Travel writing requires extensive travel. Traveling on your own dime is expensive and not all that sustainable. Freelance writers and bloggers need a continuous supply of experiences to keep their story writing fresh and authentic. How travel writers score press trips seems like a mysterious and complicated process. In actuality, it is as simple as asking a question – Can you assist me in a visit to your gorgeous destination?
Convention And Visitors Bureau Or Destination Marketing Organization
A Destination Marketing Organization (DMO) and a Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) both promote a particular location to support the tourism industry. Their goal is to provide information for leisure travellers, event coordinators, and YOU — press media. They are usually supported by the local government with funding provided by hotel taxes, membership fees, and other subsidies.
DMOs and CVBs are a great source of information and often support for writers who wish to secure hosting, meals, events, interviews, etc. in their destination.
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Public Relations Firms
Public Relations (PR) Firms that specialize in travel usually represent a single entity like a resort, hotel, restaurant, etc. as opposed to a destination. They assist their clients in creating media, news, and coverage for special events and ongoing publicity. Like a DMO or CVB, PR firm’s goals are to generate a publicity buzz.
If you are putting bits and pieces of a trip together and are looking for a specific brand, building a relationship with a good size PR firm will open up doors that the DMO may not have access to. For instance, when a new hotel opens and they are seeking media coverage, the PR firm will invite their best media creators for a special opening event. That could be anything from a cocktail hour to a weekend stay.
Across an agency there will be different representatives for different regions or brands. However, a great relationship with one representative can quickly open doors with another representative in the same firm.
As you begin to develop a reputation for great work, you will receive invitations from many different PR firms. Some will not be right for you, others may be right but the timing is wrong. For this latter group, it is great to engage in a dialog to keep the channel open. For instance, you can’t be in their destination city for the grand opening, but you are planning on visiting later in the year. Respond to the invitation, thank them for thinking of you, and tell them you would like to visit at a later date. Typically you will receive an enthusiastic response back and you are on your way to a new travel resource relationship.
Individual Press Trip
Writers can score press trips with a few simple tips along with a portfolio of relevant articles. There doesn’t need to be many articles, but they do need to be published and well written.
The process may go something like this:
- You want to visit X and you have a few story ideas
- You have an outlet that you are fairly certain will publish these stories
- After some research, you reach out to the appropriate DMO, CVB, PR Firm to request travel assistance.
- They are interested and you approach your editor for an approved story.
- The DMO likes your story angle.
- They plan an itinerary for you.
- You get to visit the destination with some complimentary benefits.
Familiarization or FAM Trips are typically group press trips. FAM trips usually have a general set itinerary with little or no room for personalization. Essentially, your story is the one they want you to tell.
Typically attended by a group of writers and bloggers vetted by the hosting organization; these trips can be fun and exhausting. You get to mingle with other travel professionals which is a rare treat. The agendas are usually jammed full of experiences, some which may not interest you or suit your story angle.
Letter Of Assignment
Once in a while you will encounter a tourist agency that will require a Letter of Assignment (LOA). What they are looking for is a guarantee from your editor that states they have pre approved your proposed story. In the past it was almost always required, not so much any more.
The PR firm or DMO requesting a LOA is trying to ensure the writer is on the up and up. Editors you have a good working relationship with will be happy to supply an LOA. However, if the location doesn’t deliver on the promised experience to fulfill the context for the story, it becomes somewhat of a moot point.
Things Not To Do On A Press Trip
Here is a quick list of what not to do and not how travel writers score press trips as repeat customers.
- Don’t overreach – be certain you can deliver what you promise. It is better to under promise and over deliver.
- Be polite to the vendors – they are putting their time, resources, and energy into ensuring you have a first class experience.
- Tip the waitstaff – unless it is specifically stated, waitstaff are not the property proprietors and they are not compensated for your visit. So tip appropriately.
- Don’t over indulge in adult beverages – no one likes a tipsy writer.
- Don’t skip out on planned excursions – planning time and financial resources have gone into scheduling your personal adventure. You need to show up and be present.
- Leave the Diva at home – this is a working gig, be respectful and do your job.
