ON THE INFLUENCE OF TRAVEL BLOGS: A CASE STUDY IN SELF

Do travel blogs actually influence travel decisions and drive income to destinations and services?

Tunisia bazaarThere are many ways in which travel blogs are monetized: website advertising, affiliate sales, sponsored content, press trips and external travel writing or photography engagements among them. To be hired, a blogger has to prove their worth, which usually comes down to popularity of their content – usually their flagship website. More readers translates to more clicks, so the popularity-to-cash conversion mechanism for things like online ads is pretty straightforward.

But what about paying gigs where the return on investment isn’t directly tied to the input? One example I always wondered about is press trips, where a tourism board brings a bunch of bloggers to a place with a promise that it will be written about in the near future, but no real control over the quality of the resulting content, whether it will resonate with the readers and increase tourism in any substantive way to make taking a group of people on an all-expense-paid “vacation” worthwhile.Agriturismo

Just because I like someone’s writing style and photos, and read every post religiously doesn’t mean I am going to book a ticket to the last place they wrote about – heck, I might not have any plans to travel at all! But if I do, how do you (or a hotel, or an airline, or a tourism board) know that I did it because of a particular blog? Can travel blog influence be measured and quantified?   

I have long wondered about this, and it’s highly likely that there are already at least a few studies devoted to just this subject that I am too lazy to look up when I can pontificate instead. Logically, there has to be a correlation between a blog’s popularity (site traffic) and the interest in a locale, resulting in more Google searches for hotels and sightseeing there after it’s been written about. Potential travelers have to do their research somewhere, and why can’t travel blogs be in the mix of influencers alongside guide books, TV commercials, magazine ads, official destination sites or resources like TripAdvisor? Likewise, travel boards have to promote their locations one way or another, so they might as well invest in a press trip just as they would in a print ad – it’s not like a reader of Conde Nast Traveler can click on a glossy page to prove the ad’s effectiveness.Seafood Ravenna

BUT STILL. I wanted to know if travel bloggers as influencers REALLY WORKED. Then I realized – I already knew that it did. Because I was the perfect case study.

I travel internationally several times a year – some for leisure, some for work, sometimes solo, other times with friends or colleagues. And increasingly the choices I make when traveling are influenced by travel blogs I trust.

Last summer I spent a week of my vacation in Emilia-Romagna, purely because of how passionately it was written up by Adventurous Kate, one of the most popular travel bloggers out there. I am a mid-price traveler (no hostels but no Ritz either), which means that well over a thousand Euros was injected into the local economy via my stay at an agriturismo, travel by taxis, restaurants, museums, wine and shopping in just a few days. While I loved Italy since the first time I visited back in 2008, this particular province wasn’t even on my radar until I read Kate’s posts about it – as in, I barely knew it existed.Hammamet

Last week I was working in London, most of my schedule tied to meetings around town, so I was relatively location-independent. I remembered reading a post by Allane of Packing My Suitcase (whom I had actually met on my Munich trip) where she wrote up Blakemore Hotel. It looked so charming, and the location was more exciting than that of my usual London digs. Add to this a lower price point, and booking it became a no-brainer. Allane’s stay at Blakemore was complementary in exchange for her writing about it – and it just paid for itself, with a single reader.

While in London, I made sure to swing by Kapapa café for some Turkish Eggs – I had no idea what this breakfast dish was like, but it was deliciously described by Expat Edna in her “5 Best Things I Ate In ...” series. Half an hour, 15 quid! I also have drank in 4 out of 10 pubs on A Lady in London’s “12 Best Riverside Pubs” list over my last 2 London visits.London

When I finally get to cross out Morocco from my Travel Wish List, I want pretty much a repeat of the epic trip undertaken by Annie from MontgomeryFest (whom I fangirl to inappropriate levels). Gorgeous photos from her vacation there were actually what moved Morocco from a top-10 to a top-3 destination on my list. I hadn’t considered Romania as vacation spot before I started reading Eff It, I’m On Holiday by Vlad, who writes so passionately about his home country.

And so on, and so on. By the way, the above examples are all over the map in terms of experience, readership base, posting frequency and style. What matters is their approach and how much I trust their vision.

