The skill sets involved in travel blogging and running a success travel business are akin to those required to run many small businesses. In the beginning, you are everything to everyone, and it’s a precarious balance of being a travel writer, researcher, website designer, site manager and tech support, salesperson, public relations manager, accountant, research and development manager, and janitor. Managing these demands is a daunting proposition. Managing these demands, while growing a business and taking on new projects, is where the Value Luxury Network bloggers really show their professional chops.
Earlier this year I took on a new project. I accepted the position of Conference Director for TBEX (Travel Blog Exchange), the world’s largest conference for travel bloggers and new media creators. It’s a chance for me to put some of my skills to work on a project that I’m passionate about – continuing education and connecting people. It’s also a chance to learn new skills related to event planning and marketing as well as a chance to develop deeper relationships within the travel industry. For other Value Luxury bloggers, it’s a chance to take to the podium as featured speakers and to continue to develop our influence and expertise as professionals.
TBEX is now owned by NMX (formerly BlogWorld) and holds conferences in locations around the world. The conference provides destinations with an opportunity to strut their stuff for hundreds of travel bloggers,providing an opportunity for extensive digital and traditional coverage far beyond what could be accomplished in a press trip or visit. The bloggers are provided with educational and networking activities and a chance to visit and learn about a destination that otherwise might not be on their to-visit list. And speed dating events connect all the sides of the travel industry with one another. It’s a big win-win for the entire travel industry and the travel blogging community.
The 2012 North America event, held in Keystone, Colorado, on June 16-17th, was hailed as a turning point for TBEX. Registration for the event was well over 700, a combination of travel bloggers and writers, destinations, brands, and PR representatives. The event was a huge success. I may be a little biased, it was my first event after all, so take don’t my word for it; you can read what other people had to say about TBEX 2012.
As I write this, I am in Girona, Spain, for TBEX Europe. This is the first European event since NMX acquired TBEX, and while it hasn’t begun yet, it’s looking like there will be around 350 registrants, including a good number coming from the U.S. It’s that time of pre-event nervousness, a combination of excitement and stress, as the TBEX team takes care of the many details that go into creating a successful event. It must be little like show business – lots of preparation, planning, and work behind the scenes, then the lights go up and the show must go on.
Upcoming TBEX events include:
Destinations and brands that partner with the Value Luxury Network get the advantage of smart working, respected travel bloggers who have the ability to connect and influence worldwide.
Is that what you need for your next campaign? We can help. Check out our media kit, get in touch, and let us get to work for you.]]>
My Value Luxury colleagues and I often discuss what would make an ideal blog trip. I think we agree that the best visits to a destination occupy the space somewhere between being blindfolded and dropped out of an airplane into the middle of a foreign country with a few days’ supply of bread and water, and an aggressively scheduled press junket.
With the Flanders is a Festival campaign, Visit Flanders working with Think! Social Media’s Amsterdam office, took a unique approach to working with bloggers. Travel and music bloggers were hosted for week long visits to Belgium throughout the summer to attend and cover 280 plus music festivals held throughout the region.
The vast size of the task in attempting to match each unique blogger with the right festival, based on demographics, geography and schedules, was undoubtedly not easy. I was invited to attend July’s Gent Jazz Festival, but as a travel blogger, my agenda was more “travel” focused, with me visiting four different cities during my week long stay.
In my mind, there are three distinct types of coverage that can be generated from any blogger campaign. Here I will discuss each, and how the approach of Flanders is a Festival, a campaign designed for a wide demographic of bloggers, got it right.
On the spot coverage via social media. (such as Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, FourSquare, etc.)
When I arrived at my hotel in Antwerp I was greeted not by a tourism representative (it was a Sunday), but with a bag that contained a mother lode of brochures. The real gem was at the bottom of the bag:
A Michelin dining experience couldn’t have pleased me more. Why? Because a mifi device made it easy for me to do my job well. Also I didn’t have to worry about coming home to a cellphone bill that resembled a mortgage statement.
