ON JUNE 2, 2013, Matador CEO Ross Borden hosted an open forum and discussed how travel bloggers and journalists can work more effectively and transparently with DMOs and travel brands. In his eyes, the state of the relationship between these two parties is not healthy. By opening up the conversation he, along with the dozens of attendees, addressed some major concerns in the tourism media industry — most prominently, that of creating a more open ecosystem for DMOs and bloggers to collaborate, something that will yield a more authentic travel experience for the journalist and better content and results for brands and destinations.

The talk, originally scheduled as an official TBEX (Travel Bloggers Exchange) session at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, was held across the street in a private business after TBEX organizers decided to cancel Ross’s event (a punitive action against Matador for hosting a pre-TBEX party — see video to the right).

Key points from the discussion
  • Banner advertising is NOT effective. (00:39)
  • Custom content: How to blur the line between advertising and content, without trying to “pull the wool” over your readers’ eyes. Keeping integrity through transparency. (01:27)
  • The power of content-based advertising is sharability, inbound links, and high Google ranking. (03:40)
  • Bloggers: Don’t take business if it doesn’t align with your brand / values. (07:18)
  • You can never know enough about your audience. Become obsessed with Google Analytics. (10:07)
  • Much of the travel blogging sphere is “incestuous.” This makes it hard for a DMO to determine how much real influence a blogger has on the DMO’s intended audience, which typically is not travel bloggers. (12:38)
  • Press trips, in their current iteration, are outdated. (18:30)
  • Tightly packed itineraries result in poor content. When journalists have free time to wander on their own, exploring and interacting with locals, they will create the best stories and media. (21:08)
  • Travel bloggers should be challenged with responsibility. This includes researching before a trip, and trust that they will adequately address the client’s needs. (32:00)
  • Matador will be launching Matador Access in the next two months. The service will match appropriate bloggers and journalists to press trip and content opportunities. DMOs / brands will be able to post opportunities; bloggers, who will be transparent in regards to their reach and influence (analytics, social media numbers, etc.) and quality of content, will be matched or compete for the opportunities. (34:35)
  • Matador senior editor David Miller: Storytellers who can emotionally connect with the audience will be the most effective. The “performance campaign,” which tracks metrics like click-throughs, is a dying model. The longevity of a branding campaign, where values and solid stories are associated with a brand, and which ranks high on Google, is success. (38:00)
  • Jody Diamond from Diamond PR: Don’t forget the value of production. A blogger’s reach isn’t everything. The value of a blogger, especially video bloggers, is the production value (wrote a story, shot it, acted in it, edited it, and produced product). Purchasing this kind of product can cost $15-$25K. (41:55)

* All photos by Matador head of Productions and Design Scott Sporleder


Full house


Understanding your audience

National Geographic writer Rainer Jenss (center, wearing glasses) asked how we can take a page from traditional print media and invest more time and energy into understanding the audience that travel blogs have.


Ross Borden


How can press trips improve?

Video bloggers Mickela Mallozzi and Ryan Van Duzer look on with the Travelocity Gnome. Mickela suggested "press trips with an open itinerary."


Travel bloggers travel by default

Travel writer Dylan Lowe said that travel bloggers travel "by default" and will visit a destination whether or not a trip is free.


Communication between DMO and blogger is key

Jody Diamond of Diamond PR, one of the most progressive PR firms in how it deals with travel journalists. A balance must be struck between the business and creative aspects of a press trip, and trust built.


The best and most honest conversation

Cara Schneider of Visit Philly says it's a challenge to find the right bloggers for a trip and to give them the experience that they're looking for. Cara started off by saying that this was the best and most honest conversation of the weekend.


There's a lot to consider when organizing press trips

Kerri Anderson from Tourism and Events Queensland says it's not as easy as giving free rein to travel bloggers to do what they want on a press trip. DMOs need to ensure that they are covering what the average traveler would experience on a trip.


Keeping the discussion going

After the open forum discussion on content strategies and better press trips, everyone was invited upstairs to continue the convo over lunch.


Toronto skyline

Taken from the ferry on the way back from Centre Island.