Now, even if I had made a destination decision without being swayed by a trusted travel blogger, I always search for posts about the place to glean ideas on what to eat and do and see there. Most travel blogs are so infused with the author’s personality, that it is fairly easy to gauge whether mine and the author’s travel styles are on the same page and therefore whether his or her experiences will apply to me. You don’t get such a personal feel with a newspaper travel section.Bologna

Are blogs-as-basis-for-travel-decisions fool-proof? Of course not, nothing is. Bologna, for instance, was a bit of a fiasco. I didn’t take into account the fact that Kate’ press trip allowed her to have some experiences – like touring a Parmigiano-Reggiano and a Modena balsamic vinegar facility – unencumbered by transport challenges. By the time I realized that I needed a car to do a lot of fun things away from my farm (might seem like a “DUH” fact to you, but in my mind Europe = walking/public transport everywhere), none were available.  Would a guidebook take care of a logistical warning? Maybe – maybe not, but I do know that I spent a lot of money for a famous dish at a restaurant that was written about in Bloomberg, WSJ and The Telegraph, and it was barely edible. See? Nothing is fool-proof.

And maybe it was the 40C+ temperatures and the half-empty streets of a college town during the summer, but, in a total 180 from Kate’s experience, Bologna and I just didn’t click. Sh*t happens. On the other hand, thanks to AK I knew to haul my ass on the train to Ravenna to see the gorgeous mosaics, which turned out to be the highlight of my Italy trip.Ravenna mosaics

So there you have it, whether you’re just a curious reader, a travel business, or an aspiring travel blogger – the answer to the age-old (though really a decade-old) question that’s been keeping you (but mostly me) up at night:

Travel blogs – they really work.

***

Have you made travel choices based on a blog? Or if you write one – do you know anyone who’s followed your recommendations?

Advertisements

34 thoughts on “ON THE INFLUENCE OF TRAVEL BLOGS: A CASE STUDY IN SELF

  1. I usually take what I read on travel blogs with a grain of salt (that’s funny, coming from a travel blogger) because sometime bloggers who go on press trips sugarcoat everything and they often have experiences that I simply couldn’t afford. However, the blogs I read religiously have really inspired me to visit a lot of places, some I have been to already (like Riga or the Amalfi Coast), some I haven’t yet. Or maybe I’m biased because I’ve seen bloggers who went on press trips and have barely written anything about the destination they visited for free (there were a few blogging events in Romania).

    Thanks for the mention btw. So when are you coming to Romania? 😉

    • That would be my biggest accomplishment… Although I really need to give more info on the logistics, which could be a bit of a challenge, esp for those not speaking Russian.

  2. Oh no, by “half an hour 15 quid” I hope that doesn’t mean you didn’t like it? If so, apologies! Hope you still keep reading and find something else you enjoy in another city 🙂

    • Oh, totally worth it! It was more a comment on how quick that cash injection was. And I went out of my way to eat there too, instead of a complementary breakfast at Blakemore. It was gooood :)))))

  3. It so does affect my travel plans! As you said,I do actively look up posts anout places I am going to visit or those I might potentially visit, to read personal experiences and get recommendations. The only thing is,we need to be transparent and honest about it all..else there would be no point in looking up blogs.

    • I do trust all the bloggers I read on the regular, but I do need to be mindful of the easy-peasy logistics associated with press trips. Modena’s balsamic factory is ONLY accessible by car, for instance (bc it’s not even IN the town of Modena) and visits are by appointment only, and usually you need to bundle yourself with a group.

        • I know, I know… You know, I feel like as long as they actually disclose that it IS sponsored, I tend to trust the actual content. Like, the feelings just come through if it’s someone you read regularly. Like, you can tell when someone’s lukewarm about it and writing out of obligation and actively avoiding the negative, vs when someone is crazy impassioned about a place or experience.

  4. This was an interesting read! I was thinking about the same thing the last few days, since tourist board of Istria has financed a group of bloggers to visit and promote Istria on their blogs. I really do hope it will help boosting the tourist numbers, especially of the summer season.
    When I think about it, I haven’t yet been to a place because of one particular blog, but for example, great travel documentaries (like Sicily Unpacked and Italy Unpacked Series) have made me arrange my holidays following their steps twice in a row. 🙂 But most of the travel blogs I follow along make my feet itchy and it’s just the matter of time when they’ll also influence my travel decisions.

