Are Travel Blogs, Travel Bloggers & Travel Blogging Conferences Doomed?
Having attended two large travel blogger conferences within the last 6 weeks, I have been reflecting on what I had observed about travel bloggers and travel blogging overall. I have been blogging, and making podcasts and videos, about travel since 2005. Until now I have never been to, nor got involved, in travel blogging events and conferences. I was doing it more because I enjoyed it, and it was great that people listened, watched and read my content.
Whilst I am learning a lot from attending travel blogging events, there are a lot aspects to travel blogging that have surprised me. It is an evolving space and a lot of people are writing travel blogs, but seems to me that it is typical of a business and industry in its early stages. I do believe that there will be a lot of shake out as travel blogging either develops into a slicker, professional and more valuable resource for both travellers and the travel industry, or simply withers away and returns to being more about people’s personal travel journals and records.
Here is my take on travel bloggers and travel blogging so far:
#1: Travel blogging is a big and growing industry. It is becoming an end in its own right.
In the space of 8 weeks alone I could have attended Travel Bloggers Unite in Porto (TBUnite), Travel Bloggers Exchange (TBEX) in Girona, Travel Bloggers Elevator in Genoa and Travel BlogCamp in London. I went or will be going to 3 of them. Hundreds of bloggers attend them paying fees, admittedly fairly small, and paying for hotel rooms and spending money in the destination. Sponsors are coughing up to cover costs. The whole area of training, educating and connecting travel bloggers is growing and becoming a big business. Travel blogging brands and companies are being formed, and competition is growing.
#2: Travel blogging today seems to be more about blogging to travel bloggers, than to travelers.
It felt to me that most of the discussion and focus of travel bloggers, and of the events, is about travel bloggers rather than being about travelers. There is a lot of time spent looking at what others bloggers are doing. There is a real and tangible feeling of competition between bloggers, vying to be noticed by sponsors, other bloggers and brands. I was surprised, especially with my marketing background, that there is limited discussion about what real travellers and everyday people are seeking in the form of information, advice, education and entertainment about travel. There is almost no discussion and no data on what the real target are consuming, enjoying, returning to, valuing and seeking. The focus is on more on what is “in it” for the blogger, so how to do better SEO, how to be a better writer (on assumption that real people are actually looking for that) and how to get tourists boards and brands to want to work with you.
On none of the agendas was a deep understanding for bloggers to learn about how travellers see the role of a blog versus other forms and sources of travel advice and information. Looking at other travel blogs, even those of with larger traffic, it shows that almost all the comments and discussions are from other bloggers – not travellers. It makes me wonder how much the travel blog world is mostly a circle of bloggers blogging for other bloggers.
#3: Travel bloggers seem to be more driven and motivated by getting free and subsidised travel. Not in creating lasting content and resources for travellers.
The main obsession at the events seemed to me to be about which travel bloggers are getting free and subsidised travel, and how you can get it too. Bloggers seemed to be mostly interested in how to make pitches and get brands and tourist boards to give them free travel. It was quite a revelation to me about the extent that bloggers are getting free trips, but also how so many seem to get them off what looks to be relatively low visitor traffic and reach, with little discussion on things like bounce rates and extent that people are deeply engaging and acting on the content. There are so many travel blogs, the overall traffic numbers seem quite low – even for the larger blogs. Compared to other categories and blogs that I have seen some data on, like fashion and cooking, travel blogs seem to get much less traffic and loyalty.
It seems that no-one can make a living from a travel blog alone. Some people are making a living through becoming speakers and consultants on blogging and blogger outreach. The size and scale that travel blogs reach are unlikely to generate revenues that other content properties have been able to do, such as in the Tech world and news areas.
#4: A travel blog’s success is more driven by networking and who you know, than by substance and content that travelers really need, want, use and engage with.
It struck me that there seems to be a relatively small group of bloggers that are very well networked and have built amazing relationships with PR companies, and other elements of the travel blogging industry. The same sets of people seem to be the ones attending and talking at events, going on the trips and taking part. There does not seem to be a more rational data driven and ROI yet for travel blogger activity, and it does seem more driven by relationships, connections and contacts today. It takes effort to work the system and build the connections, as this seems to be the key to getting the trips, the events and the other perks. Unlike in the publishing and media worlds where there is more independent data and research. There are efforts underway to create a way to measure, rank and work out return on investments from individual blogs to help travel brands better decide who to partner with, but this seems some way off being developed and really agreed.
#5: Too many people are blogging about travel.
My sense was that there are just so many travel blogs and so much out there. The barrier to starting a blog is very low, with free platforms available. It is hard to see how it can ever be more than a hobby with a limited time span for most people. The future is unclear. I do suspect that the individual travel blog, unless highly specialised and focused, will not have longevity. I suspect that a few well targeted blogger portals, which aggregate and organise content around some themes or topic areas, will end up emerging as the model. It will need mass, clout and influence as travel brands and companies cannot manage the complexity and diversity of working with multitudes of independent bloggers. Will the TBEX, TBUnite, TBE be the ones that can manage and create this? Possibly and probably. But syndication of content in an aggregated site feels like the future, as I observe the hundreds of travel bloggers enthusiastically trying to learn and manage an independent travel blog. Google will play a big role in determining that too, I suspect, as they decide what content gets served up on that all important front page of search.
Conclusion: Do what makes you happy and you enjoy, as you are unlikely to be able to give up your day job to be a full time travel blogger for life.
Saying all of this, I had a brilliant time at the travel blogging conferences. I will keep going back to them. I had fun, met loads of new people, learnt a lot about blogging, networking, and what is working for other bloggers and things to do to build my blog. Though, it does make me feel that unless independent bloggers accept that they have a hobby on their hands, they will end up being dissapointed. So my take from it all is that you need to embrace your passion, enjoy your hobby and make the most of it, and take on board the learning and apply as much as you can. But mostly do what makes you happy and what you enjoy, as you are unlikely to be able to give up your day job to be a full time travel blogger for life.
Do you agree or disagree?
Am I way off beam? What do you think as a blogger or traveler that uses blogs?