9 Criteria for Getting Invited on Travel Blog Trips


In his first guest post for the TBEX blog, William Bakker of Think! Social Media talked about the challenges of measuring the value bloggers bring to DMOs. In the second part of this two-part guest post, William talks about the nine things he and his Think! colleagues look at when evaluating bloggers they’re considering for invitations on press trips.

Creative commons photo by influenZia via Flickr

Creative commons photo by influenZia via Flickr

Right now, blog trips and bloggers hosted by a Destination Marketing Organisation (DMO) are still a bit of a novelty. I expect an explosion of travel bloggers in the near future as existing bloggers realise the benefits a blog trip can offer while new travel bloggers want to join the club.

DMOs need a way to sort through all these requests. We’re not big fans of a one-size-fits-all approach to measuring the value of bloggers but like to match bloggers based on a DMO’s specific marketing goals. We also recommend that our clients take a pro-active approach to bloggers by inviting the ones with the best fit instead of a reactive one by waiting for requests to come in.

We have a good relationship with dozens of bloggers and a database with hundreds more. We have 9 criteria to select bloggers for blog trips and other campaigns, which are outlined in detail below. When developing social media strategies we recommend that our DMO clients also use these criteria to manage individual blogger requests.

1) Value to the blogger

I mention this one first, because if there’s no value for the blogger then there’s no use in working together. A blog trip or campaign needs to be a win/win situation. We’ve learned that it’s important that the DMO and blogger know each other’s expectations. Sometimes a blog trip might not work out for a variety of reasons. And that’s okay. But it’s better to set out the realities and expectations on both sides ahead of time.

2) Reach; the size of the audience

This is an important metric, but not as important as you might think – at least, not to us. We would rather work with a blogger who has a smaller audience and a higher influence. A blogger with 2,000 Twitter followers may be of more value than one with 50,000 if those 2,000 people are passionate, engaged and are likely to be influenced by the person they follow.

We use tools like Compete.com, Quantcast and Alexa to get an indication, or ask the blogger for data. We will also look at Twitter followers, Facebook likes, and other statistics. For bloggers, it’s a good idea to have this info handy as DMOs will ask for this.

3) Audience demographics

This criteria includes things like what language you blog in and what countries your readers are from, their age, education, income, etc. We’re not that interested in where the blogger comes from because their audience might come from a completely different place.

We will use Quantcast and sometimes other tools for this, although a lot of blogs don’t have enough traffic for these tools to provide valuable metrics. We sometimes ask bloggers, but we have had to make assumptions at times.

4) Influence in a niche

This one is more important to us than reach. We’re looking for people who are an authority in a subject matter. That’s the power of the Internet – there’s a community for every passion. It’s safe to assume that a wine blogger has an audience interested in wine. If we’re working with a destination that is seeking to leverage its wine products or experiences, we will pick a wine blogger with a small audience over a general travel blogger with a larger audience in most cases.

In order to determine influence, we look at things including comments on a blog (volume and types of comments) and how the blogger interacts with her/his audience. Why? It’s that personal connection that makes a blogger unique and influential. And we will also look at repeat visitation to the blog. This is an indicator of how loyal an audience is and therefore the influence the blogger has.

What we sometimes observe is that bloggers with a large audience lose the personal connection with their readers. Their blog becomes more like a traditional publication online. That’s to be expected and not necessarily a bad thing, it just changes the types of initiatives we will invite them for, and the approach we take. They may be better suited for a traditional press trip.

5) Connection to other influencers

This one is closely related to #4. Blogging is social. We believe that a blog trip or a blog campaign’s value doesn’t just come from the value as a result of the produced content, but also from the personal connections created. A blogger with a lot of connections to other influencers is more desirable as that means there’s a better chance that their messages are then amplified or retweeted by other influences. A good relationship with one blogger can also lead to a referral to another. We often ask other bloggers for suggestions about other writers.

