Are Travel Writers Becoming Extinct?


Yes, if all they write about are places they travel to.  It seems the traveling public is more interested these days in travel ideas, trends, travel news and technology, than in destinations.

Travel writers love to travel. That’s why most of them are in the business.

But it that the right reason?
I don’t think so.

Matador Notebook points out that the world is so thoroughly Googleized that the tradition of destination travel writers may be coming to an end.

Historically, authentic travel content came from world explorers, cultural investigators and scribes like like Ibn Battuta, W. Somerset Maugham,  and even our own, Paul Theroux,

But how relevant can traditional travel writers be in this Googleized world where all kinds of destination travel advice, reports and images are available everywhere?

Do consumers really need another article on the “impossibly blue waters” of the Caribbean or another “Top Ten Destinations,” - or “Top Ten Travel ” anything?

The Society America of Travel Writers, the professional organization representing many travel writers, seems disinclined to look closely at the role and value of travel writers in this time of ubiquitous travel information.

Then there’s the question of motivation.

I read a number of  blogs and articles proclaiming that becoming a travel writer was a free ticket to free travel: hotel rooms, airfare, meals. Most everything.

If not free, then deeply discounted. But mostly free.

And after a few conferences, I was, not for the first time, struck by how many professional travel writers measure their success and clout (Klout) by how many press trips they get invited to.

Much of the energy in professional travel-writing conversations centers around how to get noticed by Destination Management Organizations (DMO’s), like public relations or marketing companies,  so that the yearned for  invite to a Caribbean island or an exotic destination like Bali would be more forthcoming.

Journalists usually chose their professions because they are consumer-facing, committed to providing timely, compelling, useful information to the public. In some cases journalists are actually committed to revealing a truth or exposing unsavory practices. Think Watergate, of course.

Travel writers often seem by comparison to simply want to indulge their passion for travel, and want to write about their trips.

They seem less guided by what information the public needs or wants or finds relevant, and more by the destination the writer wants to visit.

So, something isn’t right when I read a long, puerile  thread on Linkedin Discussion Groups about  the distance one has to literally travel ( 50 miles?1000?) to be considered a real travel writer.

And then there are those posts with titles like,  “So You Want To See the World for Free? Become a Travel Writer”.

In my own practice as a member of the travel writing community, I made the shift to writing about travel trends, technology, travel news and the business of travel.

Of course I like to travel and file a report about an interesting inn or an especially positive travel experience.
I think sometime the public is curious and likes a professional point of view.

But if numbers matter, content about travel brands and social media, or women bloggers or the veracity of TripAdvisor’s reviews, get far more Tweets, comments and views than my St. Lucia story does.

And when I combine an article on how Ireland is cleverly using Foursquare as a marketing tool, and add a video, the content does best.

I still love to travel, and write about it, but my passport is getting dusty.

And I notice really informed DMO’s (and the public) are looking for more than a destination piece on how great they are. They seem to be moving toward a marketing package that includes their destination, but  in the context of travel trends, travel technology and travel news.

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  • Hal, I'm touched by such a thorough and thoughtful response to an article which was really designed to be a "conversation starter," and maybe a bit provocative.

    I wish I had given the piece as much thought as you gave your response :)

    Of course, for me, the essence lies in your observation that there may be a movement away from narrative or descriptive writing which, and here I'm repeating myself, is the favored type of travel writing because it's the most fun and,protests to the contrary, it really is easy. There's not a lot of work spending a few days in Caribbean and writing about it. Really. Sure, you have to get some facts down and avoid cliches, but it's an easy and fun gig. And why not take it?

    But, as I said, that's not the guts of travel writing. As I see the profession and as I see it evolving, it will be less sexy and "cool," and more deeper drilling into the kinds of stuff that a confused public is eager to have clarified for them. Which resort has the best drinks? The traveler will find that out. How does Hipmunk compare to Kayak or TripAdvisor to for reliable and truthful reviews? Different story.

    Thanks again for your response and analysis. Respected and appreciated.


  • Kaleel - a lot in what you say, and a lot to say by way of comment.  But I can only speak for myself and my own individual human experience, and not from a stereotype good or bad of what a travel writer does.  First, I think the whole wider conversation about press trips that I've read online has been widely generated by the entry of travel bloggers into that particular arena.  With their own set of demands and (frequently false) expectations and choices in what they communicate from it.  But not all of course.  A lot of people have that prior background in either travel writing or journalism wherein they know how to see the world and tell the story.  And not just a self-involved story about themselves in the world either although they're already a legend in their own mind (and their 50,000 "followers").  Press trips are a necessary and occasional evil of in-person fact and observational gathering.  The alternative which is less savory for opposite and different reasons, is desktop journalism - a practice decried even more and often rightly so too.  At this point in my life, I've had both extremes of highly productive press travel that gives me material to go on and on producing long after, but also the occasional clunker which for reasons sometimes humorous but often tragic turned into mostly a waste of 4000 miles of flying and time lost.  I confess to be still on a learning curve even after years.  Secondly, as far as the imminent death of narrative travel writing?  I don't know about that - the future is unclear to me with both strong arguments pro and con as far as the value of purely informational content and away from descriptive and experiential writing.  Maybe, the truth lies somewhere in between. Life and travel create hybrid needs - the need for hard fact but also the hunger for catching a provocative glimpse of a place or experience through the other's eyes? 

    Finally, as far as the image of the self-indulgent individual grabbing the travel writer/journalist identity just to afford themselves an escape from a boring cubicle life and the rest of the middle-class American dream (turned nightmare now) to get onto press trips to tropical islands?  Yes, those exist. On the other hand, there are those of us who didn't emerge from that wider North American or Euro demographic of self-entitlement while Darfur, Bosnia or Rwanda were happening.  Those of us for whom travel was a given ingredient from the earliest moments of our lives, and for whom tropical places were not "exotic" but just home.  Sometimes you choose your brand and your onward path based on what has already found its way to your door and defined you.  Writing about it and choosing to write about it is what makes existential sense to you when that happens. 

  • Happy to oblige! Truth in journalism...hahaha

  • OMG, and I admitted to a mistake and I didn't have to! Well, good of you to fess up, Michelle :)


  • Will Orland still be standing in '13? Thanks, David. Always a pleasure. Given you, Jose and Ed, I end up talking in my sleep



  • Kaleel, re TBS, everybody's invited to attend (all Media Only members have gotten an email, as you know), but since ASTA is footing the bill, as far as speakers are concerned they were more in the driver's seat. How 'bout Orlando '13?? :-)

  • Actually, when I saw what you wrote...I LOOKED IT UP. We're BOTH RIGHT. Can you imagine that? It can be used either way.

    I wasn't correcting you. I was being serious...both are okay. lol

  • I would love to say I was being clever in my choice of words, but, no, I can't. Oddly, as I typed the wrong word, I knew it was incorrect, and said to myself, I'll go back and change it. Twice I think. Alas I didn't and thank you for your good humored correction. :) Embarrassing.

  • Hi Kaleel,

    So now you bring up another topic for us to either "pore through" or "pour over."


  • Michelle...I believe  there used to be a lot more glossy magazines to pour through...and lots more armchair travelers to pour through them.

    As Harvey implied, today's travelers, in general, are overwhelmed with too much complex travel information...because travel has become very complex. They are, based on my experience, hungry for help in sorting through the travel maze. Colorful pics are everywhere. Try Pinterest for starters. Glossy mags cost big bucks. What's not plentiful is information of which review sites to trust. for example.

    But, as usual, thanks for writing in :)

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