2010 will I think be a pretty interesting year for travel writers. Printed travel media continues to decline but, slowly,the web is taking up some of the slack. A trend that has really struck me here in the UK is that major travel brands are finally getting serious about social media. (US readers we're most definitely behind you guys - some of this may seem a bit *obvious* - does it?)
I can't name names, but I've seen a really definite shift - from travel companies just talking about social media to actively looking to spend serious money doing it. And I mean big players - not small niche operators. These travel companies see an opportunity in social media to participate in
the holiday-purchasing process far earlier than in the past and as a result to sell more holidays. Some of them have a far better handle on what they need to do than others - but that's a discussion I'll leave for another time.
What I wanted to highlight is that I think this is offering up opportunities for travel writers to carve themselves niches and maybe earn proper cash online(at last).
The problems for brands
1) Social media spaces are not big-brand friendly
Major travel brands might be looking to start really engaging with customers on a more personal level online, but customers for the most part won't relate to them in this way. People relate best to people (no real surprise there). What some brands are doing - with definite positive results - is allowing the people that work for them to step out from behind their corporate brand-speak and be real. To talk in their own voices. This has seen serious success for say Jetblue in the USA and easyJet in the UK who both use Twitter really effectively to help customers in far more personal and useful ways than of old.
2) Customers are looking for credible, trustworthy, unbaissed information
But worse still for brands, people want to deal with other people that they feel they
can trust. In a direct customer services environment - like the twitter examples above - then direct contact with someone clearly working for the company works just fine. But for finding holiday ideas, getting inspiration for trips, any message that has a brand associated with it will tend to
come across as a hardcore sales message. People will smell an ulterior motive and will lose
3) Brands are now publishers - but they don't know how to do it
Back in the old off-line era, travel companies might have published the odd customer magazine or whatever, but this kind of stuff was all very promotional. Generally people working in marketing departments don't really 'get' unbiassed content. Their job is to sell more product - so the messages they create usually feel very sales-like. Nowadays on the web - particularly the social web - people are looking for unbiassed, credible information to help them choose their holidays. And believe me they sure aren't finding much that's of any real use. Some commentators have gone so far to suggest that 'search is broken'.
It's obvious really. Why not use credible, experienced writers to write content for you for anything related to the inspiration phase of holiday booking? In particular content that sits in a more social media style environment? Using an expert travel writer offers the following advantages:
If I'm reading stuff on a blog hosted by a travel company about say, great ideas for family holidays in Spain I'm highly unlikely to take much notice of recommendations that seem to come directly from the company itself - these messages will feel like someone is trying to sell me something. If however there's a family travel expert offering ideas and advice - with a profile that I can read and links to other stuff they have written about family travel elsewhere - then the content immediately feels more genuine. And by association the company wins too. They've taken the trouble to pay for someone who really knows their stuff to write about it to help me choose the right holiday for me.
People relate to people - I'm far more likely to engage with content (and potentially go on and make a purchase at some point) if I can get a feel for a real person writing it. Someone a bit like me; someone who clearly understands my needs and concerns
3) Great ideas
It's a bit of a scary uncharted place for marketers this online publishing world. But for journalists, it's home. A great travel writer can work with a marketer to come up with great ideas that will really work for their users. Great ideas that are developed primarily with the user in mind rather than a sales target.
Want to see an example of this in practice? Have a look at the way VisitFlorida uses expert writers. I love it! http://www.visitflorida.com/all_experts
How do travel writers make the best of these new opportunities? (I have a few ideas of my own which I will share in a follow-up post.)