Why I’m Not Opposed to Press Trips

Text & Photos: Julie Schwietert Collazo

This time last week, I was in Chile, sitting at the base of the most amazing mountains I’ve ever seen in my life, marveling at the fact that the clouds that had been hanging around for the preceding two weeks had disappeared as my colleagues and I rolled into town.

“Life is SO good,” I thought to myself. “I have the best job in the world!”

“I dunno; I kinda feel guilty,” one of my colleagues said about the trip after we polished off another pricey, hours-long, multi-course dinner in an upscale restaurant in Santiago. “Don’t,” I said, relishing the lemon sorbet palate cleanser that had been set before me. He looked at me dubiously.

“First of all,” I continued, “a press trip–as amazing as it is–actually is WORK. And don’t forget that. It’s not mucking port-a-potties or paper pushing, that’s for sure, but it IS work.”

I paused for another mouthful of lemon sorbet.

“You get up at 6 AM each morning, you’re on the road until midnight at least, and you need to be gathering article material all day long.” Pause. “Second,” I said, swirling the last bite of sorbet around on my spoon, “the sponsor really wants you here. And they expect something out of it. Don’t forget that either,” I concluded, as I laid the spoon down.

*
What is a press trip?

As the name suggests, a press trip is a trip–usually two to seven days in length–that is sponsored by a tourism bureau, a hospitality industry provider, or an advertising agency and which is arranged specifically for writers and journalists. The goal of the trip is to inform writers about the destination and its attractions by giving them first-hand experience of a place. The sponsor or host of the trip typically expects that the writer will produce one or more feature-length articles about the destination in order to increase exposure and stimulate tourism in that area.

The nature of press trips varies considerably. Many press trip sponsors pay all expenses for the trip: roundtrip airfare to and from the destination, lodging, meals, activities, and gratuities. Other press trip hosts pay for all expenses except airfare. Clearly, the intention of the sponsor is to show the media who are on the trip the best facets of their country or city, and they will go out of their way to impress writers and journalists, putting them up in 5 star hotels, taking them to luxurious restaurants, and offering them activities that most writers would find impossible to enjoy on their meager salaries.

I know plenty of writers who are opposed to press trips. They feel that press trips are artificial. They argue that writers can’t possibly get an objective sense of a place–be it a restaurant or a hotel–if someone else is footing the gasp-inducing bill. They contend that hospitality providers are on their best behavior for press trip participants, and that writers are gently coerced to write favorable articles in return for the incredible free experiences they enjoy.

But having participated in several press trips, hosted by very different sponsors and in very different places, I have to say that those arguments are not only weak; they’re untenable.

First, if you’re a writer with integrity, you will write articles that convey your actual experiences, not some glowing, polished, barely concealed sales pitch that is at odds with what you saw and learned.

In Chile, we were toured around a resort that boasts the largest manmade pool in the world… right on the ocean (which, by the way, you couldn’t see). As we tooled around the pool on a motorized boat and stepped out onto an artificial beach, en route to an underwater bar with an exotic fish aquarium, I could barely conceal how appalled I was. In my mind, it was an environmental, social, and cultural monstrosity, and there’s no way I’ll write anything positive about it.

Second, if you’re a responsible writer, you won’t rely only on the programmed elements of the trip itself to provide you with information and insight into the destination. In fact, you’ll use the contacts you make (you ARE making contacts, right?) to gather more information on the ground than you ever could have gathered from afar. For example, while I was in Chile, I had questions about safety for travelers. I mentioned this to my sponsor, who was able to arrange an interview with the Sub-Secretary of the Interior of Chile. It was a contact I would have been unlikely to have made on my own, and the Sub-Secretary provided me with vital information and insight that will enhance some of the articles I write about the country.

Third, hospitality providers are rarely even aware that you are a writer or journalist being sported about the country, and even if they are, line staff rarely recognize the implications of treating you with the same surly attitude that characterizes their interaction with any other guest. The service at our all-inclusive resort in Torres del Paine was pretty atrocious, especially for the price, and there’s no way I could or would squeeze some glowing review out of my experience there. Even when your sponsors give hospitality providers a heads-up that their incoming guests are VIPs, it’s impossible for them to control hotel desk agent or waiter behavior. True colors will eventually shine through. If you’re an astute observer, you’ll see them and take note. But if you’re punch drunk on your third free cocktail, you’re not going to see them. That’s not the sponsor’s fault; it’s yours.

*
Press trips give you first-hand experience and knowledge of a place. They give you the opportunity to meet people who can answer questions you’d otherwise be tempted to just Google. They give you, if YOU are responsible and resourceful, contacts that you can leverage over the course of your career.

Press trips also give you boundless opportunities to write about a destination based on your experiences. Those articles don’t need to be positive–and shouldn’t be– unless your experiences were positive. But the outcome of your experiences largely depends upon you. Are you a good listener? Do you ask questions that help you see the place for the complex, nuanced country that it is? Are you able to collect the stories that even your sponsors may not see, the human interest stories that really tell about the place you’re visiting? You owe it to the sponsor–and to yourself–to sit down at the end of the trip or within a specified timeframe afterwards, to talk about your experiences, the sponsor’s expectations, and the articles you expect to write and publish based on the trip.