6) Quality and style of writing, photography and/or video

This one speaks for itself. We prefer blogs with quality content. And sometimes one blogger’s style fits better with a particular destination brand than another. And it doesn’t mean that we look for moderate bloggers only, by the way. We seek honesty and transparency, otherwise a message won’t be credible. The blogger at TBEX who writes critical posts just to make PR people uncomfortable would probably not be invited, though (see #9). Often, quality trumps reach and influence.

7) Speed of communication

We don’t have a specific preference. It varies from initiative to initiative. Most of the time, a blog trip is designed to create a lot of social content right away, and speed is important. Other times, it won’t matter too much if it takes a few weeks for us to see a post (months is pushing it). The longer it takes, the more the details and energy are lost. Plus, the copy ends up looking more like it belongs in a traditional publication.

8) Use of technology and tools

Does the blogger tweet, Instagram, or post to fan pages during the trip? This is obviously helpful.

And it also varies. If we’re working on a campaign where we want a lot of content in the moment, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram are important. In some cases, they’re not.

Sometimes we look for quality, influence, and reach for a specific tool or network. We invited a big Instagrammer to Flanders, for example. The Costa Brava even hosted an Instagram trip.

9) Personality

Is this blogger easy to work with?

We will happily sacrifice reach or influence for a nice person when we’re hosting a group of bloggers. Personality type tells us something about the bloggers’ relationship with their readers, and that’s important in social media. Other factors including professionalism and attentiveness are equally important. If it takes weeks for somebody to reply to an email, or if they don’t follow practical instructions we get worried. We often check references as well by calling another DMO the blogger has worked with.

We have good results using our criteria above. In the future we hope to build out our database so we can be a good matchmaker between bloggers and the tourism industry that delivers benefits for both.

Author bio: William Bakker is chief strategist at Think! Social Media, a global marketing agency focussing exclusively on the tourism industry. He is considered a leader in the world of digital destination marketing and speaks at conferences around the world – including at TBEX in Girona. He blogs about tourism marketing at wilhelmus.ca.

How can destinations measure the value of travel bloggers?


One of the most anticipated sessions leading up to TBEX Girona was on measuring blogger ROI – something most of us are pretty interested in figuring out. The session was co-anchored by Melvin Böcher, Keith Jenkins, and the author of today’s guest post, William Bakker of Think! Social Media. William came at the topic from a different angle than Melvin and Keith, and here he offers his perspective on how DMOs measure the value of working with a blogger.

Do you want to reach travel bloggers? Learn more about sponsoring the next TBEX event or hosting TBEX in your city in 2014.

Creative commons photo by Horia Varlan via Flickr

Creative commons photo by Horia Varlan via Flickr

Destination Marketing Organisations (DMOs) have hosted influencers for a long time. It used to be the exclusive territory of travel journalists. They were courted, invited and hosted in order to generate awareness and consideration for a destination.

In order to measure this PR most DMOs used the “Advertising Value Equivalency” (AVE). You take the size of the produced piece, use the equivalent cost of running an ad of the same size in the publication, apply a multiplying factor because editorial is more credible and there’s your equivalent value of “free” advertising.

Most people in the PR industry agree that AVE is significantly flawed. But for years, it’s all we had. It was simple and easy to calculate – and at least it was consistent, something we could monitor over time, and benchmark against the competition. At least that was something.

There’s no such direct measure for blogger-based campaigns at the moment. Keith (Velvet Escape) and Melvin (Traveldudes) presented a first draft of a method calculating the value of a blog at a TBEX session in Girona. It was loosely based on AVE and an attempt to quantify the value of a post in dollars.

I applaud the attempt because at least it will provide DMOs with some guidance and offer benchmarking possibilities. But I’m not a fan of trying to use an old-media method that’s already shaky at best and applying it to a new world model in order find a social media equivalent for it. It assumes a specific blogger will provide equal value to all destinations and that’s simply not true.

There are a multitude of travel blogs out there, and with careful research, we can unearth a blog and a writer who has the best fit with a specific destination and its objectives. Often we end up bringing bloggers who have a specific skill or niche. And when we bring a group of bloggers together, the composition of that group, the mesh of personalities, matters.

