Michael Collins has worked in the travel and media industry for over a decade. Now, he runs TravelMedia.ie, a media consulting company that represents tourism bureaus, hotels, and agencies in the Irish tourism market. In our interview today, Michael talks about working on the other side of travel writing and offers some tips on how to better work with bureaus, how important good writing still is, and how to cultivate good relationships with people in the industry.
Michael, you have worked in the travel media industry for a long time. Tell us a little bit about how you got started and what the journey has been like for you.
The journey has been good. No complaints. It’s a great industry, made great by the wonderful people and characters that the travel industry attracts.
Prior to starting in the travel industry I worked in London, Australia and Hong Kong as a business consultant and analyst. Those years are what got me hooked on travel. In between my work contracts in the Asia Pacific region I went backpacking, all through China, Australia, New Zealand and South East Asia. When I returned to Ireland I worked for a media consultancy company for a short while before deciding to go out on my own. First I started Backpacker magazine from a home office, then two years later Abroad magazine, and lastly Irish Business Traveller. At first I was Publisher, Editor, and Writer, all at the same time. Eventually I built up a great team of writers, editors, designers and photographers.
Tell us a little bit about your company, TravelMedia.ie. What led you to start the company back in 2006 and what advice do you have for freelance writers who would like to work with you?
TravelMedia.ie came about almost by accident. Seven years ago a European tourist board approached me and asked would I do their PR for them. At first I said no. I countered that I was a travel publisher, not a PR. But one can’t look a gift horse in the mouth. I took the gig, loved it, and have never looked back. I had travelled almost every week for six years and was happy for the change of pace that travel PR brought.
I don’t envy the role of the freelance travel writer today. It’s a tough gig. Tougher than when I was last working as a writer. That said, the digital age has brought about many opportunities. But like before, you need to be good and have a niche. Don’t try and repeat what others have done before you.
One of the biggest challenges we have here at TravelMedia.ie is that social media eats time, the days disappear in a flash.
The trick for me as a writer was to try and write every day. A few days off and I found I was stale and the words didn’t flow as well. Practice does make perfect. The travel writer that stays in regular contact is the one we end up working with the most. Sorry, but wallflowers just don’t get read.
How has digital media changed the work that you do, and what would you say is the most important thing to know in regards to the travel industry and social media promotion?
There is no doubt that digital media has changed the way we work today. For example, five years ago we did no social media, now it’s 50%+ of what we do.
Our work is more technical. You need to understand some basic code, SEO, website structure, keywords, search, the use of images etc.
Good writing is still the number one most important thing, though. The platforms and delivery methods and technologies may have changed but good writing will always rise to the top. The reader will always seek out well written articles – and they will share, Like and forward them too. Which of course is easier to do today.
It’s therefore dangerous to see social media as “throw away”, here today, gone tomorrow – ephemeral. Write a blog post as if it were to be published in the New York Times.
As the travel industry continues to move toward embracing digital technologies, how do you see TravelMedia.ie’s work changing over the next 5 years? 10 years?
Adapt or die, literally. TravelMedia.ie will keep changing, or we will disappear as a company. But that’s OK, I enjoy change. To be doing the same thing day in day out would be terrible.
Where exactly we’ll be in a few years I cannot predict.
What I do know is that quality writing will always rise to the top, as will good people.
As a company we always have to embrace the new and keep reinvesting ourselves. For example, this year 2013, events and video were huge for us.
A company, not to dissimilar to a writer must always try and read the changing market place and fill the gaps, with product and content. Very few of us in life will reinvent the wheel, but new is when we see a gap in our ever changing industry.
What did you speak about at TBEX Dublin? Could you give our readers a small taste of what you taught in your session?
At TBEX Dublin I was asked to speak about how travel writers and bloggers can better work with tourist boards and PRs. I was very conscious that the audience of bloggers had travelled far and wide to be in Dublin and that they had paid good money to attend TBEX, thus I wanted to give them some concrete examples and tips. I wanted my audience to come away from the session with an advantage over other travel bloggers.
One of the key messages I wanted to convey was to try and have bloggers see the relationship from the other side of the fence. If bloggers can better understand why and how PRs and tourist boards behave or think as they do then they will better be able to speak their language. The fun thing is that travel PRs/tourist boards and travel writers/bloggers have a symbiotic relationship. In the digital age we must exist together. We are not working against each other. It’s therefore a question of understanding and good communications.
Below is a SlideShare link to my TBEX presentation.
Michael loves to travel. He is based between Dublin and Paris. Michael has worked in the Irish travel and media industry for 13 years. During this time he has worked as a travel journalist, editor and publisher, editing and publishing the magazines Backpacker Europe, Abroad and Irish Business Traveller. He has also worked in television and radio as a presenter and travel expert. Today Michael runs TravelMedia.ie, representing international tourist boards, hotels, airlines and tour operators in the Irish market. As the world gets smaller and the digital age impacts the travel industry more and more Michael now works more and more internationally, less and less locally.
Interview conducted in December, 2013 by Kristin Mock.