With my personal wifi close by, I gleefully tweeted from train platforms. I “Twit-picked” and “Instagrammed” pictures of my meals in Gent and my bed at the Plaza Hotel in Brussels (instead of jumping on it.) I did several FourSquare checkins each day – all for the simple reason that I could.
When the internet at one of my hotels wasn’t working, it wasn’t a problem to get online and upload a few pictures and answer some emails. (Word of warning – I did have to get my device reloaded mid-week – uploading pictures takes a lot of broadband.) Given the investment of resources on everyone’s part, the last thing a destination or hotel wants is to be the named culprit in any blogger’s story or Tweet about “the time the hotel wifi didn’t work.”
Blog posts that are written and posted before, during or soon after a trip.
Hammered out on hotel beds and airplanes, or in the middle of the night while recovering from jet lag, these are the kind of posts people most associate with travel blogging. They may have a travel journal feel to them, or may be more of a traditional travel article. The exact content and style can (and should) vary from one writer to the next.
In order to get the best results from this second kind of coverage, it’s important for the host to be clear with the blogger about their expectations. Equally as crucial, the host needs to do what they can to ensure the blogger can maximize their time at a given location. Micromanaging the heck out of the blogger’s arrival and first impression will serve both parties well.
For a trip where the blogger will be expected to deliver somewhat independently, assistance would include the host providing the blogger with a pocket map and one relevant brochure. Even better, would be a list of five or so ideas of things to do specifically curated for an individual blogger and their niche. A fact sheet about things like traditional dining hours, transportation, not so safe neighborhoods, and days that museums are closed would be incredibly useful and appreciated. Less is more in this case (ahem – easy on the brochures), so important and relevant information can easily be found.
In the instance of more organized group trips, where blogging on the spot and beyond is part of host expectations, I would suggest that “maximizing a blogger’s time” means being sure to schedule plenty of free time. One thing I really appreciated about being able to schedule my own downtime during my Flanders is a Festival tour, was I spent it in places like this:
Blog posts, stories for other online and/or print outlets that come months to two years or so later.
I always come home with enough to write about, but rarely with so many formed ideas that were well suited for The Travel Belles’ niche. Pictures and mentions of the four cities I visited in Flanders (Antwerp, Brugge, Gent and Brussels) will likely make appearances on The Travel Belles’ site and Facebook page, where we share two or three pictures a day, for a while now.
The more independent and long-producing any visiting blogger is expected or hoped to be, the more crucial initial vetting on the part of PR to discover the right bloggers for a particular campaign becomes. As a blogger, the more I feel as if the host is trying to build a relationship and being respectful of my time and what I have to offer throughout the campaign, the more likely it is that the results will meet everyone’s goals and expectations.
Some results will be immediate with trackable ROI. Some results will be more long in coming, the seeds of which can be found not just in my notebook full of ideas and hundreds of photographs, but in conversations on Facebook, and even in things like me telling my American Express card wielding book club, multiple first hand gleaned reasons why they must plan a shopping trip to Brussels.
The Flanders is a Festival campaign as a whole played perfectly into my writerly sensibility that each moment has a story to tell, and it was a true gift as a travel blogger to be given enough space to hear them. My memories are not of speeding from point to point to stay on a schedule; instead they are of things like following the smell of chocolate shops and waffles in the rain.
My travel blogging and influencer sensibility left Belgium satisfied as well: Flanders will long be on the tip of my tongue when it comes to recommending places to travel. And I, for one, would be fine with this mutually beneficial approach to hosted blogger trips becoming a trend.
Want some help brainstorming ideas for
your own writers-in-residence campaign?
Take a look at our media kit and then get in touch – we’d love to chat!
Hawaii’s island of Lanai once again hosted its “Writers in Residence” program for the second year in a row, and this year the Value Luxury Travel Network had representation in the program.
Chris Gray Faust participated in the first year’s program (here’s a flashback to her coverage), and this year Andy Hayes (that’s me!) was a group representative – click here to see my coverage, which just finished.
