With apologies to my friends, I must confess that my contact database for tourism authorities is more lovingly maintained than my personal address book. The reason is that these valuable contacts have allowed me to progress from an enthusiastic amateur to a working travel writer.
So whether you are planning for your next trip, or looking to market your work from your most recent travels, here are a few strategies for utilizing the travel expertise of tourism authorities:
1. Itinerary planning and bookings. As my career as a travel writer progresses, I obviously find myself traveling more and more. With one trip barely completed before I must begin preparing for the next, I have less and less time to deal with the logistics of my travels.By engaging the local tourism and travel authority for my chosen destination well before my trip (ideally 4-6 months), however, and advising them of my travel requirements and proposed itinerary, I can leave the work of planning and booking my itinerary in their capable, professional hands.
2. Photography support. While nearly every travel publication expects high-quality photos, not all travel writers are expert photographers. While I can sometimes align my travel plans with my photographer buddy, this is not always possible. Therefore, when my own photos need to be supplemented with some additional shots (such as aerial photos, night photos) I can look to the photo archives of the area's tourism authority. [Editor's Note: Tourism authorities can also help with photos of locations you might not have been able to visit or gain complete access to. Or, if you had the misfortune to visit on a dark, rainy day, tourism authorities will have an ample supply of photos shot in better weather. You can often locate a tourism authority's photo library on the web; the authority will generally be able to mail you a CD-ROM of images. They often want the CD back, however!]
3. Press releases and newsletter updates. Another great timesaving strategy when researching your travel destination is to request that relevant tourism authorities include you on their regular circulation of media releases and newsletters. For city visits, I have found this an invaluable way to find details of special events, art shows, museum exhibits, new hotels and restaurants that may be of interest. I always focus on any new attractions or features (i.e., a recently opened spa, a new tour etc.), as these are less likely to have already be covered in the travel press and thus are of more interest to travel editors.
4. Press updates in your own city. I apply the same approach to my own backyard, requesting my local tourism authorities to include me on their circulation list of media releases and newsletters. I can then easily monitor any new attractions or features that fit into my field of expertise, which I can propose to editors as a feature or update. The added advantage of these media updates is the inclusion of the relevant media contact for the listed tourism providers.
5. Information for sidebars and "if you go" hints. As thorough as I try to be, I often find on my return from a trip that I have missed a fact or statistic that I need to make my article a useful reference to the traveling public. Again, the tourism authorities can either provide you with the relevant information or refer you to the relevant source.
6. Updates to keep your articles timely and marketable. If your travel article focuses on an annual festival or event, it is important to keep it timely and relevant, thus allowing for the article to be resold. Tourism authorities will happily provide details on the dates of next year's event, planned activities, airline, transportation and travel packages offered to support the event. These are all important facts that will keep your "if you go" sidebar details up-to-date and allow you to resell your article in the lead up to the event in following years.
7. Reference points for marketing and media contacts for tourism providers. When trying to organize a visit to a resort, hotel or spa, it can take considerable time to find the correct contact point within the organization. It can often help to first contact the tourism authorities to seek the correct contact -- or, if you wish to seek out the resort that will be most receptive to a media visit, they may be able to provide a number of contacts for the hotels/resorts in the region.
8. Travel sponsorship and assistance. For experienced travel writers with a portfolio of published travel articles and a firm assignment for a future article, the tourism authority of your chosen destination can process sponsorship applications and arrange discounted or fully supported accommodation, tours, activities and transportation.
9. Ideas and themes for articles. I often will approach tourism authorities with a general overview of what I would like to focus upon in my upcoming visit to their region or city. If, for example, I hope to write a feature with a focus on art and history, I will seek guidance and suggestion from the tourism authority on attractions in their area that would fit this general theme. Often they will provide me with ideas that my own research had not unearthed, or new attractions that have only just opened.
10. Finally, always follow up. Always provide your tourism authority contacts with copies of the published results from your trip. If it is an assigned article, provide a copy as soon as it hits the news stands. If you are writing on spec, provide updates as soon as you have made the sale (or sales!) and follow up with a print copy of the published article as soon as it available. If your article is published online, provide them with a link to the website. Besides being a simple gesture of goodwill and appreciation, this helps assure tourism authorities that they are, indeed, dealing with a professional writer who will help present their region in the best possible light.
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