For travel writers, it's challenging to recoup the cost of their trip expenses with sales of articles. Writers can save much if not all of their expenses when they participate in group or individual press trips (also called FAM -- for Familiarization -- Trips), where the Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) of a city or region (or the Public Relations firm who handles their account) pays some or all of the writer's trip expenses like air, hotel, attraction fees, and meals, or gets the local venues to "comp (make it complimentary)" the charges. These organizations do this to encourage writers to write about the attractions they wish to see featured.
Writers wishing to attend press trips need to realize that a lot of competition for such trips exists, as well as the expectation that article(s) based on these trips will be published. Here are some tips on scoring a press trip:
Have Published Clippings
Many CVB/PR firms won't even consider writers unless they have published travel clippings, such as weblinks or hard copies of your travel articles. At times, this isn't even enough, as many expect published clippings or potential editorial interest to be from print magazines that focus on specific areas of travel or newspapers with a minimum circulation. Other CVB/PR firms will consider travel websites, so ask the online editor for the monthly/yearly unique visits the website gets. If the numbers/demographics are impressive, you might draw interest from the CVB/PR firm.
For writers who have only non-travel-themed clippings, don't fret. Think of the publications you've been published in. Many of them publish travel-themed articles based on their covered subject matter. Some or all the venues or personalities covered in a press trip could make for a feature article(s) that inspires reader visits. It never hurts to ask editors you've built up a good relationship with if they'd consider a travel tie-in article.
Subscribe To Online Travel Newsletters and Cold Call
Two free online sites regularly announce press trips:
If the CVB/PR firm doesn't have any group or individual press trips planned, study the area's literature (ask them to send you a free media kit) or website and propose your own ideas. Many of the online sites for a city or region have a "Media" page, where you can read press releases, get story ideas, and learn about any upcoming press trips.
Making a Proposal With a Letter of Assignment
A letter of assignment is a letter from the editor of a publication that states the editor is willing to consider an article(s) about the subject matter of the press trip.
A letter of assignment basically contains the contact information of the publication's editor, greetings to the CVB/PR official, and states that you have been a contributor to the publication and that the editor approves of you going on this trip to write up the subjects outlined. It may also state what expenses are to be covered.
Speaking of expenses, many publications will not publish articles that come as a result of sponsored travel. Make sure you know the publication's policy in advance. You may even be able to work with the CVB/PR officials for "press rates".
It's best to propose your letter of assignment from publication(s) that match the venues the CVB wants to promote. For instance, it wouldn't be wise to ask for a letter of assignment from the editor of an outdoors publication that focuses on skiing, hiking, and rafting when the press trip you're interested in features a fine dining tour of the Boston area.
If you can't get a letter of assignment, it's not necessarily a lost cause. Don't misrepresent yourself, but use your past publishing successes to let the CVB or PR official know that you can get articles published, and that you'll do your best to submit to editors.
If Accepted, Do Your Absolute Best To Attend
Remember, the CVB/PR firm has spent a lot of time and money (if they paid your airfare to come) in arranging your trip. The least writers can do is make sure they show up. A number of CVB/PR firms are now making writers sign/acknowledge agreements that if they don't show up, they'll be responsible for the airfare. This makes the writer accountable. But one thing a writer should never agree to is to sign an agreement guaranteeing publication.
A letter of assignment itself doesn't guarantee publication. It simply signifies that you've had works published, that the editor likes your past work, and has faith that your press trip will be able to produce at least one article for the publication. But sometimes things happen -- for example, the publication ceases or goes on hiatus, the editorial staff changes, and the new editor may not be interested in publishing articles that were commissioned from the previous editor. Your article(s), even with rewrites, might not impress the editor enough to justify publishing it.
Get To Work On Those Articles As Soon As Possible
I make sure I use my press trip down time at the hotel to catch up on my emails, and draft and write the articles from the current press trip I'm on. Don't procrastinate. Show the CVB/PR firm that you are reliable. The longer it takes to submit an article, the longer it could take to see it published and the longer it will take to potentially re-sell your work elsewhere (if you are allowed to) after publication.
A Warning To Schemers
I've read via travel writers' message boards about schemers who manage to sweet-talk their way onto a press trip without any intention of writing or submitting articles. Not only is this morally wrong, but those who do that won't get away with it for very long. CVB/PR officials are a part of a big grapevine, and people who misrepresent themselves or who don't do their best to see that an article(s) gets published will soon be well-known on that grapevine.
Press trips are a wonderful opportunity for writers because travel expenses are covered in much the same way a corporate business traveler's are for his line of work. But while the corporate suit is spending time in meetings, travel writers can savor interesting and colorful foods, people, activities, and venues around the globe! But to repeat, there are no free lunches in this world, and press trips are no exception. They are a means to gather more writing ideas and get more travel articles published. But they should only be sought after if you're responsible enough for the task!
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