It’s not just the size of a blogger’s audience that’s important, but the likelihood of delivering a relevant, credible, and authentic message to their network. Passion speaks volumes. We need to believe that their message will influence a reader’s travel decisions.

At Think! we love working with bloggers because they are, generally speaking, very passionate and excellent creators of content. We work with dozens of DMOs around the world, helping them arrange blog trips, and we involve bloggers in many of our campaigns. We tie the way we measure a campaign involving bloggers to the specific marketing objectives.

We research, identify, and approach the right bloggers for the campaign, assist with the trip planning, and provide consultancy to clients on how to make these travel (or cultural) writers feel most engaged or valued.

For example:

    • In Belgium we worked with Tourism Flanders to identify, contact, and send 100 travel and music bloggers to festivals all summer long, with the objective of generating awareness for Flanders as a prominent festival destination in Europe.


    • In Richmond, British Columbia, we helped find a food blogger who would eat and blog about a different Richmond restaurant every day for a year with the objective to position Richmond in the centre of the foodie community.


  • In New South Wales, Australia, we organised a month-long bus trip of bloggers including a photographer and videographer with the objective of showcasing the destination and creating content in a more social way.

Through our work we know many bloggers and we hope we have developed a good reputation amongst them. Because we have these relationship it makes it easier and easier to find the right bloggers for our projects.

Stay tuned!
In his next guest post, William will talk about the criteria Think! uses to determine which bloggers they’ll invite to work with DMOs.

Travel Destinations: If you’d like to learn more about the value of Travel Bloggers, come to TBEX in Toronto!

Author bio: William Bakker is chief strategist at Think! Social Media, a global marketing agency focussing exclusively on the tourism industry. He is considered a leader in the world of digital destination marketing and speaks at conferences around the world – including at TBEX in Girona. He blogs about tourism marketing at wilhelmus.ca.

How Attending TBEX Led Me to Start Blogging in Another Language


Some of us have enough trouble finding the motivation to write a blog post in the language we’ve spoken our entire lives, but how many of us can say we know what it’s like to blog in multiple languages? In today’s guest post, Italian blogger Emanuela Barbano talks about the encouragement she found at TBEX in Girona to start blogging in English. Maybe you’ll find inspiration in Emanuela’s experience to try something beyond your blogging comfort zone, too.

There are moments in your life when you start wondering, “what would have happened to me if I hadn’t done that then?”

If I hadn’t attended TBEX in Girona in September 2012, I wouldn’t be writing this post now. I can tell you for sure. Because TBEX, and the people I met there, helped me understand my own way.

I started blogging for fun in my own language three months before TBEX, there I started thinking about beginning writing in English. While I was considering this opportunity, I received a sort of “go ahead” from one of the speakers, and I decided to start.

So here I am telling you how it is writing in a language that is not your own.

Well, it’s not easy.

You are slower than in your own language. I take a couple of hours to write a post in italian, and another two hours (later) to revise it. Then I post it.

I had set myself a goal of writing this post in two weeks’ time. Today I am in the fourth week. And this is the third re-edit.

I started writing directly in English. I feel more confident this way. Maybe my English is not so “deep” but it is better for me to start thinking directly in English rather than thinking in Italian and then translating it. If I did it the other way round my English texts would sound the same as Tony Sopranos when he speaks English. Maybe you, native English speaker who are reading this post, are now thinking that this sounds just the same. Well, actually this sounds much better to me!

Before starting an English writing session I stop reading in Italian and I start reading in English. On my bedside table I have “The Kings of Clash” by George R.R. Martin and “The Old Man and the Sea” (both Italian and English edition) by Ernest Hemingway.

I love fantasy novels, and I read them to follow the story, without fear of losing something even if reading in a language that is not mine. Avoiding literature masterpieces and dealing with easy pieces is my solution.

I mean, who cares if you don’t get the exact pink shade of Carrie Bradshaw’s new pair of stilettos? You can keep reading without worrying about it. Or so I guess.

