Every tourist board works differently, and every travel writer wants different things. I’ve written the following in the hope that we can make arrangements that are to everyone’s benefit.
- To do the best possible job on the stories I have already been commissioned to write
- To find other stories that I may be able to sell later.
- To keep my costs down where feasible.
I know some journalists want everything organised for them and everything paid for – but I’m not one of them. I prefer to explore independently where practical and I’ll read up/ have things marked on a map in advance. I’m fairly low maintenance, although I’ll want to get the itinerary right before arriving. And the problems tend to arise when there are needless overcomplications.
I’m not looking for VIP treatment – just assistance where feasible in getting the job done as well and efficiently as possible. I don’t expect any assistance to be provided, and I’m grateful when it can be.
Asking for help
I’ll generally only approach for assistance when I’ve got at least one commission secured. I may approach for information before that stage, however.
The help requested will depend on the commissions – but it will usually be for accommodation and relevant activities/ tours/ experiences.
I’m a freelancer, and to make a trip financially viable, I generally need to sell the equivalent of at least one medium-length story (700 to 1,200 words) for every two days away. I aim for more than that, however.
I don’t do group press trips any more, as they’re rarely conducive to getting a lot of sellable stories.
I’ll usually approach/ start organising a good few months before arrival, which is generally plenty of time to get an itinerary sorted. If it is not possible to help, please let me know early, so I can try fixing things up via another route.
At the very latest, I need to receive a proposed itinerary three weeks before I depart from home (which may not be three weeks before I arrive – I may be going somewhere else first). This is so any issues can be ironed out in time, anything missing can be added and anything unsuitable can be taken out.
Often, I’ll be arranging some things through other avenues (ie. Arranging to meet someone for drinks, a tour direct through the tour company) that I’ll need to fit into the schedule
If not received by this time, I reserve the right to simply not turn up for anything that has been put in the itinerary.
The itinerary also needs contact names and numbers/ booking confirmation details so I can sort things out if anything goes wrong while I’m in the destination.
If there is information in the press kit (ie. Printed PDFs and Word documents) that can be emailed, please email it to me in advance. I often find good story angles in the press kit upon arrival that I didn’t know about before – but it’s too late to follow up on them. If I’ve seen the press kit in advance and spotted those story angles, there’s more chance of researching and selling that story.
Similarly, getting recommendations for interesting bars, restaurants and shops in advance is really helpful. That way, I can mark them on a map and tackle them in a rough geographic order. I’ll use other sources for tips too, but the more the merrier.
Sometimes, a certain type of hotel is needed for the story. Most of the time though, I just need somewhere to stay. And the place I stay at goes in the factbox of the story unless it turns out to be terrible/ inappropriate.
If it is possible to arrange complimentary accommodation, that is much appreciated. If it is not, please let me know early in proceedings so I can make alternative arrangements.
Unless a hotel might make for a story in itself (newly opened, fantastic history etc), the ideal hotel is one that is conveniently located – ie. Central/ easy walking distance to attractions and restaurants. Location is more important than star rating. As long as I’ve got an en-suite bathroom and working in-room WiFi, I’m happy.
One more counter-intuitive thing: I prefer to stay in the standard room rather than higher categories, as that’s generally what I have to compare against other hotels. If I’m in the standard room, it eliminates the need to ask to see one.
Unless I need to write about a specific meal in a specific restaurant (which is rare – I’m not a food writer), I prefer not to have meals organised or hosted. I’m far happier getting something to eat when I’m hungry in wherever looks interesting. Fitting a day around lunch and dinner bookings tends to lead to a lot of wasted time. Lunch bookings are particularly bad for this, so I prefer to avoid them unless absolutely necessary.
The easiest stories to sell are on specific, definable experiences/ tours/ activities. In short, the products that an operator sells. I’ll often have some in mind when approaching for assistance, but I’m more than happy to listen to suggestions for others. You may know about something great that I’ve not found out about.
Any activities I end up doing, however, need to be replicable for the readers. If it is something put together especially for me that the reader can’t do, it is a waste of everybody’s time. If it can’t be easily explained to the reader how to do it (ie. Book via website X, tours cost from $Y), it shouldn’t be in the itinerary.
There are very few occasions where I want a guided orientation tour. One of my major pet hates is one-on-one tours with a private guide provided by the tourist board (which, as per above, cannot be replicated). They are mentally exhausting, and rarely helpful. The time can almost always be better spent – and most of the information should really be in the press kit.
It’s far better to go on a tour that’s an actual product readers can pay for (ie. A walking tour on a particular theme). And the reactions of the other people on such tours are often useful when writing up the stories.
I also find stories are better when I’m allowed to discover a destination, as opposed to when I’m shown it. It’s much harder to observe and get a feel for a place when constantly in conversation with someone. Most of the time, I’m better off left alone…
Sometimes, my initial approach will be more about how best to combine three or four things in a limited space of time. For example, am I best off self-driving, using public transport or getting taxis? Usually I’m just after information, but sometimes organising a driver or co-ordinating the respective tour companies to make things happen within the timeframe is the most useful thing a tourist board can do.
Sometimes it will be helpful to meet or interview someone for a story – and I’m happy to listen to suggestions for potential interviewees. But please don’t organise meetings/ interviews with people unless there’s a good reason to do so. This includes random dignitaries who want to get their photo taken with a visiting writer so they can show the local paper that they’re doing their job…
Free time to explore the destination on my own is really important for getting a feel for it. It’s also useful to have in case anything has to be rearranged due to weather, or if a late commission comes in that requires me to look at/ do something specific. As a rule of thumb, there should be at least half a day free for every two days in the destination. An itinerary with big gaps of free time in it is far better than one where mediocre, not particularly useful things have been added to fill space.
I’m human. I can’t be switched on all the time. So a relentless barrage of 6am starts and late finishes is going to end up be counterproductive.
I also need to do a bit of email-management, writing up and generally decompressing. So a reasonable amount of time left alone in my room to keep things ticking over is appreciated.
All content copyright David Whitley.