07 August 2010

THE VALENCIA RULES (VR) - Template for a Blog Fam Trip

If you plan to host a travel bloggers fam trip, here are some guidelines.


Group of bloggers on fam trip to Valencia, getting lined up for a photoFirstly the disclaimer: this guide is based on my experience of only ONE (sorry!) blogger trip, BUT... somewhere approaching a hundred traditional media press trips since I started as a travel journalist in 1988.

In June 2010 a "crack Spanish social media team brought together by Land of Valencia's Joan Llantada" (Quote: Terry Lee) held the first of two fam trips for bloggers. #blogtripF1 was a 5-day trip to the region and city of Valencia highlighting the Formula 1 European Grand Prix in Valencia.

A couple of weeks later, #blogtripFIB repeated the excercise, this time focussing on the Benicassim Music Festival. Several bloggers covered both events.

I wasn't on the second trip (#blogtripFIB), but the first trip (#blogtripf1) had a significant impact, as outlined here.

During the first trip, Joan and his team held a brain-storming session on Social Media techniques for marketing travel destinations, forecasting trends and discussing the best way for both destination marketeers and travel bloggers to maximise on fam trips.

The hope, expressed at this session, was that a blueprint for future social media travel events could be developed from this seedling. For that reason - in tribute to Joan and his colleagues, and mindfull of landmark development moments like the RSS/XML conference in Dublin that established 'Dublin Core' - I'm calling these the "Valencia Rules".

They are not the first. Andy Jarosz (@501places) has already blogged on lessons learned from the trip and made some suggestions (points 8 & 9) for 'best practise'. And they won't be the last. So let's just call them: VR 1.00.02. And for Twitter: #vrules.

The Key Factors

There are a number of factors that make a blogger trip very different from a traditional press trip. Five in particular...

  1. Bloggers are nearly always independent travellers and their followers are the same. For this reason some organisations are well-suited to hosting blogtrips. Some are not.

    Bloggers are great for tourism organisations (national, regional or local) because they blog about travel components - excursions, festivals, restaurants, experiences, architecture, etc. They are not so good for tour operators because they are not viewing the 'product' as a whole.

    With traditional media press trips, as a tour operator you could take five newspaper and magazine journos on a single product press trip - your 'Music & Culture' tour to Verona or Luxury catered chalet break in Courcheval - and expect five articles to appear at different times covering your tour and its various aspects. If they were bloggers, they'd all be publishing at the same time, there wouldn't be enough variation for them, and they'd all be writing about the town and its *restaurants with little or no focus on your 'package' because their readership travel independently. (*Not sure why, but food is a big thing with bloggers. They photograph every plate put in front of them!)

    inbound operators/agencies with lots of local excursions and tours might benefit from hosting a travel blogger fam trip, but outbound tour operators and travel agencies are unlikely to unless maybe they have flexible, multiple-option, tailormade programmes with lots of components.

    Other travel organisations for whom a blogtrip might work are: Cruise Lines (some are already well ahead of the pack on this), and transport companies (airlines, ferries, etc) who want to highlight a route by featuring the destination at the end of it.

  2. Bloggers are 'live'. They publish DURING the trip, where traditional media publish after they get back home. For this reason Connectivity, Time to blog and Variation are crucial to the success of a blogtrip.

    • Connectivity - Bloggers need to get online to write and upload pictures when they have Time to blog, but they also need connectivity in the field. Most are wedded to their iPhones & Blackberries and will still be tweeting even when they are on that camel!

    • Time to Blog - Bloggers need clear patches of downtime, particularly at the end of the day, to blog. Most of their longer and more considered blogs will appear 48-72 hours after the trip is over, but the shorter blogs will be posted during the trip.

    • Variation - The more experiences, opportunities and aspects there are on a blogtrip, the easier it will be for each blogger to find their own unique angles. If you take ten bloggers pony-trekking in the dunes, you're likely to get 10 posts appearing at the same time about pony-trekking in the dunes. But if you take four to the dunes, leave two in the hotel kitchen doing a culinary 'how to make pasta' session with the chef, arrange for one that meeting with a local musician he has been asking about, and send the other three to the vinyard... you get variation.

  3. Travel bloggers know each other, well. Some traditional travel writers and editors know each other too. They meet occasionally at industry events and product launches, or, if they are members of a travel writer organisation like the BGTW, at their own events. Sometimes they may have been on press trips together before. However, on most traditional press trips less than 20% of the 'press' are travel writers. Most newspapers treat press trips as a perk and send anyone deserving. If the hosts are lucky, they are a writer. Often they are a picture ed, sub ed or somebody from the advertising dept. So, for traditional travel writers, meeting up on a press trip is a happy co-incidence.

