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Sunday, April 10, 2016

On Travel Writing: Fair, Balanced or Puffery?

Traditionally, travel writing has gotten a bad rap. 

It's certainly understandable that it is often seen as being pure puffery. All too often, a most pedestrian place is praised as the greatest location on earth, a hidden gem with something for everyone.  Look, as an experienced travel pro, I do believe there's something to recommend about nearly every place. But let's not pretend every place is perfect (even when pictures make it look so).

Idyllic Iceland? 

Why does this happen? Perhaps because a writer got a free trip and thinks that the quid pro quo is to only write positive thoughts. Perhaps he thinks he will be blacklisted from press trips if he regularly reports on the negative (and in truth, this can happen). Whatever the reason, the negatives are usually left unreported, leaving the reader with a biased take.

Nosy to know if
your favorite travel blogger
is a Pinocchio?
(picture taken at the
Puppet Museum in Tallinn, Estonia)
This notion is currently exacerbated by bloggers who are waxing enthusiastic about places and products in order to get or maintain sponsorships or strategic partners.  Not all travel blogs are pay-to-play. However, the fact is, the current model for making money in blogging is by gaining strategic partnerships.

Here's the rhetorical question, though: If a blogger is in bed with Marriott, will he or she write anything negative about the lodging behemoth?

Furthermore, will the blogger opt to ignore good news coming from competitors like Hilton or Westin?  Similarly, if one is being paid by the U.S. Virgin Islands, I doubt there will be much coverage about St. Lucia or Martinique.

Vive la Martinique

Trans-Siberian train track
along Lake Baikal
But for those dear, dear readers who still take an interest in journalism, the good news is, there is still room for fair and balanced travel reporting....and God forbid...I don't mean on Fox News. In recent years, I traveled far and wide, sometimes on press trips, sometimes on discounted journeys, and sometimes at full freight. Regardless of who is paying the bill, I make sure my reporting is just that...reporting, and not puffery.  Here are two examples. The Albania story appeared in National Geographic Traveler (October, 2008). The Trans-Siberian piece ran in Travel Weekly (October, 2013), the industry's leading trade magazine.

Please weigh in with your thoughts.

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