Are travel bloggers finally being taken seriously at the World Travel Market?

by Heather Cowper on November 9, 2011

Could this be the year that Travel Bloggers finally get taken seriously at the World Travel Market, on in London this week? It’s the third year that I’ve attended the show but the first that I really felt things were coming together for me as a travel blogger.

As I entered the Press centre on Tuesday morning I joined a group of fellow travel bloggers, all busy checking their schedules, making full use of the wifi with their i-pads and drinking the free coffee. Most of them, like me, had a number of appointments set up to discuss possibilities for sponsored blogging trips or other travel projects.

World Travel Market 2011 Photo Credit: World Travel Market

World Travel Market 2011

During the day, I had a number of productive meetings with PR folk and in the afternoon just squeezed in to the packed Working with Travel Bloggers seminar, which was so over-subscribed they could have filled the room several times over. In the evening I attended the Travel Blog Camp, now in it’s 4th year for a great meet up with new and old friends, where the places were in hot demand and the waiting list was a mile long. It seems this travel blogging thing is becoming mighty popular.

On the Wednesday I was back at work in Bristol, but really wished that I could have been there for some of the sessions at the Social Travel Market seminars (@socialtrav), organised for the first time this year by Mark Frary & Steven Keenan. Following the Twitter stream on #STM2011 there was obviously some great knowledge being shared but again it seemed that all the sessions were so oversubscribed that no-one dared leave to get a sandwich or use the bathroom for fear of losing their seat.

My impression was that Social Travel Market organisers knew the sessions would be popular but that the World Travel Market had seriously underestimated the pull of social media and blogging. It seems that adding the ‘Social media’ tag to any event is a guarantee to draw the crowds these days, as even the most conservative travel companies feel the need to get a Facebook page or Twitter presence.

The bloggers, including myself,  were getting more serious too – as blogging becomes a business we have to be. Last year I spent a lot more time in seminars and otherwise wandered around the stands, talking to the countries that I was interested in visiting and being met sometimes with receptive interest, other times with blank looks. This time I was a lot more focussed in making appointments with PR agencies representing travel clients to talk about how we might work together for their various clients. Their agenda; to work with bloggers who can give them a reliable return and value for their clients in terms of articles, social media coverage and promotion for their brands. My agenda; to get some sponsorship for the places I want to visit such as transport, accommodation or activities so that I can travel more while spending less of my own money.

This year there seemed to be more events aimed at engaging travel bloggers; the TTG Tweet up on the Monday night, the Bermuda dinner with the Bermuda Tourism minister, the Tweet-up on the Florida stand organised by Gosh PR and the Malaga presentation organised by Hills Balfour. Those were just the ones I was aware of and I’m sure there were others.

Even the World Travel Market’s own blog listed the rise of the travel blogger as one of the trends at the show for this year. It certainly felt like Travel Bloggers were being taken a lot more seriously and taking their own role more seriously too.

And yet it felt like this was just the tip of the iceberg and that next year the trend will be much more strongly felt. Let’s face it, allocating a room that holds a couple of hundred people for a Travel Blogging seminar, at an event of this size (27,000 attended last year) seems to be a serious underestimate of the power of Social Media. I know that and you know that, but it seems slightly worrying that the World Travel market organisers didn’t know that. And great that it was that some destinations hosted travel blogging events, it was only a tiny handful out of the hundreds of exhibitors. I predict that next year, many more will be setting up free drinks and wifi on their stands at during the World Travel Market in order to lure the travel bloggers in.

So yes, travel bloggers are starting to be taken seriously, but there’s still a long way to go.

Antonia Montejo Romero from Malaga Tourism presents to Travel Bloggers at World Travel Market

Antonia Montejo Romero from Malaga Tourism presents to Travel Bloggers

If you’re attending the World Travel Market here are my tips on making the most of the show;

Tips for travel bloggers attending World Travel Market for the first time;

  • Pre-register as Press, so that you can make use of the press centre, free wifi and coffee. Pick a free catalogue from the 2nd floor which has a directory of exhibitors and e-mail contacts you can refer to once you get home. There’s also a wealth of literature on different destinations so you can easily research anywhere you plan to visit or want to write about.
  • Business cards and blog information – take a good stock of business cards and if possible, prepare an information sheet about your blog, with your stats, information about the travel niche you cover and what you can offer in return for any sponsorship – you can see an example of my blog PR information here. Even if your blog is just starting and your traffic isn’t huge, you will at least impress with your professionalism.
  • Monitor Twitter before the WTM – You may pick up news of upcoming events by monitoring the relevant hashtags such as #WTM2011 or #STM2011 or @WTM_ London and keeping an eye on facebook forums for what other bloggers are saying. Normally any blogging event will be publicised through the bloggers’ networks if you’re tuned in to the conversation, and if not you can always ask bloggers you know, of any events they’re aware of.
  • Research destinations – identify the destinations you’d love to visit and then consult the WTM exhibitor list to research which ones might be worth contacting. Any travel website that already has a Twitter or Facebook account is likely to be more receptive to bloggers. You could then approach the relevant tourism board, company or accommodation provider via Twitter or e-mail and set up an appointment at the World Travel Market to talk to the right person.
  • Who’s sponsoring other bloggers – If you’re happy to go anywhere, you could keep an eye on what other established bloggers are up to. At the bottom of many blog articles you will find a disclosure telling you who sponsored their trip – and if those travel providers are already working with bloggers they’ll be likely to consider you too.
  • Research PR companies – especially those that have a number of travel clients. They’re not so difficult to find – they are probably on Twitter or already sending you press releases. You can go to their website and check the client list, homing in on the clientts that suit your market and then contact them to try and set up an appointment at the WTM. The following Travel PR companies that are among those trying to develop relationships with travel bloggers; Four BGB, Gosh PR, Hills Balfour, Surf PR (please tell me of any others in the comments)
  • Just turn up – I’ve personally found this to be the least effective approach but it may work for you if you have more time. If you go onto a stand, ask for the person who covers press/PR and if there is one but they are not available then take their e-mail address and contact them afterwards. In the meantime you can take a press pack or any other information and leave your business card and blog information sheet on the stand so they know you’ve called. Sometimes you do get lucky and talk to the right person, and if they are positive then you can follow up with an email after the show.

