We all know that travel writing is ridiculously competitive (hey, who wouldn’t want to tell the world about their adventures or, indeed, be paid to go on them in the first place?), but something I’ve noticed in the past year or so is how many lifestyle websites don’t even have an outlet for travel at all, despite it being just the thing that their readers would respond to.
Many that do offer holiday inspiration manage to drip-feed it through lengthy advertorials or commercial ventures that mean there’s no room for freelancers or bloggers to get a word in edge-ways The questions I’m left asking – how did this become okay? At what point did readers stop wanting genuine insight and travelogues and start wanting advertorial tied to competitions instead? I’d love to know, really I would.
For those websites that ignore travel altogether, yet have a meticulously detailed beauty or celebrity gossip section, what stopped you from being brave enough to add that missing section into the mix? In particular, my mind boggles when I’m faced with websites that cover holidays in their print publication but ignore them online, as though the people who enjoy a printed feature on discovering Greece would never want to read the same piece of content on a computer. What is it that is so daunting about establishing a travel niche for your readers?
Another unusual twist on the issue, which I’ve only come across recently, is the case of the established travel section that hasn’t been updated for months, but is not taking content from external sources. “Oh, we do it all in-house,” I’ve been told time and time again, despite spotting pre-Christmas content lurking on the homepage. I am left wondering if the people “in-house” have been on strike for months, or if they’re just trying to eke the last bit of value from a piece of promotional content and can’t bear to move on, though their readers may well have moved on without them.
The other variant of the rarely updated section is the site that insists it will only write about press trips and will not take freelancers or experiential pieces. My main issue with this is that a press trip is not your average person’s holiday by any means, unless your short break typically involves being given preferential treatment by a hotel or tourist board.
In order to offer any sort of authentic resource for travellers, I believe that you need to balance amazing promotional trips with the experiences of normal people in extraordinary situations, as well as industry news and probably a dose of quirky travel surveys and photos. Here are my other tips for making the transition from a dull or non-existent section to a readable and shareable one:
- As well as knowing your readers’ travel interests, go directly against them if it means you can show a unique perspective. If they would never normally go to a certain country or city, show them why they’re wrong to ignore it.
- Seek out destination experts, not just people who have a passing interest in a certain resort if they get paid to visit. Find the people who know the secrets and the weirder side to a place, who are often more than happy to pass on their tips.
- A really modern section would not only know the best bloggers and tweeters in the industry (Melvin of Traveldudes, Deb and Dave of The Planet D, etc.), but it would actively involve them. Integrate their pieces alongside bread and butter journalism, or give them their own dedicated sub-section. They will not be writing about your average middle class week’s break with 2.4 children, but they have fascinating insight and they’re inspirational.
- Equally, champion up-and-coming bloggers and young journos. The Telegraph and The Guardian go to great lengths to push new voices forward, from the Telegraph’s expat bloggers and ‘Just Back’ writing competition, to the Guardian’s annual travel writing competition and readers’ tips resource, I’ve Been There. We need more of these kind of initiatives, please. Readers and budding writers are more than happy to give something back and this shouldn’t be ignored.
- More should be done to consider the budget of the average recessionista. I am sick of reading about achingly cool trips where it turns out that the actual holiday costs about half of my annual wages; it’s great to have aspirations when it comes to adventures, but let’s remember that we don’t need to constantly torture ourselves with what we can’t afford. Give the reader great alternatives and ways to cut costs, just as you give us ‘Get the look for less’ in fashion features.
- If your in-house staff can’t deliver regular content then please use freelancers or even voluntary contributors and don’t be afraid of shaking things up. There are talented young writers looking to build up their portfolios, so don’t turn them away because of your ‘company policy’ until you’ve read a sample of their work; now is the time to be flexible. Everyone has to start somewhere, so give them a break.
- A few hotel and spa reviews does not make a travel section, no matter how pretty the stock imagery and 200 word review looks. You need destination-related features as the backbone, whether that means ‘top ten’ round-ups, persona-led guides or pieces geared towards upcoming events or reacting to news stories. Please don’t treat this as the bastard child of the rest of your website, where press trips go to die.
- If your fashion team is travelling to a far-flung location for a series of editorial photo shoots, why not get one of them to write up a piece about their experience? All too often I read ‘Behind the scenes’ photo-led pieces, but there’s no mention of the food that was eaten, the locals that they spoke to or the beach that was the backdrop – just what the model looks like before the make-up. I know that shoots are not full of lazy days off in the sun and sightseeing tours, but surely there would be some scope for creating written content that readers would enjoy.
- Travel is one of the most pinned topics on Pinterest and it’s also a major part of other social networks. Beef up your fantastic content with quirky, shareable images (not all heavily Photoshopped, please – we like to see genuine people on holiday and authentic views) and watch the social share count explode.
Do you have any other tips to the list? Are you as frustrated with lazy websites as I am? Let me know. I firmly believe that, with a few small adjustments and a bit of effort, the media could develop travel sections to be proud of.