There are multiple “writers in residence” programs out there, but here’s how the Visit Lanai program works:
For projects like these, fees are usually determined based on the amount of work requested from the writer and are generally paid as a per diem.
This year’s program is still finishing up, but just a few examples of the results already achieved:
And all that is just post-trip coverage; from remaining online promotions to continued traction on search engine traffic means we’ll continue to see our readers considering the island of Lanai for their travels.
Are you wondering if a “writers in residence” style program would work for you? Here are just a few of the benefits of the program:
Want some help brainstorming ideas for
your writers in residence campaign?
Take a look at our media kit and then get in touch – we’d love to chat!
Recently, I ventured out to Durango, Colorado in search of some fresh powder to satisfy my winter whims. About 6 months ago, the city of Durango had sent me some materials, suggesting that I come visit when I had a chance, and so this seemed to be the perfect opportunity.
I started my trip with two points of focus: snow and beer (the latter being due to Durango’s four local breweries). After a discussion with my Twitter following, we landed on the hashtag #BeerSnowInCO, and the rest, as they say, was history.
I let the smart folks at the Durango Area Tourism Office (DATO) plan the trip – after all, with the requirements of beer, snow, and value luxury, it’s hard to go wrong, eh? They did a smashing job – thanks Anne and Heather! Here’s a rough outline:
It was a busy trip, but with plenty of time for relaxation and soaking up the Durango vibe. The city has a quirky atmosphere, and when it comes to value luxury? They’ve got it covered, with reasonable priced ski lift tickets, superb value on their historic hotels, and world-class restaurants all at fair prices.
DATO provided all of the arrangements, including lodging, tours, transport, and lift ticket.
(Hard to read? Click here for full size.)
#BeerSnowInCo was a productive trip. Here’s the breakdown by numbers:
It just goes to show you that it doesn’t take much to make a big impact in a destination. Whether it’s just one of us or the whole value luxury team, we’re here to shine the light on value luxury destinations. How can we help you?]]>
I’ve been a member of the Society of American Travel Writers since 2008, when I became travel editor at USA TODAY. It’s been a valuable professional affiliation for me, allowing me to connect and build relationships with other travel publishers and editors, freelance writers and those involved in travel public relations.
This year’s annual SATW conference took place in Wellington, New Zealand. Reid Bramblett, editor of ReidsGuides, asked me to speak on a panel called “There’s an App for That.” Besides Reid, my colleagues on the panel included Stuart McDonald of TravelFish and David Carnoy of CNET.
I released my iPhone/iPad app, the Philadelphia Essential Guide, in April 2009. During my presentation, I told people what I would have done differently and steps they could take to make their app stand out in the crowded Apple app store. I also talked about the pros and cons of working with a third party developer such as Sutro Media.
I’m not the only member of the Val Luxe team with an app out. Andy has written the Edinburgh Secrets app, also through Sutro Media. If you’re a destination who needs some advice about apps, or has content needs for one you already have planned, get in touch! We’re happy to help.
PS: After the conference, my husband Don and I drove a campervan around New Zealand’s South Island. Talk about your Value Luxury! I’ll be writing more about that experience on my blog, Chris Around The World.]]>
As the resident East Coast member of the Value Luxury Travel team, I was not at Blogworld LA this past November. As you will learn there were clearly other fish in the sea that needed my attention. Instead I attended the first “Southern Culinary Traditions” event at the King and Prince Resort on Saint Simons Island, Georgia.
Combine culinary touring of one of Georgia’s truly stunning barrier islands with a group of excellent food and travel writers and bloggers; add all you can eat shrimp, and it’s time to count me in. In other words, when Leigh Cort called, I knew I was being asked to live out a childhood fantasy.
First I should give you some background: Picking a freshly steamed blue crab clean in 30 seconds flat is a mad skill that according to my mother I was gifted with about the same time I could walk. I’m only somewhat less proud that my earliest memory is of a family wedding where I was the flower girl. I remember the shrimp bowl, and nothing else.
