Last week, I had the incredible opportunity to travel to Thailand with a small media group sponsored by the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) and Thai Airways. Our trip, which was an unbelievable 10-day combination of culture, cuisine, and history, was sponsored in exchange for the promise of a number of articles and blogs promoting Thai tourism. In the spirit of this and future journeys, then, here are some tips and strategies for working with and creating lasting relationships with tourism bureaus.
1. When you inquire, be ready to send a list of publications, potential outlets, and story ideas.
While each Bureau is different and will have different criteria for freelance writers, all of them will want to know what you can do for them in exchange for a coveted spot on a FAM trip. When I worked with the Taiwan Tourism Bureau this summer, for instance, they wanted a detailed proposal and ideal itinerary along with a list of publications I could guarantee and publications I would pitch upon return. The Tourism Authority of Thailand, on the other hand, wanted a more general outline of guaranteed publications, audience, and circulation, as well as a brief statement of what themes or topics I typically cover in my writing. After speaking with other writers on my trip, the consensus seems to be this: be prepared to outline your resume in whatever way the Bureau would like, and make sure to tailor it to their specific needs and requirements.
Doing culinary research at Chakrabongse Villas in Bangkok
2. Be flexible with your schedule.
Of course, this might be an impossibility for many people with full-time jobs who can’t take a week off with very short notice. Unfortunately, though, part of the reality of this business is the requirement of flexibility–travel writers must be able to meet the needs and timetables of the trips (and not the other way around). According to my contact at TAT, last-minute trips tend to pop up much more frequently than individual open visits do, so unless you can make your own schedule, it can be incredibly difficult to find a sponsor that will allow you to make your own trip on your own time. Most bureaus work with other organizations when they arrange FAM trips (airlines, trip companies, tour groups, etc.) and need writers who can meet those specific niche markets for that specific timeline. However, if you have a tight schedule but know far in advance when you might be available, you might try contacting the Bureau early to find out if they are considering scheduling something for that time.
3. Be willing to fly your own way to their departure point.
While some Bureaus will arrange for flights from wherever the travel writer lives, it’s quite common for writers to have to get to a particular departure point on their own dime. For example, while my international travel was covered last week, the Bureau asked me if I would be able to cover my travel to Los Angeles since that’s where the hub for Thai Airways is located. Luckily, I had enough flight miles to cover the trip from Tucson and was happy to do it, but if you’re not willing to pay the round-trip ticket from your hometown to the departure point, you might find it extremely difficult to secure work with tourism bureaus. After talking with the other writers and photographers on our trip, I learned that there are writers who will call and complain if the Bureau can’t cover their cost to the departure point– needless to say, these writers are often immediately crossed off the list for future trips.
TAT press group at the Grand Palace
4. Never complain while you’re on the road.
This might seem incredibly obvious, but I’ve been told by more than one person there is always one writer on every FAM trip who spends more time complaining than anything else. These writers, as you might imagine, are not likely to get invited back unless they can write their own ticket with a high-brow magazine contract. The simple advice here? Have fun! After all, this is probably the best job in the entire world–enjoy it. Otherwise, you will literally complain yourself right out of the industry.
5. Always deliver what you have promised.
Every tourism bureau has probably experienced this nightmare: They host a writer on a trip, show them an incredible time, wait eagerly to see what the writer will produce for them, and then never see any content for their hospitality. I’ve heard stories of writers never producing a single article or blog post for a sponsored trip. Not only will this kill your reputation in the industry (how could it not?), but it is also an insult to the bureau who chose you to fill a spot on a highly competitive trip. In my experience, if you can produce more than you promised in your letter of intent or your contract, all the better. After all, working with tourism bureaus is about cultivating relationships–the happier you are with the experience and the happier they are with what you’ve written, the likelihood of getting on future trips goes up exponentially.
6. Sign up for their newsletter for up-to-date information on upcoming trips and opportunities.
It’s always a good idea to sign up for Bureau alerts or e-newsletters, and it generally only takes a minute to do. Just go to a tourism bureau’s website, search for “Newsroom,” “Media,” or “Newsletter,” and sign up to receive their information by email. TAT’s site, for instance, is here: http://www.tatnews.org/ You can see news releases, press kits, e-newsletters, and other links of interest. Staying up-to-date is critical in this industry.