- Deliver on your promises – write, post, and follow up according to the prearranged agreement.
Ask the tourist bureau if they have any story ideas. Many times there is something new and exciting happening that you may not know about. Or, there may be a new restaurant, adventure, or hotel they are looking to promote and have you cover.
I once negotiated an “Eat, Stay, and Play” style piece with a DMO and they mentioned an obscure local phenomenon that I should consider. Turned out to be a second piece that was very well received.
Work With Your Editor
Freelance travel writers may need to work with an editor to confirm a story before the DMO, CVB, PR firm will schedule the trip. Bloggers will need to demonstrate a certain level of engagement from their audience. Your editor can be a tremendous help in vetting stories that will work for their publication. This means more clips for you!
If you are a blogger, social media may be a large part of the press trip package, less so for travel writers. Be sure to go over the requested posting schedule before the trip so you know what photos you need. Also, I recommend advising the tourist bureau you will be posting your social media clips after you return home. This gives you time to curate the photos properly, add the most relevant hashtags, and have time to connect to your sponsor organization. The following week after you return, you can set up the postings and a schedule at your desk instead of on the fly.
I work hard to post about my trips, regardless of whether they are comped or out of pocket. The goodwill associated with tagging venues and extra posts are a simple way to grow your relationships with tourists bureaus and vendors.
What May Be Covered
The financial coverage on press trips can be anywhere from complimentary tickets to an event all the way up to a completely hosted stay.
Local press trips usually cover event tickets, meals, or maybe an overnight stay. These local trips typically produce at least one article.
For extended press trips you can expect your activities to be covered along with hotel stays and meals. Additionally, larger tourist destinations may cover airfare and ground transportation. For longer stays, you will most likely produce several feature articles with different angles.
Travel expenses like alcohol, tipping, and transportation from your home to the airport are typically not covered.
Your First Press Trip
To get some traction on press trips and approved stories, start with something local. You can build up a nice file of referrals by covering local events. Hotel and restaurant openings clips demonstrate you can work with the hospitality staff. Published interviews of notable locals show off your personality skills. Round ups of local breweries, wineries, apple orchards, etc. demonstrate your ability to cohesively put a story together. It is the first steps in how travel writers score press trips.
Covering seasonal events is an easy way to get started, they often are delighted to have media coverage when they open.
Don’t Take No Personally
When you ask for a complimentary ticket, stay, meal, etc. and the answer is no, don’t take it to heart. It may not be the right time for the venue, they may have just hosted someone, or they may simply not have the budget.
Be sure to thank them for the opportunity, and ask them to keep you in mind for the future. I was on the hunt for a hosted stay through a PR firm that was going to round out an extended trip. They did not have the space to accommodate my schedule. I responded with a polite note and thank you. The following week they had an opening for an International tropical destination and invited me and a guest for a completely hosted, four day stay. Morale of the story – you never know what’s on their agenda and when you will be scoring a press trip.
A Quick Chat About Tools
Like everything else, travel writers need excellent tools to keep them on track and at the top of their game.
An important tool for every travel writer is a travel journal. You can explore why journaling is the best way to keep a record of what you see and do on your travels. You never know when a new, unexpected story will pop up.
The most important thing for me is to use a great Day Planner. Yes, I put some appointments into my electronic calendar, but that is not ideal for keeping assignments straight. I generally produce five to eight, 1,500+ word articles each week and deadlines are critical to keep your editors happy. The easiest way for me is to see the entire week at a glance. Get yourself a good calendar and use it!
The Bottom Line On How Travel Writers Score Free Press Trips
Here’s the bottom line, how travel writers score press trips is unique to each individual location, DMO, CVB, and PR firm. Once you have some chops as a travel writer, destinations will welcome you to come and explore their city. The best way to get story ideas is to get out there and experience travel. Start exploring places close to home and you will be scoring paid press trips along with travel articles that generate income. So whether you are a blogger, writer for a print magazine, regular contributor to a local newspaper, or a freelancer published in online magazines; your writing career will be enhanced by regular press trips.