Joining a travel writers' association?

After spending years and years in the corporate communications sector as a photographer, this year was my first year of going solo in the travel industry - writing and shooting about travel destinations and technology. Virtually everything I've written or shot has been for online publication, but I plan to start marketing to print publications in 2011. My question is, are there specific writers' groups/organizations that would make sense to join?  My main motive for joining would be to help market my work to new publications, so I'm wondering if association membership carries any weight with various travel pubs?

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  • Scott, your qualms about finding competitors to sponsor you would seem to make sense, but as chair of SATW's Northeast Chapter, let me suggest two theories about how people manage to get sponsors in spite of that:

    1. Just as people don't necessarily vote their wallet (e.g. in 2008 Obama bagged the majority of votes of people earning more than 200K a year), people in SATW are good to their competitors.

    2. Their competitors are not necessarily competitors. Some of us are photographers, others are writers, still others are broadcasters, etc. Moreover, I like to specialize in northeast Pennsylvania; my friend E.P. covers skiing; E. K. covers road trips and green travel  -- so we're all freelancers (at least part of the time), but we aren't really competitors.

    In short, I'd welcome you to look into SATW, Scott. Visit the site (, check out the "how to join" section, and feel free to contact Lynn or me if you have questions.  

  • I'll answer from the other side of the fence. I was the PR Director of the Maryland Office of Tourism 1988-1993. (Before Mindi and Connie, for those who know those great ladies.) I organized, ran, and accompanied as many as 15 trips a year with writers. With few exceptions, I saw no difference in the quality, professionalism, or production/placement from members of the organizations and those who weren't. Those who hustle, hustle and get their articles placed. The prima donnas and freeloaders don't. There were as many losers in the two 'big' groups (IFWTWA and SATW) as there were producers.

    (And don't think that the DMOs/PR agencies don't keep a detailed list and call each other after trips. Good and bad names are well known! That, more than anything else -- including placement of stories -- often determines whether you get on a trip. There are too many good writers out there for anyone to put up with jerks.)

    I'm back in the trenches now, writing and going on trips as a participant. I see the same thing. The good writers hustle and see results. They get assignments because they have good pitches, good credits, and good reputations. I have never dealt with an editor who gave or refused as assignment based on membership in one of the 'guilds.'

    I'm a member of IFWTWA because I've gotten to know a lot of the members over the years. I enjoy their company and network with them, but I also network with writers I've met on trips who are 'independent.' I find that they are of equal value.

    When I was with MD OTD, the best 'out of town' group I worked with was the Midwest Travel Writers. They held one of their mass press trips in MD and the Chesapeake Region. A fantastic bunch of people; I would strongly suggest you check them out.

    Media Bistro is also a good site to check out. Among other things, if you are an 'AdvantGuild' member (it's something like $60/year), you can get group health insurance. It also opens an enormous library of on-line tutorials; detailed 'how-to' pitch case studies for specific publications; on-line resume posting, and a lot of other goodies. Frankly, it provides more in the way of development, tips, and value than either of the guilds.

    I qualify for SATW, but I find the 'sorority sister' requirement -- after qualifying, you must still be recommended by existing members -- offensive, especially considering some of the characters/members/officials I've encountered. By the time you qualify, you've proven yourself as a productive professional, and you have to continue to produce to maintain your membership. This is appropriate. Being further evaluated as whether you are 'worthy' of being admitted to their rarefied presence seems arrogant and artificially exclusive. I know that am not the only writer who is turned off by that 'requirement.'

    At any rate, welcome to the club. And good luck! (For all of us.)


    • Hi Fran,

      Thanks so much for your input, I was hoping to hear from someone on the editorial side.  I decided to join the International Travel Writers Alliance and MediaBistro for starters.  After the first of the year, I will probably talk with SATW or Midwest Travel Writers.  I've got over a hundred articles published online this year, so I'm assuming I fulfill their requirements. Thanks again for some great, thought-provoking comments.

