Quid Pro Quo:
Travel Writers and Press Trips

So, you’re going on a press trip?  How exciting.  Have you already sold a story idea or two about the place you’re going before heading out the door?

Press trips are one of the things many travel writers covet.  Going to interesting places, being chauffeured around with other members of the press, eating at some of the best restaurants in town, finding gifts waiting for you in your upscale hotel room – it’s all quite delightful.

You might ask why you’re being treated like royalty.  What are you doing that’s so special that your hosts are knocking themselves out making sure you have a good time?

At some point, it might occur to you (I hope) that you need to do something in return – something to repay the favor.  But what do tourist and PR agencies expect of you after you’ve been wined and dined at their expense?

Quid Pro Quo

The Roman phrase "quid pro quo" means “something for something”.  And that sums up exactly what PR, Media and tourism representatives expect after you’ve toured their region, city, cruise, resort, or attraction.  The unwritten agreement is that you’ll write something about their attractions and get it published in print or online media.

Certainly there is no binding contractual agreement between travel writers and the media PR's to produce published articles, but this is the expectation.  This is the meaning behind quid pro quo.

We are obligated to write about the place.  After all, they’ve just forked out a lot of money and gone to great pains to arrange our itinerary, guides, accommodation, meals, and complimentary entry into tourist attractions, and often much more.

On a press trip to Southern Germany last summer, courtesy of the German National Tourism Agency, I experienced impeccable hospitality.  There were personal guides at each of the ten cities and towns that I visited for my assignments.

Guides would meet me at train stations, drive me to my hotel, check me in, and then take me on a tour of their city.  The next morning they would see me on to the train for my next destination.

In return, I promised an article about each city plus several articles about military fortifications and museums in their towns.  I’m getting those articles out the door right now.  Quid pro quo.

I had similar hospitality on assignment for several magazines in Fairbanks, Alaska.  For an entire week I had a personal guide who was happy to make side trips to places that would prove useful for my assignments.  We even took a detour to the Barnes & Noble bookstore because I needed to purchase some local books as references.  I’ve just finished getting my five Fairbanks articles out the door.

It’s all quid pro quo.  Ethical writers feel obligated to produce an article—or even better—multiple articles, for the media PRs and tourist agencies.

Don’t Abuse the System

Sadly, some people who call themselves travel writers abuse the hospitality that is so kindly extended to them.  They don't understand the concept of "quid pro quo".  They never deliver the article. 

This ruins things for the professional writers who do produce stories about their destinations.  The media PR’s become gun shy of all travel writers as a result.  It makes them reluctant to host travel writers, or at least makes them suspicious until they know they can trust you to deliver.

There’s one vital concept about travel writing that may not be clear to some writers.  Everything about travel writing, these days, is about marketing.   Travel writers help to sell destinations to their readers.

Whether we're selling stories to a magazine editor or selling a perception of a place to the readers, it's all marketing.  Failure to understand this will be a barrier to your success. 

A Travel Writer Who Was Not Grateful

A few weeks ago, I participated in a writer’s forum, which occasionally makes interesting and entertaining reading.  But I’m still in shock about one of the comments I read.

This particular travel writer said that she only writes about luxury resorts and cruises.  She mentioned that if she doesn’t like a cruise or resort where she is hosted, she refuses to write about it!


To make it worse, she went on to say that when she refuses to write about a trip, she writes to the resort’s media people with a list of things she didn’t like about the place.

This approach toward her hosts strikes me as ungrateful and arrogant.  I also believe it is unprofessional, perhaps mean. 

More importantly, she seems to miss the point of marketing herself as a travel writer.  Instead, she's actively promoting herself as a critic - and making a big deal about it to the people who helped her.

Most travel writers prefer to be known for their creative story ideas, writing skills and ability to get published.

I’m sure you will be grateful after your Press trips.  But it’s a good place to repeat my Fam Tour/Press Trip mantra:  we are not in the position to refuse to write an article after we've been hosted at a place. 
 "Quid pro quo" is part of the game.

Find what is good about a place, go home, write your story and move on.  And, please, don’t have the audacity to massively annoy the media PR’s with your negativity.  I’m all for constructive feedback when it’s appropriate, but it’s not our business to send comments or complaints about a place to the media reps.

A sincere thank you is more appropriate for everything they’ve done for you.

Every Place is Perfect Enough

What do you do if you didn’t like some things about your destination?

Look for the good that’s there.  There is good stuff everywhere.  There must have been an outstanding museum, a great meal, or an awesome tour.

You don’t have to write about the things you didn’t like.  Better yet, be creative.  Turn the negative stuff into something good.

Recently I read an article about Sedona written by Laurie Gough.  The author wondered if the whole town of Sedona was built on a hoax.  She was skeptical about the mystical reputation of the several vortex sites in Sedona.  She encountered a lot of spiritual hype and even more tourist trash. 

She trekked all over Sedona looking for the spiritual vibe.  Most of this well-written article was built on frustration and cynicism.  She could have left it at that and left the reader (me) with a bad feeling about a beautiful place.

But you know what she did?  She resolved it in the end into something good.  The story gave me some provocative things to consider and still left me feeling good.  (I won’t ruin the punch line for you, but if I’ve tweaked your interest, you can read her story at this link.)  Her technique is a good one to emulate when you’re faced with negativity.

Several years ago my wife and I sat down for a meal in a restaurant in Monaco.  Before long, there were people smoking all around us and I asked if we could be seated in a different part of the restaurant, without smoke.  The waiter accommodated us as best he could, and mentioned that “if we didn’t want smoke around us while we eat, maybe we should just stay home.”

Harsh?  Yes, but we had to admit he had a point.  We were in Europe and everyone smokes in restaurants in Europe (in those days, anyway).  That’s just the way it is. 

The point of travel is to experience the place as it is – not to make it into something you want it to be.  Otherwise, as our wise waiter pointed out – maybe we should just stay home.

Travel Writers are Not Critics

We’re not in this business to complain.  We're travel writers, not critics.

We’re here to explore new places, experience new things, fulfill our obligations to our hosts (quid pro quo) and share the good stuff about those places with our readers.  This is the simple formula for success as a travel writer.

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Other pages that will interest you:

All About Press Trips

The Travel Writer's Guide to Travel Etiquette

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