The first night, Vinny D’Agostino, Director of Food & Beverage, who would be our companion for most of the week, put to rest any battle that may remain in the minds of the uninitiated that shrimp and grits does not make for elegant dining. Another evening barbeque, ribs and the local Brunswick stew were consumed at Southern Soul Barbeque, one of the most outstanding such joints in the region. We consumed our pork products happily at picnic tables, with lots of beer, nearby rolls of paper towels and an assortment of sauces in squirt bottles.
Not that there were any grotesque eating competitions on the schedule, but the culmination of the multi-day event came in the form of what I have dubbed the “Foodie Olympics.” The only competition that took place was within ourselves from among the Georgia food products vying for space. We received a primer on the state’s unique white shrimp and famous peach products and then explored the area’s more surprising culinary items such as Italian quality cheeses and artisanal chocolates. During my first formal chocolate tasting session, my biggest concern was that I seemed to have eaten my samples in the little baggies out of order.
Of all the gastronomic moments scattered throughout the week, when I would take a sip of wine or knibble a piece of cheese and say to myself, “wow,” there is one that like the shrimp bowl at the family wedding, will most likely remain with me always. I was standing on the deck of the Lady Jane shrimp boat; significant because in one of my adolescent, “girl meets shellfish” fantasies, I’m pretty sure I had myself marrying a shrimp boat captain. Seagulls hovered and divebombed above as we dredged the bottom of the saltmarsh. I examined the complicated harvest that we pulled in of sea creatures, flotsam and jetsam, and remembered what it felt like to be a kid on a field trip, worrying about the soggy peanut butter and jelly sandwich that awaited me back at the bus.
Then the smell that stands above all foodie smells for this shellfish lover wafted from the galley of shrimp, not 10 minutes out of the water being quickly steamed in Old Bay seasoning. Next on the agenda was a wine tasting, and I couldn’t help but see that life indeed sometimes exceeds the fantasy.
I’ll be writing more about this trip over on The Travel Belles in upcoming weeks.
All photos by Margo Millure ©]]>
I was pretty excited to attend Blogworld (the biggest new media conference) this year, for a number of reasons. For one, I was seeing some old friends as well as both Chris and Mary Jo from the Value Luxury Team. Secondly, I was speaking again this year. And we were all excited to take a peek at downtown LA, which itself has experienced a growth in tourism in recent years.
Here’s a bit of a trip report about this year’s event.
VL Involvement at Blog World
We had a number of roles to play in this year’s travel track, including:
There were a number of tracks this year – fitness, real estate, etc. – which meant time felt stretched too thin, but you couldn’t deny every hour of the day was packed with content.
I was also particularly impressed with the exhibition hall, where I met some great companies, such as Livefyre (helps make blog comments better/easier to manage) and YouCast (connects brands and publishers). I was also glad to meet with one of my advertising partners, Media.net. The exhibit hall was bustling this year and lots of business cards being traded.
Exploring Downtown LA
Downtown LA is rocking – I was so impressed, and really eager to go back. A few highlights….
Visit Philly served us some fantastic “philly cheesesteak eggrolls” during one of their sponsored evenings at Blogworld. I have no idea if that was an LA thing or a Philly thing, but if they have those in Philadelphia, I am on a plane right now.
We’re all hoping for more time to explore downtown LA.
Until then? You’ll see us in New York for Blogworld 2012.
While there are a couple of options for travel publisher (bloggers/writers/etc.) conferences in North America, at the moment there is one strong European standout option for travel bloggers: Travel Bloggers Unite (TBU). The conference, run by Oliver Gradwell, focuses on bringing both PR and travel bloggers together in one space to share experiences and learn a bit more about each other. While the conference is still fledgling, things seem to be on track and the first event in Manchester got rave reviews.
I was very excited to be sponsored by Iberia and Visit Austria to fly over and attend the second TBU, held in Innsbruck. I hadn’t been to Innsbruck in years, so it was nice to revisit some of those cake shops and cafes I enjoyed so long ago. Not much has changed, and I hope it stays that way.
