Jun032015

Free press trips for travel bloggers

Your dream of traveling the world for free with complimentary hotel nights and meals and even massages is truly within reach, if you have social media reach.

As someone who has attended several TBEX travel blogger exchange conferences and IPW U.S. Travel Association conferences in the past five years, one of the most common questions I am asked by travel writers and bloggers is why I pay for most of my travel?

It is a common practice In the travel industry to offer complimentary hotels, dining and trip activities to media and travel agents. Destination marketing is all about promoting a place and media is the way to attract attention and promote tourism to a destination, whether it be a restaurant, theme park, city, region, state or country.

Many travel writers arrange most of their travel through press freebies with the assistance of direct marketing organizations. While it is not that common among points and miles bloggers to have frequent complimentary press trips, most travel bloggers who write about destinations seem to arrange the majority of their travel through marketing organizations for complimentary hotels, dining and activities. Getting to the destination is often their primary expense for travel.

The vast majority of my travel is self-funded, but I occasionally travel through press trips. Until this week in Orlando, I have not been on a press trip in more than a year.

This past weekend at IPW Orlando, there was the Lake Apopka air boat ride and tour on Saturday where I photographed birds and alligators and the Luxury Orlando hotel tour of the Ritz-Carlton, Waldorf-Astoria and Four Seasons on Sunday. A press trip is a required component of being a media attendee to U.S. Travel Association’s IPW convention.

Am I allowed to Take Free Press Trips?

One of the questions I was frequently asked by representatives of DMOs this week was if I am allowed to take freebies. Many newspaper and magazine staff are not allowed to accept freebies when they are working on a travel story. I am my own boss and I do not see it as a serious conflict of interest. I can pay for a hotel and write about it or I can stay free at a hotel and write about it.

The main reason I do not arrange many press trips is I want to be in charge of my own schedule and itinerary. He travels fastest who travels alone.  

Another reason is my niche as a hotel loyalty points traveler is compromised to a great extent if I do not travel earning and redeeming miles and points. That is what distinguishes our niche of travel blogging from the thousands of destination travel writers around the world.

The reason I like press trips is the ability to see so much in a short time and have a travel specialist for the area share information and itinerary planning that I might or might not learn and experience otherwise.

This weekend I have arranged to visit Asheville and I will spend Sunday at Biltmore Estate. There was a representative from Biltmore at IPW and she has arranged for me to have a complimentary media pass for entrance and audio tour. I could have gone to Biltmore and paid for my own ticket, then write an article without complimentary press admission. This trip is already costing me over $1,000 to come to Florida for IPW, rent a car and visit places on the way to Knoxville, Tennessee, so I appreciate the opportunity to save a little cash here and there.

I’ll also be staying at a hotel in Tennessee with a dinner show I accepted from another DMO. That will be disclosed in my posts when I write about these destinations.

The reason I quickly scroll to the bottom of the page on many blog posts

One of the things I look for when reading destination travel articles on blogs is a disclosure message from the writer. I quickly tire of writers who have glowing reviews of resort after resort and every destination article reads like it is a marketing article, with a line at the bottom of the page stating the hotel accommodation and everything was provided by some DMO. I know several popular travel writers who rack up tens of thousands of dollars in free hotel nights and meals and cruises each year.

I used the opportunity this week at IPW to meet with representatives of places along my route from Orlando to Knoxville. Most of my road trip will still be my traveled and paid for on my own, yet several pieces of my itinerary changed after speaking to representatives from Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Tennessee who mentioned specific places and activities that interested me. 

Road tripping through the southeastern USA is a journey I am excited to start tomorrow morning. I look forward to sharing some destination stories as I experience them. One aspect of my writing that I think will hold true, regardless of whether I dine or sleep on a press comp or pay my own way, is my voice for the journey will not sound like I write for a DMO.

I try to tell my travel story is the way I see and experience it in my own unique way.

About Ric Garrido

Ric Garrido of Monterey, California started Loyalty Traveler in 2006 for traveler education on hotel and air travel, primarily using frequent flyer and frequent guest loyalty programs for bargain travel. Loyalty Traveler joined BoardingArea.com in 2008.

More articles by Ric Garrido »

Pingbacks

  1. […] Free press trips for travel bloggers by Loyalty Traveler. Something I find interesting is that he says he finds it not a serious conflict of interest, yet he scrolls to the end of posts to see if others have given a free trip before reading their review. Presumably he does this because he knows that the fact they received the trip for free is influencing their review. I’ve been offered some of these free trips in the past and I’ve declined. I travel for fun and I can think of nothing worse than being told what to write about and being on the same press junket as whole heap of other bloggers. […]

Comments

  1. The world’s leading news organizations have a very strict policy when it comes to freebies and comps – they forbid their journalists from participating. They do this as they know these types of inducements can, and do, compromise the integrity of the reporting. To say otherwise is baloney.

  2. Leading news organizations need to provide objective journalism.

    In the miles and points world, many of us are valued for our opinionated views and subjective choices.

    Since I am my own boss, I truly am not concerned about freebies and comps. I don’t rely on freebies for my travels and I am selective in what I take as a complimentary press trip. If some readers feel it compromises my value, so be it.

  3. Another aspect to press trips is that your experience may be different than normal folks because they know you are press.

    And I’m enough of a skeptic that even with all those sources of bias, I’m still willing to read your blog. And I wouldn’t be surprised if you have an allergic/negative reaction if someone thinks they can buy you off with a free tour or stay.

  4. Ric – I absolutely LOVE Knoxville. I had driven past/near/through it all my young life as my family was driving from home in Florida to spend each summer at my grandparents’ farm, but we never stopped. About two years ago my husband had a job interview in the area, and I decided to drive the 20 minutes and spent my free day checking out downtown Knoxville. It is such a cool small city. Just this past weekend my mom, sister and I met up there for a concert. It was great having two more days to explore the downtown.
    The number one thing you HAVE to do is go to the Blue Plate Special radio show in the Visitor’s Center in the downtown. Their wonderful visitors center also houses the public radio station’s studio. Every day but Sunday from 12-1, they have live music in there. I’ve gone on both of my trips and enjoyed the music both times. The style is varied, but it tends to be most often folk, roots, american music. But you could get anything. Check out the schedule on the wdvx website if you’re curious, but you should absolutely go if you can fit it in.
    They have a market on saturdays with farmers market stalls, crafts like hand made clothes, and food trucks. My mom got ice cream from one of the trucks that could’ve been the most delicious I’ve ever had.
    The Tupelo Honey cafe has delicious food. It’s the kind of stuff that takes a lot of your usual southern ingredients (grits, country ham, sweet potato, etc) and combines them in ways you’re not going to find on other menus. There’s another place called Pete’s coffee shop (not to be confused with Peet’s coffee) that is just a diner, with delicious inexpensive food. On Saturday we walked right in at 8:30, but the line was out the door by 9:00. The also have outside seating, which we didn’t notice until we left.
    We stayed at the Four Points. It is close enough for a walk into the downtown (called Market Square, I think), and had very nice rooms and staff. Our rate was a bit high because of the concert, but generally prices seem reasonable.
    I hope you have a wonderful time and I look forward to hearing about your trip!

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