The evolution of travel bloggers

The concept of a travel blogger is still relatively new — an outcome of the Internet age accelerated through the advent of social media and mobile communications.

I just came back from a convention of travel bloggers entitled TBEX, which this year happened to be conveniently located in my hometown of Toronto. Some 1,300 delegates converged on our convention center to hear a number of excellent speakers outlining various approaches and recapping the state of this fledgling journalistic market segment. What I learned: not all travel bloggers are equal. Many travel bloggers have established niches and accrued loyal followers. In effect, the more sophisticated bloggers have become specialized in a manner akin to print publications with topics such as family travel, romance, gay travel, honeymoons and so on.

Digging deeper, you will find these bloggers’ viewers are very active in terms of their responses, signifying a very strong bond with the blogger, far more passionate than what you could expect from print or broadcast media. Just imagine a newspaper where every article had a continuous stream of letters to the editor.

The question I pose is this: how do hoteliers penetrate the travel blogger realm? The answer is through individualized communications. Hoteliers need to understand what their properties offer at their core. Based on this, you must find bloggers who would be specifically attracted to your value proposition. Hotels have to build relationships with bloggers in a similar fashion to traditional media members — one at a time and through diligent courtship.

In an era of mass communications through social media, it may seem somewhat archaic to look at travel bloggers this way, but indeed the industry has matured to the point where bloggers should be held in equal respect with mainstream media. I think of it as breadth of sale (broadcast media with many readers but only cursory interest by that audience) versus depth of sale (niche travel bloggers who have few readers but a devoted following).

One of the issues addressed at the TBEX Conference was how bloggers get paid for their work. In effect, reporters working for mainstream publications have a salary. Why not travel bloggers? Advertising fees from banner ads and pay per click?

It is an interesting issue. Hotels provide rooms and quite often ancillary services such as meals. These have a cost to the property. To add a fee to the blogger seems to run counter to the concept of fair reporting. It remains an open issue, one that will continue to gain discussion as bloggers grow in prominence.

One thing is certain: travel bloggers should be on your radar. Start by finding those consistent with your property’s USP. Maintain close contact with those providing you with positive reinforcement of your brand values.