14 June 2006

Kaliningrad specialist surfaces

Old submarine in Kaliningrad
Hmm. I've got slightly mixed feelings about this one now.

Yesterday I got an email, which rather put me on the spot because it precisely hit the Achilles' heel in my business model.

The main revenue stream for Travel-lists.co.uk is from review fees - if you think your site should be listed, you have to pay us to evaluate it. But the site 'mission' is to be an authoritative directory of all the best companies and organisations in their field, and nothing turns me on more than finding really good little specialist travel companies that I can tell our visitors about. (Especially if they are comparatively unknown. In a way that justifies the site. The search engines are useless in this respect. It is the very reason why I created Travel-Lists in the first place). So Travel-Lists.co.uk is not built from submissions. The vast majority of listings are hunted and found by me.

Despite explaining on the site that we only take site suggestions formally (through the review fee system) I get a continuous trickle of "hi there" emails bypassing the system. Ninety-five percent of them look as if they 'might possibly' be interesting and are dumped in a holding file which I rummage around in from time to time (about once every three months), but every now and then I get one which IS interesting. And that leaves me in a difficult position - torn between the need to earn a living (in which case I should ignore it and stick it in the dump folder. Maybe they'll get the message or get tired of waiting and pay to get reviewed) and the delightful urge to tell all our visitors about this amazing little company we've just discovered.


The email I got yesterday from Sally Chambers of Baltics and Beyond (with some genuine queries about being listed in Travel-Lists) was definitely one of those. There are quite a few UK tour operators who feature the Baltic States, but not many who specialise in activities and discoveries away from the capital cities, and I'm only aware of one other operator that takes travellers to the forgotten Baltic enclave of Kaliningrad.
So there was no contest. The urge to tell readers won hands down and I immediately phoned Sally to find out a bit more.

This morning, when I had finished updating the relevant lists on the site, I opened my emails... and that nice feeling dissipated. Travmedia, a leading travel industry press distribution service, is circulating a press release from Sally about the launch of Baltics and Beyond to all the travel journalists in the UK. Baltics and Beyond has not so much gently 'surfaced' as performed a full, out-of-the-water, Samu-the-killer-whale-style body breach!
Suddenly my sense of exclusivity has been wiped out.

It's not an emotion I'm proud of - and I'm pleased for Sally that her new business will, I'm sure, get lots of publicity. Wait till the weekend newspaper travel sections come out! - but I rather resent other travel media getting 'my' story.

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