    Travel bloggers, on the other hand,
    do know each other already, and in real-time. They are actively, chatting, promoting each other online, and are aware where each other is and what they are up to. Not only do travel bloggers expect to meet other bloggers they know on a blogtrip, they have an insatiable desire to meet up. (Read my blogs on Virtual Friendships)

  4. Travel bloggers have a relationship with their audience. Nobody knows traditional travel journalists unless they are right at the pinnacle of the profession and appear on broadcast media - eg Frank Barratt, Simon Calder , Michael Palin. As regular and prolific as trad journos might be, the next edition of their magazine or newspaper will have somebody else's destination article. Other than a few specialist PRs and travel writing colleagues, they don't have a following. For this reason, they consider the destination to be 'the story' not themselves, and they would never include other members of a press trip in their report.

    Bloggers do have a following. They have a loyal audience who follow their blogger as a personality, sharing their experiences.... and sharing their friends. My biggest shock on this first all-blogger trip was to see the bloggers pointing cameras at each other, something that would never happen on a traditional press trip (other than for personal use/fun). Bloggers and what happens to them personally
    are the story.

    It follows that...

  5. Bloggers do it in public. Traditional travel journalists know that everyone - including their mother, their children and their partners - thinks they are on a giant scam, but nobody objects to travel bloggers. Somehow they are considered to be 'of the people'. So you don't need to be discreet about mentioning who is coming or who has been on your blogtrip.

  6. Travel bloggers do it every which way! Traditional media are generally one thing; either they write, or they are photographers, or they are radio journalists or they are TV presenters (OK, some writers take photos too). Bloggers work on multiple platforms. Any one blogger may blog, record video (for Youtube), audio (for Audioboo), tweet (or 'Orkut'), post on social networks (Facebook, Bebo, etc) and publish photos (on Flickr, Picassa, etc).

So, how does all this come into play?

Well, if you are planning a blogger trip, here are my...


  1. Remember, this is 'live'. Bloggers will be publishing in near real-time. If you are highlighting an annual event, your guests will be writing about this year's event, not next year (though in 11 months there will probably be some residue for Google searches). If you're taking them to your ski resort or whale-watching, do it at the start of the season, not the end.

  2. Tag the trip early on, and tell everyone. Create a short Twitter hashtag (the shorter while still unique, the better) for the trip, so hosts and guest bloggers can start talking about the trip.... before it even starts!

    Set up pages to aggregate content on Facebook or Twazzup.com (just circulate the link for a search on your twitter hashtag on Twazzup), or any other site you like.

  3. Distribute participant lists and itineraries as soon as possible. It will enable the bloggers to build a conversation and community before the trip starts. Remember, bloggers do it in public.

  4. Resist pressures to overcrowd the itinerary Bloggers need time to blog. This has always been difficult. Every local tourism organisation, hotel and travel provider involved understandably wants to make the most of their investment. Keeping the itinerary simple enough to avoid schedule overruns and keep the journalists onside has always been difficult, but bloggers need EXTRA 'free time' in order to do their work.

    However, here's the good news, you can spread it about. Consider offering a range of optional excusions in the same time slot.

  5. Meals: one in, one out. If you can (excluding breakfast), try to schedule one meal 'in the field', and one meal at the hotel. This way bloggers get a chance to re-group and work in their (wi-fi enabled) hotel room each day.

    If you can't, end the evening meal at the restaurant no later than 23.30pm, giving bloggers the chance to retire & work, or continue & play.

  6. Start with an Intro event. The first event after arrival should be an introductory session, maybe built around an informal meal (a buffet?). Bloggers know each other online, but may not have met yet 'IRL' (in real life). You could have a formal event to start your trip, but if you expect your guests to stay quite, listen to the mayor making his dull welcome speech, and not talk loudly to each other...forget it! So start the trip with an informal opportunity for the guests and hosts to get to know each other.

  7. Follow with a Connection Session This is VITAL. If you are hosting foreign bloggers, it is almost guaranteed they will have connections problems - even the most prepared ones. Even domestic bloggers, away from their normal connections, will have probs (Read points 7 & 8 from an American travel blogger visiting a travel blogger conference in her own country here).

    So, bring spare local 3g sim cards to this session and the venue's resident wi-fi engineer. Use the expertise of local journos. The goal of this session is to see every one of your guest bloggers log on successfully to wi-fi and mobile broadband. It's up to you, but if you don't have a Connection Session you risk emasculating your investment at the start.

    This session could, if necessary, be combined with the Intro Event.

