BBC runs a piece on travel junkets for bloggers and ethics policies, and how blogger travel compares. I came away from reading the piece with the sense that the ethical boundaries are less clear than sometimes thought, and also realizing that some publications are taking free travel that I never realized.
- Traditional media, where journalists aren’t “taking a free trip,” may have the assignment arranged between the advertising and publishing department. The magazine may be bringing in more than enough on the advertising side to cover the trip expenses, and this still generates editorial coverage.
- Lonely Planet makes exceptions to their no freebies policy “when it is the only possible way to research a destination.” I took a trip (that I paid for, while others were comped) where an industry publication representative explained that they just didn’t have the budget to pay for a trip of the sort — it was business class, I used a confirmed upgrade — and it was the only way they’d be in a position to cover it.
- BBC Travel, whose piece prompted the discussion, allows comped trips if
it is the only opportunity for press to be a part of something before the public launch, or the story is editorially justified and would be financially unattainable otherwise.
- Budget Travel allows free press trips. So does Fodor’s. And Frommer’s doesn’t prohibit the practice.
- The New York Times doesn’t take free trips. I’m not sure that makes all of their pieces free of bias. Their articles are still written by people, not machines.
Travel bloggers who disclose their freebies are being more transparent than some traditional media.
I’ve never taken a comped trip or media junket, I have taken some merchandise but generally do it as a giveaway or if I keep the item myself I make a charitable donation of the full retail price. When I tested an international wifi device rental I didn’t just turn down the offer of a comp, I even declined a discount.
The number of bad hotel stays I have makes clear that I’m not generally getting better treatment ‘as a blogger’ as opposed to because of my elite status and other strategies I’m using for upgrades, etc. I do have financial relationships with several banks and I fully disclose those — not just in fine print terms and conditions and on my About page (though I do that too) but in every post where I include a referral link. That won’t satisfy everyone but I do the best job that I can.
None of which means that I lack biases, I certainly am biased or at least I have a clear perspective – as a business traveler, as someone who enjoys first class travel and hotel suites (the travel is a part of the experience, not just a means to the destination). Food is an experience and not just fuel.
And I’m not even inherently against free trips. I know that some travel bloggers get into the space hoping for comped trips, some in the travel space (more so than the miles and points space) seem almost to be blogging for the primary purpose of getting on junkets rather than some other reason. For the most part, trips really haven’t interested me. See, I’m very particular. I’m very busy. And so when I do travel for leisure I want the trip to be exactly what I’m most interested in. I don’t want to be shuttled around to a bunch of promotional events that hold little interest for me. I don’t want to stay at a hotel that isn’t as nice as I’d book for myself on points or through some other discount. And there’s such a long list of places I want to visit, I don’t want to have my trip chosen for me based on what someone else will pay for.
Put a different way, I know a wine blogger whose site has less than 10% of the traffic of this one. His basement is filled to the brim with cases of free wine that’s been sent to him. He’s gone on wine junkets. But here’s the thing, do I really want to store a ton of bad wine, let alone drink bad wine? (I gave away the two bottles that US Airways sent to me at the recent Frequent Traveler University).
My aversion to trips, to date, has been selfishly motivated rather than based on grand principle. I suspect that if Aman Resorts reached out to me and offered me one of their better suites or villas I would jump on that. I also suspect it would be genuinely awesome — just well above my price point. I’d be perfectly objective, and probably in awe, and grateful not to be coming out of pocket for something I couldn’t otherwise afford.
But Aman Resorts isn’t coming knocking. It’s usually some property in the Caribbean or Central America. Or a cruise — during the off-season, since they don’t want to cannibalize rooms they’d sell to paying customers.
I thought that One Mile at a Time’s review of American Airlines new business class was 100% fair despite his flight being comped. I was on the same flight, I paid for my ticket, and my experience was highly similar to what Ben wrote. He fully disclosed the that the trip was comped in each related post as well, and you certainly don’t see disclosures in magazines like “we paid for this trip ourselves but our advertiser gave us extra money so we’d send the reporter in the first place.” So I actually think Ben does a better job both on the content side (no brainer) and on disclosure and lack of bias compared to many travel publications in the traditional publishing world.
While I’ve not done any comped trips despite offers of high-end cruises and even private jet travel, I don’t take a high horse position about the ethics of it, I think it’s important for the blogger to disclose where they’re coming from (potential conflicts of interest), and for the reader to judge — having been given that context — whether the writer’s perspective is valuable or not.
See, there are plenty of people that aren’t taking comps and are neither good nor interesting. And plenty of people who aren’t paying their own way a do a pretty good job offering a valuable perspective. Sometimes the post speaks for itself, good or bad. And in the end we’re all only human, and I think it pays to be a cynic — of both bloggers and traditional media.
Would y’all still read me if Amanusa ever decided to give me a pool suite? 🙂
(HT: Points and Travel on Facebook.)