Hosted Trips: It’s All a Matter of Principle

Travel writers debate the issue of media trips
10 February 2010 Post Author:
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Hosted Press Trips – Are you in favor or not?

This topic has been tossed around for years with stands pro and con.

Discussions generally run to extremes and can get quite heated.

In the past, most salaried journalists were not allowed to participate in hosted trips.

The publishers felt it clouded their reporting. Instead, the publishers had the money to finance the trips.

The Market Has Changed

In today’s market, many of the current publishers allow food, wine and travel writers to take part in hosted trips while others (often under the same conglomerate) still don’t. Some publishers realize they need the subsidy and it doesn’t cloud the story.

In today’s market, many of the former salaried journalists are now freelancers. As freelance writers, they are faced with a new dilemma. They had been preached to for so long that hosted trips were wrong, and now, they are discovering these trips make a difference between having the experience and getting the material for stories or not.

some former full-time paid journalists …..have absolutely no difficulty in providing good stories that are truthful expressions of their experiences

For me, and I hope for most freelance writers, it is a matter of principle.

As President and Co-Chair of the Conference and Press Trip Committee for the International Food Wine & Travel Writers Association (IFWTWA), I secure press trips and whatever I can for our members.

We research our hosts to be sure they are offering something of value with numerous story angles. We do expect our attendees to write about the destinations. From all of the experiences offered, they should have at least one, and maybe even a dozen or more, positive experiences. Most of our members need to get more than one article out of a trip to make it worth their time.

We do not expect our writers to write a positive article about a negative experience.

Dealing With The Negative

Now I can only speak for myself on the following. I do not like to write about negative experiences. I realize that many places can have a bad day or night, or are in the process of a management change.

If I arrived at a destination and the entire experience was a disaster, I’m not sure what I’d do. That has never happened. Since I generally promote a destination before I’m leaving with anticipation of the visit, I would probably have to say something like, “I’m not the best person to cover this destination as it did not meet my own expectations.” I’ve covered one extreme to another, cost, cultural, third world to luxury. I search for “What’s good about it.”

In one situation, I was part of a trip that experienced about five well-known dining destinations. I wrote about four of them in detail. The public relations representative asked me why I didn’t cover the other restaurant. I told them, “The ambiance was great, the portions were huge, but the food taste and flavor to me were dry and did not meet my expectations. I felt it was better to not cover it than shoot down a famous location based on my palate.She agreed.

IFWTWA includes some former full-time paid journalists for major publications who are now freelancers. They appreciate the additional insight they are gaining on press tours. They have absolutely no difficulty in providing good stories that are truthful expressions of their experiences.

Truthful expressions of experiences—that is the key.

Media Trips Aren’t Always Free

Our trips are not completely free. Our members pay a minimal registration fee and an estimated amount for gratuities based on the program. In many cases, they pay their own air. In others, air and everything else are included. Many times, we go to out of the way places that can’t afford the entire expense, so that it is up to our members to determine if they feel it is worth the investment.

In summary, if you have a strong set of principles and stick to them, your stories will have integrity. I would not exchange my integrity for any trip.

~Maralyn

Do you accept press trips or not? Share your opinion!

9 Responses to “Hosted Trips: It’s All a Matter of Principle”

  1. Gary Arndt
    Twitter:
    says:

    You hit the nail on the head. This is about economics. The business that used to justify the high moral ground is disappearing.

    The long run reputation you gain from being honest, brutally honest, is worth more than any weekend in a luxury hotel. If you have a bad experience, you got to tell it, even thought it might hurt the feelings of those who sponsored you.
    .-= Gary Arndt´s last blog post: Daily Travel Photo – Queensland, Australia =-.

  2. Absolutely nothing wrong with hosting per se. It’s what’s done with it that counts.

    I think a key aspect of it, however, is to ensure that the writer has a strong hand in sorting out the itinerary. He or she should be looking for things that fit his/ her stories and interests rather than just accepting what the tourist board puts on a plate. There also needs to be free time away from the PR people to explore on your own – and look at the things you’re not supposed to be looking at.

    It’s for these reasons that I’ve stopped doing group press trips. Some are done well, but most are about herding as many tame writers as possible around in a bus. I much prefer to identify my angles, then approach the PR chaps for specific assistance that matches.

    But in theory, travel writers getting free trips is no worse than music writers getting free CDs and gig tickets.

    I thoroughly disagree with your policy on only writing about the positives, incidentally. I think this is a major reason why much travel writing is so crushingly dull and travel publications appear toothlessly uncritical. But that is a debate for another time.
    .-= David Whitley´s last blog post: The Eternal Awkwardness of Luxury Travel =-.

  3. Maralyn D Hill
    Twitter:
    says:

    Hi David and Gary,
    I understand your disagreeing with my choice to focus on the good. I do advise the hosts of any difficulties and do not expect to tell others how or what there focus should be. I also would never recommend a place I felt would be a disappointment.

    Example: I just had a great experience on Grand Turk where I could see the work being done to rebuild after being destroyed by a hurricane. My experience there was quite positive. I don’t ignore that the hurricane and destruction happened, but write about what they are doing to rebuild. They have achieved a lot and have further to go. Was it luxury, no. But, I was not told it would be luxury. I did find warm and friendly people willing to work and educate.

    Individual trips are nice, but our IFWTWA members like association trips. I agree with the different angles. That is why on our Rockland, Maine trip coming up we have so many alternatives and free time in the afternoons to explore or set up interviews.

