The creation of the Professional Travel Bloggers Association and TBU’s Book of Travel Bloggers seems like a step in the right direction to give a developing occupation more structure. But as I read the mission statements attached to both I find the questions piling up.
The Professional Travel Blogger’s Association
According to the website, the Professional Travel Bloggers Association (PTBA) “is a non-profit group made up of travel bloggers for the purpose of furthering the profession. The PTBA will strive to provide education and resources so that more travel bloggers will be able to make a living via blogging, and also provide guidelines and direction to improve the overall professionalism of the industry.”
I liked the idea but my first question on finding out about it was – what makes it, or the bloggers who sign up, professional?
The criteria to join is having blogged for 9 months and having 3,000+ page views on their blog on the last 30 days… oh, and forking out $75 pa.
The criteria relating to who is and who isn’t professional seems based on numbers, numbers and more numbers. Whilst website stats are essential, putting so much emphasis on Twitter followers and on social media channels that many mainstream travellers don’t even know exist is taking a limited stance. Twitter is a great tool but, thanks to follower buying abuse, increasingly unreliable as far as proof of influence is concerned.
The bigger problem for me is that the PTBA is taking a one-dimensional view of what constitutes a travel blogger. From Michael Hodson’s, one of the founders, replies on Travelllll.com, he unsurprisingly disagrees. However, as a travel blogger who has more than one travel blog, manages a travel blog for another company and writes travel blogs for a number of other travel industry organisations believe me, and others like me who don’t fit the box neatly, when we say the PTBA model is limited in its views of what a travel blogger might be.
Another of Michael’s answers on Travelllll.com sort of summed it up for me.
“Any blogger is welcome to join, even if they earn a living as a contractor or freelancer…”
The word ‘even’ speaks volumes. It sort of implies that someone who actually earns a living from travel blogging may grudgingly be accepted in the Professional Travel Bloggers Association… as long as they have their own blog accompanied by a bag of their own statistics to show for it. The fact that they already are a professional travel blogger seems to stand for little. It’s a topsy turvy world.
The TBU Book of Travel Bloggers
The TBU Book of Travel Bloggers is something slightly different. According to its website the TBU book of Travel Bloggers “is an essential purchase for tourist boards, travel brands and PR / Marketing agencies who want to work with travel bloggers.”
For bloggers, the website advises – ‘It is a great opportunity to stand out from the crowd and be discovered by the travel industry!’
I’m not sure about being able to ‘stand out’ by following everyone else, but I get what they’re saying.
To be in the book there’s no fee for bloggers. All they have to do is fork out to attend a TBU conference and they’re in. Although there is an enhanced entry for only £25 a year.
In this case, my first thoughts about the book were why does turning up at a travel blogging conference make me the right person to promote a destination in the way it wants and, importantly, to the people it is trying to attract?
I don’t have an urge to go to TBU. I simply don’t believe these events in their current format are right for me.
The issue I have with the TBU Book of Travel Bloggers is that you get in by turning up at TBU. It’s their book and entry criteria is clearly their business. But surely that’s no proof of professionalism or suitability? What happens if you’re a travel blogger who goes to TBU for purely social reasons and spends all the time on the lash?
As the website points out: ‘We only recommend bloggers whom we have met in person or we know very well online’. Does that mean you only get recommended if Oliver and company know and like you?
Oliver seems like a decent guy and I’m sure if I met him I’d like him. But I’m not about to start kissing his, or anyone else’s ass, to prove that I’m professional. Call me idealistic, but I believe in meritocracy – build it, and build it well, and they will come.
However, apart from being of the opinion that neither organisation are fully representative of all travel bloggers (to be fair the TBU Book of Travel Bloggers doesn’t say it is), my main concern about them is that neither appear to put much, if any, emphasis on experience, credentials or, most importantly, quality of writing in blogs.
What the hell happened to the mantra content is king?
I understand tourist boards, DMOs and PR agencies welcoming anything that is going to make their lives easier when it comes to effectively marketing their destination. And I’m not saying that the PTBA and the TBU Book of Travel Bloggers won’t be useful tools. I have confidence (hope?) either, or both, will evolve into something that is more representative of the travel blogging world – they’ll have to.
Ultimately, the responsibility for identifying the right bloggers/writers to promote a destination still lies with tourist boards, DMOs and PR Agencies etc. To do this properly these bodies simply have to put in some of the groundwork themselves.
Otherwise they will be the equivalent of the tourist who wanders into a high street travel agent to find what packages are on offer and unquestioningly takes whatever is put in front of them.
Jack is co-owner, writer and photographer for BuzzTrips and the Real Tenerife series of travel websites plus lots of other things. Follow Jack on Google+