Following up after the World Travel Market

I’ve found that once the contact has been made and the interest established, you will need to follow up with a specific proposition. This might be just an e-mail saying that you’d love to be considered for any blogging trips being organised and offering any further information they might need. You can follow the Twitter and Facebook accounts and make comments or re-tweets from time to time to reinforce your interest.

If you’re like me and prefer to organise individual trips, then you need to be specific about your proposition. I often write a more tailored proposal which might include;

  • The length of time/specific dates
  • The type of material I hope to write on my blog form this trip – is there an ‘angle’ or theme I will be writing about?
  • Specific examples of what support I am looking for e.g. a flight, 3 nights in a hotel, a local transport card.
  • Specific examples of what I will produce in return e.g. 4 travel articles, 1 guest post, 2 videos, 1 podcast, social media coverage
  • Links to relevant articles I’ve written from similar trips

It’s good to also indicate that you are flexible as tourism boards may have budget set aside to promote certain things such as a particular region, a new hotel, a certain style of travel and if you are aware of this you can tailor the proposal to fit their criteria.

Of course I’m assuming that at least part of your aim at the World Travel Market is to seek travel sponsorship, but if that’s not the case then you can easily spend your time researching interesting destinations, meeting blogging friends and and attending seminars.

The Zakynthos stand at the World Travel Market

The Zakynthos stand at the World Travel Market

Ideas on how travel companies can connect with travel bloggers at the World Travel Market

Of course many PR companies and travel companies are already working with bloggers, but I’ve often heard the question coming at seminars from travel companies “How do we connect with travel bloggers?” – so here are some ideas you might try;

  • Organise an event – if you are exhibiting at World Travel Market you could organise a blogger’s meet-up at a set time and spread the word via e-mail and twitter. If you have free drinks, snacks and wifi on offer most bloggers will come just for the free lunch and the chat (most bloggers are travelling on a limited budget so every little helps). The Florida stand drew a crowd and they even offered a prize for those tweeting with their hashtag. If you have a specific proposition for an upcoming blogger’s trip like the Malaga tourism board are planning you’ll almost certainly have a captive audience, prepared to sit and hear you enthuse about your destination. If you have press events planned like the Bermuda dinner, you can make sure that you include some bloggers.
  • Pre-arrange appointments with key bloggers – even if you don’t have a stand or a blogger’s trip in the pipeline, the World Travel Market is the perfect time to reach out to the increasing numbers of travel bloggers who are attending. It’s worth researching those who will have an affinity with your brand and explore ways to work together. If you don’t know who’ll be there, check the lists of attendees for events such as Travel Blog Camp or Travel Blogggers Unite and monitor who’s tweeting that they will be at the event.
  • For those with a miniscule PR budget – If you’re a small travel operator with a shoestring budget, you can still reach out to bloggers. Even if you can’t tempt them with a fully funded blog trip, they may be planning to visit your region and would love to get a taste of what you offer while you’re there, or you may plant a seed in their mind for a future trip. Through personal contact you may get some social media engagement or perhaps ask if you can write a guest post about all the wonderful things your region has to offer. I had a meeting with Meritxell Omella from El Brogit Guiatges, who was doing exactly that; enterprisingly reaching out to a number of bloggers to seek ways to promote her eco-tourism and hiking business.
  • Sponsoring a Travel Blogging event such as Travel Blog camp, Travel Bloggers Unite or TBEX is another great way to get in front of bloggers and show you are serious about working with them.
  • Educate yourself in Social Media – if blogging and social media is uncertain territory for you, then the World Travel Market is the perfect place to bring yourself up to speed, especially the seminars in the Social Travel Market programme.
While I normally only attend the World Travel Market for one day, I’m seriously thinking of extending this to two days next year to take advantage of all that’s on offer and make even more contacts. See you there next year!

More Thoughts from the World Travel Market and surrounding events

Seven Takeaways from Social Travel Market 2011  – Steven Keenan @StevenKeenan
Photos from Travel Blog Camp – Guido J. van den Elshout @HappyHotelier
Impressions from TBCamp 2011 – Guido J. van den Elshout @HappyHotelier
One Day World Travel Market Experience – Paul Corbett @MyPostcardFrom
Thoughts I took away from Travel Blog Camp 2011 – Darren Cronian @TravelRants
The Quirky Universe of the World Travel Market – Zoe Dawes @QuirkyTraveller

This article is published at My Blogging Journey, where you’ll find information on how to build a better travel blog.

You’ll also find lots of great travel stories, videos and podcasts at my travel blog at Heather on her travels .

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