    Do PR people want writers who only write negative. Of course not. It is a huge investment for these trips. I live my life by saying “What’s good about it?” I also look for that in a destination. When it’s not there, then I personally would rather not waste my time writing. Generally, PR firms do not want to promote destinations that are not able to provide good stories.

    In some cases when people have asked me for recommendations on places that I don’t like, my reply is: “I can’t recommend it as my own experience is not what it is publicized to be and I didn’t see that aspect.”

    Again, that is what makes all of our writing different and appeal to different markets.
    .-= Maralyn D Hill´s last blog post: Success Tip – Find Remedy =-.

  4. Mary says:

    I have done both group and individual trips – If I go on a group trip, I focus on press trips sponsored by tourist boards (Often hosted by the PR firm) where I can find at least three potential ideas for stories. I have also asked them for assistance during the “free time” to do a story that is of interest to me that isn’t on the agenda. That ensures that I can find something to write about based on my experience. I also send out a few preliminary queries and make sure I have at least one editor interested in the story. So far I have yet to return from a trip and not place at least one article. The few times I didn’t do this was when I booked a group with an outdoor sporting association focusing on a sport like flyfishing, sailing, or kayaking. In those instances, I researched the outfit carefully before saying yes.

    I haven’t had the press trip from hell yet. How I’ve handled negative aspects of the trip is 1) think about who might be the target audience for this kind of an event (often it’s not truly horrible just not my style); 2) Gently suggest that one spend more time at Place A as opposed to Place B; and 3) be honest without being brutal. For example, one one trip to the Jersey Shore, I noticed that one town had a two lane road, OK for off-season but hell in-season. I suggested coming here mid-week or off-season. And if something really stinks (e.g., hotel is being renovated), I do mention that.

  5. Maralyn D Hill
    Twitter:
    says:

    Mary, I agree with you completely.You are being honest but not brutal.

    I have frequently said that I prefer this destination off season when it is quieter. But for those who like the crowds and atmosphere of parties and fun it meets expectations with plenty happening–or something like that.

    I also agree that a trip should present several good story angles to make it worth your while.

    Thank you for your comment.

    Maralyn
    .-= Maralyn D Hill´s last blog post: Success Tip – Find Remedy =-.

  6. It’s about the money. Very few publications are paying expenses and most stories aren’t paying writers what they used to so taking the cost on your own is just not an option for many of us.

    I would never write a good story on a bad place because I was paid to go there. And, even if I loved the place, if there was something very wrong there I will put it in. I’ve been to a number of places in the past year where I was comped and I just didn’t like it. My motto is “there is no such thing as bad publicity,” so I won’t write on a place/wine/liquor that isn’t mostly bad. I will always let them know exactly what was wrong and if they want to invite me back (they usually do) and I have the time (not so often) I will reconsider writing about it.

    The other thing to note here is the fact that writers are deciding where to go based on the places they get offered trips and the places they don’t. I think that’s more of a sad truth. There are a number of places that would be great for my column (and the other places I write for), but they just aren’t financially feasible. Laying out a lot of money is a gamble these days. Even if you have a high paying story in a print publication, it’s quite awhile before it comes out and you get paid, and the magazine may fold and you won’t get anything at all (happened to me twice this year).

    Marcia
    .-= Marcia Frost´s last blog post: Lynfred Winery – A Wine Traveler’s Dream =-.

  7. Maralyn Hill
    Twitter:
    says:

    Hi Marcia,

    Thank you for your thoughtful and on target comments. I agree with you.

    I let the hosts know when something is wrong and usually am invited back. Unfortunately, due to budget constraints, that doesn’t generally happen. Most of the hosts I’ve encountered, generally appreciate feedback.

    I’ve had some print publications with several stories slotted for production that closed. Not only am I not paid, the story I promised is not featured. I generally seek an on line publication for placement so as to come through. Plus, I’ve already done the work.

    There are many destinations that would make wonderful stories, but like most others, getting there is not in my budget. This is why the International Food Wine & Travel Writers Association (www.ifwtwa.org) arranges press trips for our members. Some are totally sponsored and some are partially sponsored. Not all hosts can afford to sponsor everything. It is a difficult time for all.

    Thanks again for commenting.

    Maralyn D. Hill, President
    International Food Wine & Travel Writers Association (IFWTWA)
    http://www.ifwtwa.org
    SuccessWithWriting.com
    WhereAndWhatinthe World.com
    .-= Maralyn Hill´s last blog post: Success Tips – Responsibility =-.

  8. Steve Mirsky
    Twitter:
    says:

    I think as long as you maintain your objectivity, press trips are the way to go. I look at it as providing PR…in the form of content. We have to get familiar with the “product” we are writing about so a hosted onsite visit is vital for authentic and unbiased coverage.

  9. Maralyn D Hill
    Twitter:
    says:

    Thanks Steve. I agree. I don’t think writers could begin to experience all of the destinations on their own. Generally, a destination will provide inside knowledge you may not have gained on your own, which will enhance your story.

    The key is want you said. Maintain objectivity and provide authentic and unbiased coverage.

    Thanks for posting. Plus, it very nice when someone agrees with me.

    Maralyn D. Hill, President
    International Food Wine & Travel Writers Association (IFWTWA)
    http://www.ifwtwa.org
    SuccessWithWriting.com
    WhereAndWhatinthe World.com
    .-= Maralyn D Hill´s last blog post: Test =-.

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