    Anja

    • I havent watched a travel series in AGES, but I have gotten into podcasts lately, and where travel is concerned, my favorite is Amateur Traveler. It essentially reinforced everything that made me interested in going to Romania and especially Ireland that I originally picked up from travel blogs.

  5. Yes and yes! I peruse blogs for ideas both when I do and don’t know my next destination. And I’ve had a number of readers go to places I’ve written about, in part because I made them sound fun or interesting. So, have you been to Mongolia? (I’ll go check now.)

    • I have definitely not been to Mongolia! To be honest, the only way I can imagine visiting is when I master horseback riding, for like a trek through the gorgeous landscapes 🙂

  6. I’ve never chosen to go somewhere on the basis of a travel blog, but I’ve certainly looked to blogs for recommendations, tips and suggestions once I’ve decided where to go. I would like to think that blogs are more objective and honest – although maybe not if they’re being paid to promote places. I still enjoy reading blogs about places I’m NEVER going to go…Latvia, anyone??

  7. ‘Lovely to have you back Anna! I know that we “see each other” online but it’s just so great to read your turf lol!

    Have I ever made travel choices based on a blog? Absolutely!

    I took a private Bangkok walking tour based on a bloggers’ press trip recommendation. I Emailed her privately for concrete details and questions that she hadn’t written about. I was sufficently convinced and booked it. Best tour ever, and so I passed it on and wrote about it on my own blog!

    I went on a volcano hike in Bali based on a young American blogger that I follow. And same, I asked her a few individual questions about it. And then booked it, It was brilliant but I probably wouldn’t do it again as I’m too old for it lol!

    I hadn’t even thought about Latvia, not to talk of heard of it, until I read LInda’s blog. And I got the Latvia hotel from a professional male European blogger that I follow. His description was spot on.

    And of course, I have my own blog and readers follow my recommendation too!

    I also get Emails and tweets from readers and “passersby,” asking me questions about whether a place would be appropriate for them as they’re going to Poland, Germany, the UK, or somewhere in Eastern Europe…!

    I agree. “Most travel blogs are so infused with the author’s personality, that it is fairly easy to gauge whether mine and the author’s travel styles are on the same page and therefore whether his or her experiences will apply to me. You don’t get such a personal feel with a newspaper travel section.”

    • It’s hilarious how much Linda’s love-hate relationship with the country actually inspired people to check it out! I think we can file this one under unintended blogger influence? 😉

  8. Pingback: May Links for the Part Time Traveler - Chasing My Sunshine

  9. Interesting read! I’ve noticed that certain blog posts may not necessarily wake my interest in a specific city or village, but they often get me in the mood to travel in a certain style or at least visit a general region or country. In fact, one of the reasons I’ll be doing a short vacation to Italy at the end of May is because I happened to stumble upon so many articles about the country that I’m now dying to get back. 🙂

    • Instagram is the WORST for it. I screenshoot all the prettiest destinations because I want the same photos for myself :))) That’s how I ended up in Colmar 2 weeks ago!

  10. This is such a great post Anna!! I’ve read it as soon as posted it, but on the phone on my way to Greece, so didn’t leave a comment earlier on, sorry about that!!
    I’m sooo happy that I can influence people on things I like. I hope you enjoyed the hotel. 😀
    And you are also right, just because for some people the experience was amazing, doesn’t mean yours will be too. It has happened to me before, I’ve had some failed trips too.
    I need to catch up with your blog though, so many cool posts I haven’t read yet!!
    I hope all is fine with you!! ❤

  11. I really enjoyed your piece, Anna! I know that I, as a travel blogger, am also influenced by fellow travel bloggers all the time. I remember there was a time a few years back when a few bloggers I followed worked on campaigns to promote tourism to South Africa, and the articles and photos they produced were so beautiful, that I decided I needed to go there myself and see it with my own eyes! My husband and I ended up booking flights to South Africa and spending 3 weeks travelling across the country. And that’s just one example!

    • Such a great example, Audrey. I do wonder if I had ever influenced anyone via this blog – on Moscow as a destination, or anywhere else I’ve been…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s