessment.

    This brings me to your point #5 of staying humble. It shocked me while at TBEX just how many people expected to be treated like royalty, not just from industry members, but also by other bloggers. While the vast majority of people I spoke with were pleasant, some others would not give the time of day to folks like myself who were at their first TBEX.

    How many times did we hear that “first timers are ruining it for everyone”? I wager more than once for all attendees. The fact of the matter is that the industry is growing. It is also a fact that most of these non humble folks were EXACTLY WHERE WE WERE a year or two ago.

    Our site has been lucky to experience phenomenal growth, especially over the last 6 months. But it has been because we were working hard, refining our brand, and making sure that we offered value, both to our increasing readership, as well as to brands/organizations that we work with.

    New people aren’t ruining it. We are pushing those folks that may have been coasting on their brands for awhile, and forgetting why they wanted to work with companies in the first place. I hope that if anyone ever saw me with a holier than thou attitude that they point me back to this post and give me a slap.

    This, for some, is a business. It may be a dream job, but it is still a job. And as such, you have responsibilities to your clientele, as well as your suppliers.

    Yes, we have a huge, overwhelming passion for travel. We want to share what we’ve learned, and what we are still learning. And as we expand, I hope we never lose sight of that passion. At the same time, I hope we never lose sight of the fact that it’s more than ourselves we need to make happy if we want our site to grow and be successful.

    Thank you for your post, and for speaking at TBEX. We have applied to be speakers ouselves in Dublin, but whether or not we are successful, I hope to see you there!

    Ryan Wright
    Photographer / Business Mgr – TurnipSeed Travel

    • http://www.wilhelmus.ca wilhelmus

      Thanks Ryan,

      I wouldn’t qualify a blogger as a ‘contractor’ myself bu I agree with your point that this is not a ‘free trip’

      I hope the blogger community won’t become a victim of their own success and can maintain it’s positive culture and TBEX won’t lose it’s intimacy as well. I’m optimistic. It might be a business but most people aren’t in it for the money…

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