TBU’s content this year was very strong. Some of the pertinent takeaways:
I was a TBU speaker and spent one of the two mornings giving a series of presentations on email marketing. My big tips?
Our team knows a lot about email marketing and other online sales channels so don’t hesitate to give us a shout if you want some help!
At the end of the trip, all of the bloggers had an opportunity to choose one of the post-FAM trips, which were themed – “adventure,” “relax,” etc. I took the relax option and was so glad I did, because I fell in love with the charming town of Seefeld, up in the mountains near Innsbruck, halfway between Innsbruck and the German city of Munich.
Seefeld (pronounced say-feld) has some wonderful hotels, incredible spas, and lots of outdoor hiking/fitness options, perfect for a day of fresh air followed by beer, wine, and hearty meals in the evenings. Although Seefeld has made its fame from association with the Olympics, I wasn’t as familiar, and definitely put it into the value luxury category.
I hope to see you in 2012 for the TBU Umbria event, where I’ll be speaking about PR/blogger relationships, email marketing (yes – again – it’s a popular topic!), and I’ll also be doing a session for bloggers about affiliate marketing. That sounds like a lot, but it’s a long trip, so I like to make the most of it. See you there?]]>
Put four Seattle travel bloggers in a van, add in a driver, some coffee, a crisp sunny fall day, point them south, and what do you get? An Oregon Road Trip! Andy and I were two of the travel bloggers who enjoyed seeing the Surf and Turf of Oregon on a press trip sponsored by the Central Oregon Visitors Association, Oregon Coast Visitors Association, Travel Oregon, and Evergreen Escapes. Our road tripping group met at the Seattle offices of Evergreen Escapes, loaded up our bio-fueled van, and headed south for five days on the road.
The trip featured two themes, allowing us a chance to see two different sides of Oregon – the surf along the coast and the turf in the central part of the state. And along the journey, except for a few remote areas where there was no cell coverage, we tweeted about our experiences using the Twitter hash tag #ORRoadTrip.
Here are a few of the highlights:
Our first stop was Astoria at the mouth of the Columbia River, where we got to hang out with sea lions on the fishing docks, visited the Columbia Maritime Museum to learn about the history of the area, took a look at the Goonie’s house, went up in the Astoria Column, and had lunch at the Astoria Coffee House & Bistro before hitting the road once again. One of the features of a road trip is short stops for food and sightseeing and then back on the road to the next place. It’s not a travel style for everyone, but the relaxation and comfort that Evergreen Escapes provides makes for a value luxury road trip experience.
The next part of the journey let us enjoy the scenery along coastal Oregon, a much different landscape from the Washington coast. One thing that struck me was the variety of experiences to be found on the coast. There were great family options, places for a romantic weekend getaway, and more than a few spots that I imagined burrowing in for a week alone to get some serious writing done. Accommodations ran from beachside hotels (who doesn’t love a balcony right on the beach) to condo units overlooking the dunes, there was value luxury to be found on the Oregon coast. We only had a bit of time in Cannon Beach, Tillamook, Pacific City, Depot Bay, and Newport, I made plenty of notes and ideas about where I’d want to go back for an extended visit.
The trek over the hills to central Oregon was a winding, isolated bit of road marked with intermittent cell availability. The average traveler won’t find that a daunting prospect, and may actually welcome it, but for four travel bloggers it was a bit of withdrawal.
First up on our arrival in Bend was a little physical activity to work the kinks out of a morning spent on the road. And fortunately for us, our physical activity also involved a little liquid refreshment. We picked up a few other participants, hopped on a bar stool, and set off to discover the Bend Ale Trail on the CyclePub. It’s just like the name implies – you sit and pedal while drinking some of your favorite specialty brews. What’s not to like about that?!
Our time in Bend and the surrounding area was spent doing some of our very favorite value luxury activities – enjoying the culinary scene of an area. From family run restaurants with an attention to detail (like McKay Cottage in Bend and Jen’s Garden in Sisters), to the fine dining of Brasada Ranch, to spirit sampling at Bendistillery, there were ample value luxury opportunities to slake our thirst and sate our hunger.
