Blog WHS website
Debunking travel blog myths
I love travelling, I like reading about travel, I have been actively contributing to travel websites in both the Dutch and English language for over 20 years. But I sincerely hate 95% of all travelblogs! And I do so even more when their owners try to influence this website.
The birth of a new genre among websites could have been so beneficial to travellers, to learn from each other’s experiences on the road. And you need no technical knowledge to create a perfectly acceptable blog. But this trend has quickly turned into something dominated by vanity, commercialism and copycat behaviour.
In explaining what it is that exactly annoys me so much, I will try to debunk 3 rationalizations often given by those travel bloggers for their behaviour:
“Even though I may receive compensation for posts or advertisements, I will always give my honest opinions”
At the moment you start writing about something that was offered to you for free by a commercial company, you’re done. Sometimes it’s just obnoxious – in the case of a simple link to a hotel booking website or a book seller in the hope for commission. This does little harm besides affecting the aesthetics of the website when it is plastered with cookies and advertising.
It gets more serious when your travel calendar is determined by the freebies you got. When you go on a “press trip” to let’s say Oman, you (a) don’t spend that time anywhere else of your liking, (b) you visit the places they want you to see and (c) stay in the accommodations that you cannot afford on your own. It results in a report of a press trip and not in a travel story.
In the end it can lead to misleading your audience, because you have something at stake. Real examples of giving bad advice that I encountered:
- Urging to book a group tour to Colombia (from a specific company of course) claiming solo female travel is not 100% safe.
- Directing traffic to commercial visa services while you can easily arrange a visa online yourself to a run-of-the-mill destination at lower cost.
- Recommending a specific travel insurance, where the right travel insurance is a very personal thing depending on where you’re from, what your other insurances are etc
“We would love to be able to run an ad free site”
Generating money with a blog or website is often explained as “we need money to keep this going”. What do these costs really entail? Out-of-pocket costs for a website like the World Heritage Site yearly are 231 EUR for the website hosting plus 15 EUR for the web domain name (worldheritagesite.org) and 10 EUR for a SSL certificate (to make website access secure). So a total of 256 EUR a year. And you will even find packages as low as 100 USD per year to get all the basics.
Can you really not pay that meagre sum yourself?
“It’s my job so I do have to get the word out there”
Travel blogging is only a job for the happy few. Just as in the past only really good travel writers and travel journalists could make a living out of it, this also applies to travel bloggers. Most will always stay amateurs. Be humble about what you do, treat it as a nice hobby (plus accept that hobbies cost money) and generate your income to live on in another way.
In the end I believe it annoys me so much because it is such a waste of something that could have been so good. When all travellers would share their honest experiences, funny encounters, serious achievements, warnings, best photos, practical tips, preparations, itineraries etc that would make one great travel community. I've linked two of the better examples via the pictures above.
Some recommended further reading on this subject, from different perspectives:
Els - 12 May 2019
Michael Ayers 12 May 2019
Excellent post Els! I agree with everything you wrote.
I read an article a couple of months ago stating that the touristy island of Siargao in the Philippines is trying to discourage want-to-be Instagram "Influencers" from visiting there. Apparently, the endless stream of people showing up and saying "Hey, I'm an Influencer, can I stay at your hotel for free?" was getting to be too much for them to deal with (especially since most of those people had minimal followings when they arrived). I have tentative plans to go to Siargao later in my current trip, and am looking forward to laughing sarcastically if anyone there mentions Instagram or any social media (never used it-and never will).
Nan 12 May 2019
@Els: I think part of the annoyance is that plenty is done in the name of SEO. Backlinks from here are a nice way to improve your page rank. And channel some visitors to your page. Both obviously helping with the travel blog and influencer credibility.
Problem I have found is that this sites content, though regularly superior, gets lower page ranks, at least for the popular sites. It does feel we should SEO ourselves a bit...
@zoe: wouldn't call travel blogging a long term career option either ;)
Nan 12 May 2019
@clyde: the five star hotel is rarely an insider tip. Best hotel in Hamburg is Vier Jahreszeiten. No need for a travel blogger to tell you that.
Clyde 12 May 2019
Well written, Els. I totally agree that getting paid ultimately has a direct or indirect effect on the content and or readers/blogger.
Nan, as long as only the name of a hotel (5 star or less) is mentioned mainly because of its location, I see no harm and find it useful - obviously I still compare accomodation online but once in a while, on special occasions or to enhance a particularly remote WHS, I tend to spend more than my usual budget.
Zoë Sheng 12 May 2019
Most of these travel blogs are just for showing off their achievement, truth is they reap very little financial rewards and there is always some kind of "work with us", "buy my book" or "book hotels via my link" in the articles. There are surely some successful bloggers but it gives the idea that this is a model to follow. "Quit your day job and move to Chiang Mai to teach English while you travel" - so when I get to 40 I have no career and thus no pension, no way to pay my health insurance, that's all college kid thinking then.
Nan 12 May 2019
I have to admit that I rarely read travel blogs on their own. Too much "Greatest", "Bestest" with gorgeous pictures that get repetitive fast.
With our mode of travel I also have less need to figure out where to go. I have a large backlog of places I want to visit. And for these places I already know my mandatory waypoints: the world heritage sites.
My primary interest re travel are practicalities. How do you get there? How do you get in? ... Travel blogs that got a driver etc. paid for are not helping in this regard. And while I think I am a reasonable well off traveler I can't and won't afford to stay at 5* hotels for a full vacation. So the post of the luxury resort in Oia/Bali/Antigua has zero benefit.
I do think I (and everyone in this community) have the maturity to sort out the sponsored content from the rest. I try to figure out the local prizes so I can judge if an offer is fair. I also try to evade all organized tours because I hate those. Hotels are done via booking.com; me and their rating system are aligned. Restaurants via lonelyplanet or tripadvisor.com.
For me the problem isn't with sponsored content per se. If you manage to pay for your travels by being an influencer, congrats!
To me the problem is that sponsored content has a too high signal to noise ratio.