Should Travel Writers Ask for Free Trips or Get Paid by a Destination?

This started out with a question: Should travel writers ask for free trips.

It’s  a vexing and contentious issue for travel professionals.

The ethical issues are pretty clear: If a travel writer is given an all-expense trip to a country, hotel, resort  or whatever -  and this usually includes airfare, meals, accommodations and passes to attractions in the region - can that writer be balanced in his or her article?

In the meantime, the question took on anther dimension when we learned from Travellllll that the Jordanian Tourism office is actually paying 12 bloggers to write and post about the Kingdom of Jordan.

This changes the game considerably.

If the question is,  can a travel writer see clearly enough to include the negative or the not-so-great in content paid for by a destination, it becomes a more compelling question if the destination is not just providing a free trip, but is paying the writer to write.

Is this the new content model?

In principle, I’m not opposed to destination paying a writer. It eliminates one more barrier to the content providers success: the need to get notoriously stingy publishers and editors to cough up a few bucks for work done.

But can the content be trusted?

Can even TripAdvisor’s content be trusted?

Regarding free trips, The New York Times prohibits them, as do some few other publications, and the Society of American Travel Writers, has no real position on the issue.

In a recent Linkedin  discussion group, there were about 80 comments on the question posted by a hotel owner who had writers asking for three (and more) days complimentary stays at her place.

She was asking for help in figuring out if the requests were over the top, and in general how to  handle the many requests she gets from writers for free stays.

My opinion?

• On the fence about destinations paying content providers.

• I would never ask for a free trip or stay. If you're invited, that's OK.  Why?

Because the invitee has decided, no strings attached, that they want you. They know you and believe you're a good fit for their property. You matter to them.

• If a destination has appeal and the writer thinks the approach he/she has in mind is unique and will benefit his audience, let the property and their PR rep know that you'd be interested in a Media Trip.... if and when they put one together.

•  Just because a destination is appealing to the writer and wants to go there, doesn't mean someone should pay for the trip, in exchange for an article.

Importantly, the writer should be able to articulate a compelling newsworthy angle that justifies the trip.

Is their family travel program compelling, and thus a natural fit for the family travel web site you provide content for?

When we did a couple Travel Video PostCards on the Taj Hotel in Boston, we were invited.

And we thought the hotel’s transition from the blue-blood Ritz Carlton to the Indian-owned Taj would, visually and conceptually, make a terrific series.

So, we think it's time to dump the idea, “Become a travel writer and see the world for free.”

If a writer wants to see the world, go see it on his own dollar.