WTM and a new business model for travel journalism

wtm_30_yrs_cmykLater today I’m off to my fourth World Travel Market, held annually at London’s Excel every November. Around 50,000 travel industry people attend each year. In 2008, 187 countries and regions set out their stall, filling up 43,000 sq m of space. Last year there were stage shows featuring folk dancing from Kazakhstan, Thai massages on the Thailand stand, saki hour via Japan, Uri Geller breaking spoons with his mind on the Israel stand, and so on. This year, no doubt, there’ll be more of the same and on the same grand scale for although it’s a trade-only show, I think is the third largest show currently held in the UK, behind the Motor and Home Show.

This is the second vast conference I’ve attended this year. The first one was SXSW Interactive, a five-day event on all things interwebbie, in Austin, Texas – I tried to blog about my SXSWi but most of it remains in my head. Will see what stories WTM 2009 throws up.

If you’re going to WTM, and would like to meet, the best way to make contact with me is via Twitter: @fionacullinan. I’ll be checking it and tweeting from it throughout Monday and Tuesday.

My plan for Monday press day is:

  • 10-11 WTM Forecast Forum
  • 10.30 Maldives press conference
  • 12-1 Korea Tourism Org wine/buffet lunch (Novotel)
  • 1-2 Rezidor Hotel Group press reception
  • 3.30 US Travel Association
  • 4 Wandering!
  • 6 Sri Lanka press reception
  • Eve: Travtweetup, WTM Special

My plan for Tuesday seminar day is:

  • 11-12 Innovative Travel Marketing in a recession
  • 12 Irish stew on the Ireland stand
  • 12.30-1.30 Content matters
  • 2 Wandering again.
  • 4.30 Technology and Online Travel drinks reception
  • Eve: Travel Blog Camp.

Sometimes schedules go astray and I’m happy for this to happen in the accelerated serendipitous environment of a digital WTM. Because the other main reason I’m attending WTM is to put myself out there for blogging work, either corporate blogging or creating content for tourist boards and travel companies. I’ve been doing this for a large non-travel organisation on the subjects of innovation and entrepreneurship but would love to do it in the sector I’m passionate about and to combine it with my love of digital content.

WTM tip: find good writers
In the WTM PR manual there’s a tip sheet for companies to get the most out of WTM. Point 5 says this:

Get good writers and PR people onboard
It makes sense to get great story writers and PR people on board – preferably individuals who have previous experience working with travel products and who know your target media. The more professional in your approach, the more professional you will appear to the press.

Twice in the last year, I’ve been told by leading travel editors that there is no longer a freelance budget for travel articles. Well, it was hard enough to make a decent income from travel writing before. Now it seems impossible. The newspaper industry is still where PRs are concentrating their efforts and, increasingly, ‘influential’ travel bloggers – neither of which offers much of a business revenue model for the travel journalist.

A future travel journalist business model?
But I think PRs (and travel companies and travel journalists) are missing a trick. With traditional outlets shrinking, there is a market for creating content direct for the companies and tourist boards. They need someone (a digital journalist would make sense!) to tell their own stories and put them out there to be picked up directly by prospective clients, by editors and by search engines.

They need to, as WTM suggests, find good writers to tell these stories for them and put together a package of content that helps a prospect decide whether they want to visit that destination or book that tour – essentially, write, photograph and video the kind of things a travel journalist would research as a matter of course, adding value to their offering by being useful to the client. And why restrict this content to the occasional press article; why not magnify your offering by hosting them on your own travel sites. If they are good, other sites and blogs will link to them.

For more information on this, check out my comments on where travel journalists might progress to on Travel Blather’s post about paid for content and objectivity. It’s not that I’m giving up on ‘objective’ travel writing for print, just trying to find a new ways to work, because increasingly the old ways aren’t working.

Eh voila. C’est tout. Off to learn how to use a Flip camera now. See you at WTM.

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