  8. Log everything. Remember, you are going to have to show some kind of Return On Investment (ROI) to your boss (or his boss, the bean-counter!), so you'll need to keep tabs on all those platforms & media. Task somebody back at the office to do that thoroughly. Once you've hosted your first social media fam trip, you'll be able to establish a set of metrics to judge the success of future trips.

OK. Your turn.

What would you add? What would you change? What are your 'Valencia Rules'?

05 August 2010

Murdering peasants in the Portuguese Alentejo

Cork tree in PortugalYou know that thing where you run your finger around the lip of a thin wine glass and set up a harmonic tone... thereby according to popular folklore, killing a sailor somewhere in the world...?

I've just done a terrible thing and I feel so guilty. I've killed off a peasant.

Well... maybe not killed him exactly, but killed off his livelihood and thrown him and his miserable family out of their pathetic cottage on the cork plantation in the beautiful Alentejo region of Portugal, and onto the streets.

I've just opened a screw-cap bottle of wine.

When the first plastic corks started to appear in wine bottles, I didn't care for them much. But then how would you know you're buying one? You can't avoid buying bottles with plastic corks if they are covered like traditional wine bottles (and, it must be said, you don't get that thing with the corkscrew tearing out half the cork leaving you to delicately prise the remainder out).

But when the idea was first proposed that wine bottling should be modernised one step further by using screw caps, I had a luddite hissy fit: "Absolutely no screw capped wine bottle shall cross the threshold of my home!"

How times have changed.

Now I'm a repeat offender, murdering peasant livelihoods with the gay abandon of a drug baron armed with an Uzi! Sometimes, given the choice between two similar wines & prices, I'll even prefer the screw-cap. (It cost me to admit to that. I may need a drink to steady my nerves)

I haven't yet crossed the line into double, "surf and turf", homicide - opening a screw cap bottle, drinking a glass and then running my finger round it, wiping out sailors and peasants simultaneously..... but it's only a matter of time!

04 August 2010

Extreme fun down at Cowes

Extreme 40 catamarans racing at Cowes

That was an interesting/fun day yesterday.

I was invited down to Cowes (Isle of Wight) by Oman Sail to watch their boats racing.

Being Cowes Week, I was expecting to see their Extreme 40 catamarans out with the other classes racing around the Solent (I was even trying to explain to a non-sailor on the way there, how sailing courses are laid out in 'sausages' & 'triangles'), but no.

Extreme Sailing is a recent innovation - an independent racing series, now in its 4th year, with its own purpose-designed boats and its own rules, all designed to combine top-level competition with spectator-friendly showmanship, even allowing spectators to participate.

Instead of spending a few hours thrashing around a course a long way offshore, Extreme 40 races last around 10 minutes each (there can be as many as 8 in a day), and are deliberately run close in along the shoreline so spectators can watch.

The Extreme 40s are 40ft high-speed racing catamarans with a 4-man crew. In sailing terms, they move like lighting - up to 40 knots! By comparison, traditional 40ft yachts, like the hundreds running past us down the Solent with their spinnakers up in the Tuesday afternoon sunshine, were getting close to max hull speed and broaching (losing control) somewhere around 12-15 knots. What's more, being very light, Extreme 40s are extremely skittish. They slow down & accelerate very quickly, they can manage speeds of 25 knots in only 15 knots of wind and they can fly a hull in only 8 knots of wind. So you can imagine these things, close inshore on a small circuit, provide lots of colourful action!

And spectators can get in among it. Race rules provide for some races to be run with a fifth crew member - a passenger.

Here comes the clever bit. They describe it as a "sport, a show, and a VIP experience". The whole event is organised as an integrated sports, media and corporate hospitality package.

Extreme sailing VIPs on pontoonThe boats, display & merchandising areas, floating service pontoon, VIP hospitality lounge, balcony, bar and catering facilities are shipped around the world from venue to venue and re-assembled for each event. The routine is standardised. In the morning VIP guests mingle with crews in the lounge, watch presentations, and those who want to try it out get kitted up and taken out to the boats for a spin. After lunch the races start. Newly knowledgeable VIPs with first hand experience under their belt, watch the races start and end right in front of them, and a lucky few get to be the fifth member.

It's all clever, glamorous stuff and seems to work at every level - as a sport, as a business model, and as a media event. Newspaper & tv coverage is extensive. Why's that then? Well no need to hire powerboats and helicopters to get cameramen near to the action. Anyone onshore can photograph it, film it... and understand it - three times round the course, first one back wins. So, what was the Daily Telegraph's main Cowes Week report about on Monday? Not any of the dozens of official Cowes Week races. It was one of the Extreme 40s having a crash.