How Travel Bloggers Can Trade Advertising for Free Accommodation
A lot of travel bloggers are chasing sponsored or press trips at the moment. Tour boards and travel businesses are increasingly aware of the benefits of arranging transport and accommodation for writers. In return most bloggers are happy to experience a new destination at little cost to them.
There is quite a bit of useful information out there on the subject already. The latest article I have seen is by Ryan Brown of Just Chuckin’ It. Writing at TravMonkey he recounts how finding a naked stranger asleep in his hostel bed led to getting taken on as the persona of the Nomads’ mascot camel.
We haven’t taken an organised press trip but we have had some success with our own more informal approach of negotiating accommodation and tours in exchange for advertising space on our websites.
By bartering we alleviate the need for the hard sell often required to prise money out of advertisers. Using this method we have stayed in beautiful cave hotels in Cappadocia, saved a fortune in Beirut and sailed and snorkelled the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.
And when we trade advertising I mean advertising. The advertising is separated from the main editorial body of our websites in a way that should be obvious to everyone. I usually ask the advertiser to write a description to accompany their advert but if asked to do it I can write ad copy with none of the conflict of interest increasingly associated with press trips.
We also mention the places we stayed in at the bottom of related articles, as can be seen in this lament for a lost hat that pretends to be a photo post about walking through the Siq to Petra.
Finding suitable businesses to trade with
Depending on the value of what we are after we offer advertising for three, six or twelve months in line with our normal rates. With several websites to play with and a level of disorganisation that rarely allows us time to approach paying advertisers we can afford to be generous and usually offer more than we are asking.
To start with we ask for three nights’ accommodation and if we are happy with the arrangement sometimes propose doubling the length of time advertising is displayed in exchange for a few nights more. Some, but certainly not all, hotels take us up on this. On occasion we have also been asked to write a fair review on TripAdvisor (one of the things we learnt on our last trip was how important this site is to hostel owners).
When looking for suitable advertisers we either settle in somewhere and walk or ring around or we use the email bomb method. It has been a while since we attended a travel or gap year show but, despite not being particularly well prepared, we have had some success here.
(Since we first wrote this post it seems everyone and their dog has a travel blog or Instagram. Competition is more intense and not everyone is happy to be approached for what can be seen as free stuff).
The mailshot works particularly well for accommodation. If a hotel has a room that is going to be empty anyway this is a very cheap way for them to advertise.
It pays to be flexible when arranging dates. The cost benefit ratio is less attractive to a hotelier on dates he expects a full hotel. Our offer has been declined over peak dates like Easter but accepted by the same people to stay a couple of days later. Generally, we are most successful when trading out of season. If you are not having much luck try asking for media rates.
Typically to find prospects we use TripAdvisor, HostelBookers or Google, where we may type something like Cheap and central Barcelona hotels. We try to find the right name to approach (either the owner or sales manager in bigger businesses) via websites or Linkedin but this isn’t always possible.
Face to face works better for tours and trips. Sometimes we make a concerted effort to make appointments to discuss business. On other occasions deals have unexpectedly fallen in our laps.
Towns or resorts with a heavy presence of touts suddenly become a win win situation for those looking to trade as potential advertisers will flock to you. At worst touts are politely silenced and much less likely to have another go at us on our next pass through their territory. At best we get a free tour or tours to play with.
Be careful though not to get involved in tour wars. On one occasion we inadvertently got caught up in a dispute between two neighbouring businesses.
After getting what we thought was a negative response from one company we were approached by a tout from next door. Thinking only to shoo him away we were surprised to be offered a couple of tours. After accepting and placing their advertising, company number one unexpectedly got back to us with their affirmative offer. Next day, having explored our site further and spotting his competitor’s ad, we were woken by a phone call from the screaming boss of company number one complaining about his rival.
Adventures in advertising
We are lucky enough to have been mentioned in a couple of Lonely Planet guides and tend to throw that into any email (if there are two words that get the attention in the world of hostel owners they are Lonely Planet) but other bloggers will have their own USP.
Whatever advantages you have going for you be honest about it. Experience has taught us to be as clear as possible with our very distant Lonely Planet connection, especially when dealing with people who do not speak English as a first language.
Before we rewrote our introductory email to avoid any further confusion, one hostel owner thought we worked for the publisher. Luckily we were still a few days away from arriving at his hostel and were able to give him the option of backing out from the deal we had made.
On other occasions I have been asked to take photos or design a website for the hotel. Though I was happy to oblige with my limited photography skills I still have no idea why I was asked. Designing websites is a possible idea for the future.
Though many businesses do – and certainly more so since we first wrote this piece – do not expect everyone to get travel blogging. The tendency to think in terms of more traditional media can lead to confusion in what you are offering.
Mostly though, our interaction with our new advertisers is overwhelmingly positive. Aside from staying for free, often in rooms a step or two up from what we could usually afford, we have gotten to know some people we otherwise wouldn’t have. Through them we have gained an insight into how a hotel is run and can better appreciate the difficulties and effort required to keep tourists happy on their holidays.
In return we like to be generous with our advertisers. Most are small businesses that we are happy to promote and long after we are no longer carrying their advertising we will recommend them without fear of conflicting interests.
Much of the advertising we placed on our last trip has now expired but – with a long gap until our next trip and bout of trading – where possible we prefer to give more than we initially promised. Perhaps future advertisers will take note and be more willing to trade with us or maybe the Universe will reward us in other ways.
This piece was first published in an older version of our blog which included the following comments:
said: “These are all great tips. I tend to go this route with advertising. I would rather get an experience out of their money than just the link on the sidebar. The email method usually works for me. I think the more you send out, the more likely you can get someone to sponsor your stay. I tend to point out in my emails my readership and hits. Advertisers love hits and Alexa.”
– we replied: “Some places work better than others. In eastern Turkey, for instance, most of the hotels seemed to be more aimed at businessmen. English wasn’t widely spoken (and our Turkish is nowhere near advanced enough) so our pitch had little effect. Once we hit the more touristy parts of the country – particularly where lots of hotels bring the numbers game into effect – we had a lot of success.”
said: “Such a helpful article! We are just starting to dig into this world of sponsored stays and trips and have already received discounts and free nights. I like how you clearly separate the advertising from the content as well, since that is something we are working on to make sure we stay as up front as possible with our readers. We are early into our adventure but have definitely found that the more flexible you are, the more willing hotels/tours are to fit you into an otherwise open spot.”
– we replied: “I do sometimes include links within relevant articles later on but by then these have become our own recommendations rather than part of any trade arrangement. Nevertheless, like you, I think it is best to be as upfront as possible and tend to still put a disclaimer in.”
said: “You have mentioned great tips with examples to promote the business of accommodation providing on rent… Thanks this would be help us to promote Florida Vacation Rentals”
– we replied: “I think you already have got the hang of promotion, Nabeel.”
said: “wow that hotel looks cool like mashrooms, magical!”
– we replied: “It does a little. Staying there beats staring at traffic lights for a magical mushroom experience too.”