Every so often, a debate bubbles up in the travel blogging world about the ethics of taking sponsored trips or posting sponsored content or links (i.e., content or ads that someone paid you for). The debate rises to the top, the opposing sides argue about why they’re right, and the discussion fades away, never really resolved.
Recently that debate surfaced again, and while I normally never blog about blogging on this site, I’m breaking my cardinal rule because I want to know what you, the regular reader, think about all this.
What does someone outside the travel business think? How do the regular readers we try to help feel about this subject?
I don’t typically read other travel blogs. I read a handful regularly (I’ll post a list of my current favorite blogs shortly), but for the most part, I avoid most of them. I feel the content is all the same: they read like daily journals, they don’t offer a lot of deep, practical information, and everything is always sunshine and rainbows. I never get a sense of place or emotion from the stories.
Once in a while, I’ll come across something that really catches my eye, but lately, I’ve sort of been avoiding travel blogs, especially since this note appears too frequently on them: “Thanks for the trip, Destination X’s tourism board.”
When I see that, I become a lot less interested in the blog.
Don’t get me wrong: I don’t think anything is inherently bad about taking a press trip, which is when a destination invites a journalist or group of journalists to visit for free. I personally don’t like them simply because I hate being herded like cattle to see things I have no interest in writing about. I like my autonomy. Press trips aren’t my cup of tea, but I don’t think being invited to visit a place by a destination means your opinion will be bought.
But I think scope and scale do matter and that perception is reality. When I read a blog in which every trip is sponsored by a tourism board, PR firm, or travel company, I begin to wonder about that disclaimer.
When you develop personal relationships with the people at the tourism boards or PR firms, are you really going to make negative comments when you know it will sour your friendship? Or will you sugarcoat the situation? We’re all human, and our natural inclination is to help our friends.
So I begin to wonder just how many of those thoughts are really your own.
And how relatable is your experience? Having been on paid trips in the past, I know my experience on that trip is NOT the experience a regular consumer will have. I get special treatment, seven-star meals, direct access to a manager in case anything goes wrong, and wine and food in my room. Being pampered is definitely going to make you love a place a lot more.
Press trips have been happening for decades, but at least in traditional travel media (newspapers, magazines), there was an editor to act as a firewall and rein in any excessive cheerleading, misinformation, lack of depth, and one-sided posts.
In blogging, that doesn’t always happen, since bloggers have sole control over their content.
If you develop a long-term partnership with someone, that’s OK with me. But when you bounce from free trip to free trip and all your posts are about how amazing every place you visit is, I unsubscribe.
What do you think?
When you see those disclaimers, do you know that it really means “Thanks to Destination X for paying for everything AND paying me a daily fee for being at their destination?”
Because yes, many bloggers not only got that trip for free, but were also paid a daily rate to be there.
Does seeing a disclaimer make you trust the information less? Does seeing it all the time make the website unrelatable, less trustworthy, etc.?
Is it a turn-off?
Or do you not care?
Leave a comment and tell me your opinion.
P.S. This is not a personal attack on anyone specific. If you are a blogger and take trips, I’m not telling you to stop. I write this post to ask how non-bloggers feel about the subject.