Press trips don’t need to be sleazy. They’re only uncomfortable if you’re viewing the trip as an all-expenses paid vacation rather than part of your job. Keep your eyes and ears open, keep your cocktail consumption to a respectable minimum, and don’t check your critical sensibilities at immigration. Press trips can be incredible experiences for you and the sponsor. Both of you share the responsibility for making sure that’s the case.

Published by

Julie Schwietert Collazo

Julie Schwietert Collazo and Francisco Collazo. For more information, please contact us: e-mail: collazoprojects@gmail.com

25 thoughts on “Why I’m Not Opposed to Press Trips”

  1. I would have to say that, given the shape our economy is in, press trips can’t hurt. Actually, their probably helping it grow. Great entry, Julie. Go personal integrity.

  2. I’m also not opposed to press trips as long as the host is aware I’ll write whatever they want and there is no expectation that I will shill for them.

    Great post.

  3. Great post Julie! I have worked with you and know the professional that you are but I wonder, how does a company go about weeding out ‘writers with integrity’? I receive press trip requests almost on a weekly basis and would love to know what top points I should be looking at or what questions I should be asking before I accept a visit. I’ve been disappointed too many times with seemingly great people who don’t deliver—and I don’t mean shiny reviews. What would you advise?

  4. Sylvie-

    GREAT questions. I wish more PR/marketing folks asked them. I’m going to write an article specifically in response to your questions.

  5. Great perspective and words of wisdom Julie. I’m looking forward to building up my own writing career so that I can take advantage of this outlet.

  6. Julie,

    I’m reading this piece for MatadorU and am so grateful that it was assigned reading! Lately I’ve been contemplating these issues a lot and feeling a little like I might accidentally become advertisement, and it has scared me away from building my travel writing career. This information really helped clarify how to go about travel writing with integrity. Thank you.

  7. Carina-

    I’m really glad the piece helped you, and don’t hesitate to reach out if you ever have any questions. Also, I’ll be speaking about travel writing and ethics at the TBEX conference this year, so if you have any specific topics, you’d like addressed, please let me know!

  8. Hi Julie,

    I, too, have just read this as part of the MatadorU course. I was wondering about being squeezed for positive reviews, so this was a really great post to read.

    All I need now is a big enough readership to warrant being offered a press trip!

  9. Hi, Barnaby-

    Glad to see you’re from the U- I’d love to see your blog (I’m Matador’s managing editor and one of the developers of the curriculum).
    You may be surprised to learn that you don’t necessarily have to have a big readership to be offered a press trip. Check out this interview that Pam Mandel did with Kara Rosner of DiamondPR: http://www.nerdseyeview.com/blog/2010/01/18/pr-chat-kara-rosner-diamond-pr/

    Also, as far as being squeezed for positive reviews, I’ve never personally had anyone pressure me to write a positive review. They want coverage, obviously, but there’s never been any strong arming to write a favorable piece as a result of a press trip. You may want to check out my writing/editing blog, http://www.cuadernoinedito.wordpress.com for some more thoughts on that topic.

    Don’t hesitate to reach out if you have any questions.

    Peace,
    Julie

  10. Hi Julie,
    I enjoyed your piece on press trips very much – your sentiments echo mine precisely. I have been on a few press trips recently which I just began joining last year, and enjoy them tremendously, am fortunate enough to get the articles published in decent magazines and newspapers so that the cycle continues.
    I do have one question for you – I have just been invited on a few press trips where the airfare is not included and don’t want to discount them. Would it be appropriate to approach the local Board of Tourism to inquire about sponsorship? any other ideas?

    thanks so much,
    Melody Wren

  11. Hi, Melody-

    Thanks for your comment- glad that the piece resonates with you and your experience.

    In my own opinion, I don’t think it’s appropriate to approach local tourism boards to ask for their sponsorship with respect to airfare. Not necessarily because it’s an ethical issue, but because it really just doesn’t make sense for them to invest their limited resources in individual writers. This is especially true of developing countries.

    Rather, I think that if you’re going to absorb the cost of your airfare that you should be sure to submit your receipts as deductible work-related expenses on your taxes. And possibly extend the trip if you’re going to make the investment in airfare, in which case, I think it *would* be appropriate to approach the tourism board about contacts that could offer a media rate for lodging.

  12. Hi Julie,
    thanks very much for your answer on the airfare – it makes a lot of sense, and I never thought of just making the best of the trip, extending it to work for me, and get a media rate for lodging. its so nice to brainstorm with a fellow writer!

  13. Miss your insights at MatadorU but this article was hugely helpful! I wasn’t really sure of what to make of press trips before so thanks for the clarification.

  14. Hi, Andy-

    Thanks for the kind comment. Glad you found this article helpful. Happy to answer any questions you might have.

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