"You're a travel writer? Lucky!" I think most travel writers I know have heard this at some point in their careers. And while there is certainly some truth to the fact that trying out a five star hotel, evaluating a hot stone massage or flying through the air on a mountain-to-mountain zip line certainly seems like a better place to be than in an office cubicle, luck has little to do with it.
As with most writing jobs, the main criteria for being successful is being a good writer. Whether this is honed through higher education or hours and hours of actual writing, getting the first words down is often the toughest part. But beyond knowing how to write, how do you find yourself getting a Turkish bath, in Turkey?
Today, most print and on-line publications hire freelancers, with a few full time staff editors who will also contribute written pieces. The freelancers are hired to write a story in one of two ways: The publication reaches out to them, having known their work in the past, or the freelancer pitches a story that the publication accepts.
Tourism boards, hotel chains, amusement parks, cruise ships, airlines, and resort companies reach out to editors and proven travel writers, either directly or through their PR agencies, to invite them on "press trips." A press trip is confirmed basically when a freelancer can secure a publication's approval to run the story, or when the publication themselves offers up space to run the story. On occasion, writers are asked to go on press trips without a secured publication in place (known as a "fam" or "familiarization" trip), with the expectation that they will secure placement in the near future.
The angle of the story is something that is decided between the publication/outlet and the writer, and presented to the sponsoring travel provider, for both their approval as well as providing them with guidance as to what the travel writer would like to see and experience.
A writer doesn't have to go on an organized press trips; many develop their own itineraries and approach travel partners to make the trip happen. Travel bloggers naturally don't have to pitch publications if they run their own blog, but they do have to prove readership and numbers to the tourism companies in order to have them agree to send them on a trip.
Typically, all expenses are covered, with the exception of the occasional meal or alcohol. Normally, transportation to and from the home airport is also not covered.
While on a press trip, the journalists are expected to stick to the itinerary, and to take note of, even interview the individuals they are meeting, and the experiences they are having. More and more so, writers are expected to provide their own photography, given the digital explosion, and many writers are very talented photographers as a result. If they are not, and/or the publication doesn't want to pay for photographs as well as text, the travel partner will willingly oblige with "stock photos," or photos they have taken to promote their properties.
In Canada, the main travel writers' association is called TMAC, or Travel Media Association of Canada. Accreditation must be applied for, with points being allocated for the size of outlet/publication you writer for, a designated number of published (and paid for) pieces, and/or blog numbers. TBEX is a travel bloggers exchange, specifically. Of course there is a lot of overlap between the two communities. TBEX holds conferences all over the world; TMAC provides ongoing support to travel writers, with courses, trip opportunities from travel partners, and an annual conference, which this year is scheduled to take place in June in Peterborough, Ontario.
Check out www.travelmedia.ca for more information.
This blog originally ran during Kathy Buckworth's regular travel segment "How She Travels", on "What She Said" on Sirius/XM Canada's Canada Talks.
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