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