Saturday, January 29, 2011

Travel Writers Aren't Journalists!!

I was finishing a media training with a travel industry client recently and our conversation turned to Travel Writers.

Now, I’m not one to generalize, but Travel Writers are about the lowest form of life in the journalism food chain. They seldom have ethics and are almost uniformly loathed by the PR and Travel Industries.

Why the low esteem, you ask? Because all too many travel writers are whores! They purport to be objective reporters of the average consumer’s travel experience but are anything but.

Ask anyone in travel PR and you’ll hear horror stories about travel writers asking, no… demanding, free trips, free hotels and meals. Yet, when they write their reviews they never disclose that their travel experience was comp’ed or that they places they wrote about knew they were writing a review! So much for objectivity.

Imagine if someone from Consumer Reports went into a car dealer and said “I’d like borrow a car for free so I can review your product.” Would the dealer give them just an average car, or one that’s been fine tuned, polished and made perfect? And getting a free car, do you think the reviewer’s report would be swayed?

Most restaurant critics dine anonymously and pay their own tab. Their experience most closely mirrors that of the average patron. But not the freeloading, gimme-gimme travel writer!

There are two notable exceptions to this generalization: Conde Nast Traveler magazine and the NY Times. Neither will buy a story from a reporter who accepted a “fam trip” (familiarization trip) or who didn’t pay their own way. What gets written in those publications, after extensive editorial scrutiny, has credibility. Everything else in newspaper travel sections, blogs and such is suspect.

Who do I trust most for travel reviews? Fellow travelers! Anytime I’m planning a trip, business or pleasure, I visit Trip Advisor and see what others have to say. The reviews may not be pearly prose, but they’re credible because they were written by someone like me and shared out of altruism, not greed.

What’s the difference between a journalist and blogger… or a travel writer and a Trip Advisor contributor? The ‘new media’ has empowered us all to find an audience. So let the best, most objective, most transparent writer win!