The drive from Central Oregon back to Seattle is a long one, and our group broke it up with a stop in Portland. Well known for its burgeoning food scene, this was a logical final stop-off on the road trip. We learned about and tasted charcuterie, lapped up an ice cream cone, and then it was back to the van for the rest of the trip home.
Five days on the road, an abundance of food and drink, and the fun and bonding that occurs when you spend that much time with other people in very close quarters. This was an opportunity for Andy and I to explore an area of the country that we had never been to, and to learn about the value luxury experiences that central Oregon and the coast have to offer our readers.
We’ve published a few stories so far, and in keeping with our belief that we can keep buzz about a destination alive over a prolonged period of time, there will be more over the coming months. This list will be updated to include additional posts as they are published. In addition to the twitter hashtag while on the road, and our individual facebook entries, all published posts have been promoted via social media as well.
If your destination is interested in working with the members of the Value Luxury team on a coordinated visit, get in touch and let’s talk about what we can do for you.
Photo credit: All from the personal collection of Mary Jo Manzanares]]>
Charleston is a city that presents itself with an air of value luxury. The humid, sea-salty air, the timeless and immaculately preserved architecture, the somewhat European flair – one can imagine Kings and Queens of royalty being suitably impressed.
But it’s not just historic inner Charleston that has the charms. Heading out of town to the northeast – towards the airport but not quite that far – you’ll find the Ashley River. In the twists and bends of this river lies some of South Carolina’s most historic waters – the sites of many former Charleston plantations.
While many come as a day trip from Charleston to enjoy sightseeing in famous plantations like Magnolia Gardens or Drayton Hall, I encourage you to stay and spend the night. And I know just the place.
Many visitors to Middleton Place’s historic plantation attractions don’t even know that there’s an inn here. That’s because it’s tucked away into a private nook of the sprawling estate, with its own drive entrance. It couldn’t be quieter – only the rustle of the trees and the buzz of insects pierces the silence.
The Inn is not as historic as the old plantation home itself – though if you tour the home you’ll probably be thankful for something a little more modern! The inn is laid out in a series of buildings that ensure a lot of privacy and give each room lots of space and lots of open windows for you to see outside.
You’ll slightly be confused when you walk into your room, because you’ll have seen the swimming pool outside and there is, in fact, a bathtub in your room that could double as a second swimming pool. Avail yourself of the complimentary bath salts – you’ll thank me tomorrow, after a good long soak and a restful sleep.
The rooms at Middleton remind me of a balance between a rustic mountain lodge and a ski resort chalet. Mostly hardwoods with several wood shutters give it that lodge feel, and then the stone fireplace is what reminds me of the chalet. It’s very spacious and borders on minimalist – ironing boards and other items are tucked away out of sight, so you can do with the space what you wish.
Since you’re staying on the plantation, I encourage you to do a bit of exploring – even if it’s stifling hot, an early or late in the day walk can be a great insight opportunity to reflect on plantation life – both the good and the bad. I recommend asking at the front desk to book you on one of the carriage tours – the Middleton Property is enormous, a fact you might appreciate more after tooling around behind the horses; the guide also gives a bit of color to the historical significance of this plantation.
Continental breakfast is included with your room- tea, coffee, cereal, juice, pastries; hot foods are available for an extra charge. It is served in a small building adjacent to the lodging buildings. Grab a seat by the window – we did and enjoyed watching a baby alligator swimming silently past outside the window. (He was close but not *too close* – no danger of being mistaken as breakfast, I assure you.)
Visit Middleton Place Inn’s website for more details and to book a reservation, which I recommend placing in advance. You can certainly visit Middleton place without spending the night, but taking the opportunity to sleep next to the Ashley River, soaking up history and atmosphere, is a side to Charleston not everyone sees.
Just be sure to get out of the bathtub eventually, ok?
Photos by Margo Millure and Andy Hayes.]]>