But at the same time, I need literature masterpieces to learn how to write. And here comes Mr Hemingway, but in two editions. I hate reading with a dictionary. It is easier with an Italian edition by my side. Someone told me that there are iPad and Kindle versions offering you cheaper editions with vocabulary included, but I prefer paper.

So when I know what to write and I feel confident with English I start writing, and writing, and writing. And I speak aloud while I do it, and I listen to music, and I sing. Pink Floyd are better than a grammar book when you talk about past abilities and possibilities.

I wish you were here. Present tense and past perfect. Something that is not happening. I don’t need my high school grammar to check that. This sentence is correct. And here it goes for preposition and verb. Who do you think taught me that the verb to look takes the preposition “for” to mean “searching?” Bono Vox or my English teacher?

We non-native English speakers listen to the same song so many times that we naturally learn that form. If the song writer didn’t make a mistake, you can be sure that the preposition you have in your mind is the right one for that sentence. Maybe just check it.

You are now reading the third version of this post. I am totally re-writing it after comments I received by one of my closest friends. He is a writer. I ask him for advice when I feel unsure of what I am writing. He is very kind in his comments but he gives me hints about possible changes. If something doesn’t seem to be working well to me, I don’t tell him, but I am sure that he will get it and will tell me something to make me revise it. I am totally rewriting this post after his comments. He didn’t tell me what to do or do it for me, he just made me think about some stuff. So I thought about his suggestions and rewrote everything in a couple of days. Tomorrow my sister will read this too. She is a proofreader and professional translator. She spots every mistake I make.

Right now, to be able to embark on this adventure I need help. Maybe in one year’s time I will be perfectly able to write an interesting and well written English post in half a day without mistakes. But even if now this sounds weird, I think that a reader is always necessary, if only to stop wondering alone and deal with other people’s opinion. But I always keep going.

TBEX is not a self-help conference. But “keep going” is the first and most important tip I brought home from there.

If you really believe in what you do, try it. Your audience will give you the answers. If you don’t try, you will not know. So here I am, keeping going.

Author bio: Emanuela has always travelled. At the age of 34, she left a career in the advertising industry to put her need to travel, discover, “never stop because I am doing stuff I care about and like” ahead of the need to “settle down.” She runs a blog written in Italian, LaBarbanoInViaggio, where she started telling about her six weeks long volunteering camp in Senegal. Then she launched The Girl with the Paper Map, written in English, where she blogs about her travel experiences with a paper map. (A battery can let you down, a paper map won’t.) Emanuela is on Twitter @labarbano and her English blog is on Facebeook.

photo by Jessica Spiegel

Toronto: Did You Know?


Yonge Street, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Toronto! We all know that it’s the site for TBEX 13, but did you know these other facts and factoids about the city? Our good friends at Toronto Tourism are trying to tempt us with additional reasons to visit. Is it working?

