‘New media’ is rapidly evolving and the number of opportunities to attend press or blog trips are increasing all the time. These usually involve exciting itineraries, providing excellent opportunities to travel, experience new destinations and to rediscover a few familiar ones.
The trips are usually sponsored by a tourism board or possibly a hotel chain and organised by their public relations agency. The aim is to promote their destination or product. This involves showing those attending the most spectacular sights, offering once in a lifetime experiences, meeting fascinating local characters and enjoying the cuisine of the region in the best restaurants.
They usually provide several stories worth sharing, countless beautiful images, plenty of bucketlist worthy experiences and almost limitless memories. They represent fantastic opportunities but they are not holidays and this is not always appreciated by others.
This is an important point, they are a job and whether attending an individual or group trip we are there to promote the destination. This point is not difficult, all these places are very special and it is therefore easy to cultivate a positive perspective. It is however of paramount importance to retain editorial integrity, if there is genuinely an issue it needs to be addressed, similarly if the destination has on-going problems they cannot simply be ignored.
An example would be visiting Greece during the rioting and strikes last year, completely ignoring this would have been foolish. It is an issue that needed to be addressed, put into the context of the difficulties of the country at the time but not becoming the overriding subject of the posts.
Generally portraying a destination in a negative way is not the remit for attendance on a blog trip. Taking photographs of the homeless or beggars on the streets, run-down areas or protests is fine but they are probably only suitable for personal use, maybe to illustrate a unrelated post. Some may disagree but they are not appropriate in an article which is promotional in its context. There is some responsibility to the sponsor of the trip.
There will be some that consider this is selling out, I do not agree, we should be professional, this is our chosen employment. Portraying destinations in a positive way is not betraying ourselves or our readers, these destinations are special, beautiful and interesting. I genuinely enjoy every place experienced, there maybe some minor issues but they are usually quickly forgotten and do not reflect on the overall experience.
A client would be foolish to invite traditional or new media to their destination for the purpose of promoting it unless they had 100% confidence in the quality of their product.
However there are other travel opportunities now becoming available to professional publishers; partnering with tour operators. These are a completely different prospect, they are often about cultural immersion, experiencing the destination in an authentic manner.
This means that all aspects of a culture can be portrayed in posts, those that are sleeping rough, working girls, ghettos and townships, protest or even riots, nothing is beyond the scope of these articles.
Generally this results in richer posts, the average media trip provides between 3 and 5 posts. Personally I have attended more than 25 press or blog trips in the last year but only 1 sponsored by a tour operator. That trip was to Cuba earlier this year and although it is a fascinating and photogenic destination, the reason that it has resulted in well over a dozen posts can undoubtedly be attributed to the freedom to share the full cultural experience.
I enjoy media trips, they are great experiences and often involve some great people, creative writers, talented photographers who have their own perceptions and insights to share. It also seems possible that as cultural immersion becomes even more important to travellers, clients will become more amenable to posts that share the less glamorous side of a destination.
There are several forward thinking tourism boards that may dispute that they are not already open to this. To date I have not had to deal with any tourism professional attempting to influence or restrict the material which is published. However equally as yet they do not seem ready for images of the homeless or protests within posts published from a trip.
It is probable that as new media becomes accepted and it’s value recognised more tour operators will become open to using it as a means to promote their itineraries or products . Visiting these destinations on an arranged itinerary with a tour operator can offer a more authentic travel experience that allows it to be shared from a slightly different perspective.
The last couple of years have seen a huge growth in social media, personal website publishing and the opportunities available to those in a postion to benefit from them. It is far from exhausted, there are new developments occurring almost weekly, the next few years are likely to provide even more opportunites. We are living in exciting times.