  • I believe SATW isn't just the pre-eminent travel writer's organization but also one which has made a rational and calculated strategic decision in terms of what criteria it looks for in judging membership. For some, that may seem either a bar too high that they haven't met yet, for others however it's probably an issue to do with their own perceived paradigm shift about media and the present and future of travel media - meaning, they don't consider themselves travel writers, or at least not mainly as travel writers, and the future to them is exclusively in the virtual world. Which is fine by me, because that's the opposite of where I'm coming from - and not how I view the present or future, so a place like SATW feels like a safer place of like-minded individuals with some commonalities as far as background and where and what they contribute to.
  • Thanks everyone for your comments - both pro and con. I'm getting the feeling that success in marketing of my work still falls mainly on me, not my association with any specific group. Nevertheless, after looking at all these organizations, a number of them seem to offer a plethora of side benefits which could be very advantageous. I appreciate all your input.
  • I think there are wonderful travel organizations named here (especially IFWTWA), but it's a matter of dollars and cents for me. I'm building a (freelance writing) business and I need to cut corners. That means that memberships are luxuries I can't afford now. I am happy to say I have no shortage of assignments or trip offers so I can't see it as a necessary expense. I do, however, see the advantage of networking through them and maybe getting better paying assignments. I hope to belong to a a few of those mentioned someday.

    I also want to bring up the International Travel Writers Alliance ( It is totally free and has some wonderful benefits. I strongly recommend all travel writers join -- whether or not you belong to other organizations.

  • Okay, I'll burst the bubble at this love in. SATW didn't work for me.

    But I wonder if geography didn't play a part. The A part of SATW is American, which is not a big part of my writing. Unfortunately, my inbox was loaded up with useless press releases from destinations and partners that didn't work for any my readerships. I was also too far removed to attend any meetings. I live a time zone and 1,000 miles from the closest SATW branch. I went to luncheon once and it cost me $800 (airfare, hotel, etc.).

    I think one of the things national organizations like SATW - and this isn't exclusive to them - have to do is revisit their membership fees. It seems to me that writers who live in cities where there is a branch of SATW get more from their fees than the rural-based or ex-urban members do. So why should all members pay the same amount since all members don't have the same access to events and benefits? The rural or less centrally-situated writer is subsidizing the city-based writer. (I am now ducking from the fall out that line will generate.)

    Everyone talks about how great it is to hang out with other writers. I like to hang out with other writers occasionally, but I get that on press trips or with my friends at home. I'm more interested in hanging out with editors who can assign stories. During my time at SATW the editor list shrank substantially. My reasons for joining a professional organization are commercial, not social.

    Supposedly you can attend SATW conferences at greatly reduced prices, but I still get all-expenses-paid press trips, so I didn't find the idea of these conferences that appealing. And when 50 or 100 or 300 writers swoop in on a destination at once, I don't know how you get a chance to work on a good story. At least not the way I research.

    Before you join any organization you need to ask yourself the hard question about what you want/need from it? You might be better off looking at your city's or state's writer's organization first. It would be local, you could attend events and it would be a lot less money. (SATW also charges a hefty initiation fee, which I feel is unnecessary.)
    • [It seems to me that writers who live in cities where there is a branch of SATW get more from their fees than the rural-based or ex-urban members do. So why should all members pay the same amount since all members don't have the same access to events and benefits? The rural or less centrally-situated writer is subsidizing the city-based writer. ]

      Alan, I'm thowing a bouquet of roses your way for this observation. This is true not only for SATW but for many other organizations (including ASJA, of which I'm a member).
  • I must admit I am surprised to see all the endorsements of SATW. I would be interested to hear how the organization has improved over the last three years. I am a graduate of the SATW Institute and remember when I could not get anyone in the office to even acknowledge my e-mails, let alone answer my simple questions.
    When I became eligible for membership, I asked colleagues whether they thought their membership was worth the dues. Surprisingly, most said no, and confirmed my own experience: what counts is the media outlets you bring to the table, rather than any organizational affiliation.
    Many cited what they considered SATW's failure, as the leading travel writer advocacy organization, to promote the interests of travel writers as a group: taking a stand against the vilification of sponsored press trips, for example, or working with airlines and others to get more respect for us professionals.
    While many -- myself included -- acknowledge that SATW can enhance individual credibility, if you cannot get assignments from credible publications, you will not get work, regardless of your membership.
    • Hi Buzzy -
      I am the first to admit that membership in SATW will NOT guarantee you assignments from credible publications. That is not the goal of the organization nor has it ever stated that it gets you good work assignments. Membership in any organization cannot guarantee that. You first have to be a good writer with a great story...blah, blah.
      What SATW does is provide excellent networking opportunities, excellent professional development opportunities and opportunities for you to grow and improve your professional skills.
      I can't speak to why no one in the office acknowledged your e-mails three years ago, but I can tell you that the organization has gone through some tremendous growth and re-structuring so to speak in the last few years. We have a new re-qualification process for our current members, a new points system for applicants, a new management company, so on and so on.
      Please take another look and I'm glad to answer any questions you or Doug or anyone else may have. My $130 annual dues to SATW pays for itself over and over again each year.
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