  • Toronto is the capital of the province of Ontario and the largest city in Canada.
  • Toronto is a growing, multicultural city that sits on the north shore of Lake Ontario. The City of Toronto has a population of about 2.6 million people and the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) has about 5.5 million.
  • Toronto is the 5th largest city in North America (after Mexico City, New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago).
  • Canada’s financial centre – The Toronto Stock Exchange – is North America’s 3rd largest stock exchange by value traded.
  • Toronto is centrally located between Chicago and New York, and is roughly parallel with Boston and Northern California.
  • Half of Toronto’s population was born outside Canada; 200 different ethnic origins are represented with 130 languages and dialects spoken.
  • Toronto has the longest street in the world, Yonge Street (in photo above), which starts in Toronto and ends 1,896 kilometres (1,178 miles) later in Rainy River, Ontario.
  • Toronto is home to North America’s largest continuous underground pedestrian system, PATH, connecting 1,200 stores and restaurants, 50 office towers, five subway stations, Union Station, six major hotels. PATH holds the Guinness World Record for “Biggest Underground Shopping Complex.”
  • Toronto is made up of dozens of ethnic neighbourhoods including five Chinatowns, Kensington Market, Greektown, 2 Little Italy’s, Little India and Koreatown.
  • Toronto has over 9,000 restaurants.
  • Toronto has over 43,000 hotel rooms.
  • There are over 70 film festivals held in more than 20 languages every year.
  • The city’s primary airport, Toronto Pearson International Airport, is Canada’s busiest and has more daily flights into the U.S. than any other airport in the world.
  • The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) is a vast network of subways, streetcars and buses that service about 1.6 million passengers daily.
  • 73 Business Improvement Areas (BIA), including the world’s first BIA, the Bloor West BIA, formed in 1970.
  • There are over 1,600 named parks comprised of over 8,000 hectares of land (ravines, valleys, woodlots, parks, beaches, golf courses, destination parks, parkettes) and over 200 km of trails, many of which are suitable for biking and walking.
  • Toronto’s waterfront is 76.5 meters above sea level; shoreline stretches 43 km (as the crow flies) or 138 km if you factor in the bays and islands.
  • 307 km of rivers and creeks run through the city; all flow into Lake Ontario and are part of the Atlantic Ocean Drainage Basin.
  • Toronto has a total of about 10 million trees, approximately 4 million of which are publicly-owned trees. These include approximately 600,000 street trees (e.g. located on public right of ways on boulevards and commercial trees in sidewalks, etc) and 3.5 million trees in parks, ravines and other natural areas.
  • Legendary baseball player Babe Ruth hit his first professional home run in Toronto on September 5, 1914. He was playing for the minor league AAA team the Providence Grays against the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Island Stadium, which stood on Hanlan’s Point, near where the Island Airport is now. The ball landed in the bay.
  • St. Lawrence Market is the oldest continually operated market on the same site in North America. There has been a market on the site since 1803. The brick building that is part of the entrance is what remains of Toronto’s first city hall, built in 1844, and used until Old City Hall was finished in 1899. The current building was built around the core of the old city hall around 1900.
  • Toronto was the birthplace of Canada’s first postage stamp. Sir Sanford Flemming designed it in 1851 and it went into use that same year.
  • Ernest Hemingway’s first job was at the Toronto Star in the 1920s.
  • The Elgin and Winter Garden Theatre is the world’s last operating double-decker theatre with two separate and distinctive stacked theatres. It was built in 1913, and is celebrating 100 years this year, and houses the largest collection of vaudeville scenery.
Which tidbit about Toronto did you find the most interesting? Does it make you want to visit?

Photo credit:  Courtesy of Tourism Toronto

Eight Ways to Make More Money as an Affiliate


hundred dollar bills

Every month, I make a few hundred dollars in affiliate sales as a blogger, and those who focus on this form of monetization make even more. When I first started selling products as an affiliate, I was lucky to make a few bucks a month with Amazon. Lots of bloggers have given brilliant advice about working as an affiliate, but today I wanted to talk about some tips that worked for me to increase affiliate sales. You can make a few changes to increase passive sales, like me, or you can really run with these tips to make a full-time income with affiliate sales.

1. Capitalize on search terms bring people to your blog.

Stats come in handy if you’re looking to make a little more money as an affiliate. Check out the search terms that are bringing the most people to your site, and think about what those people are looking to purchase. For example, if people are coming to your food blog using the term “cupcake advice,” try linking to your favorite cupcake tins or decorating products on your sidebar through a well-placed banner.

2. Write reviews.

Lots of bloggers work with brands to review products, but you can really capitalize on these posts by including good affiliate links to purchase at the end of your review. In addition, you can include links to related products, which is an especially good option if you didn’t like the product – link to other items a reader can consider instead.

3. Sweeten the pot on a new product.

This is an especially good tip for informational products, which are often launched with tons of affiliates in the same community. Why should a reader buy from you and not one of the countless other bloggers out there promoting the same new product? Sweeten the pot! For example, maybe if the sale is through your site you’ll send a free copy of one of your ebooks.

4. Don’t be afraid to email your list.

If you try to sell to your list every two days, you’re probably going to see a large unsubscribe rate. However, if you never send out a sales email, you’re not making the most of a great opportunity to connect with people who want to buy what you’re selling. You can use emails to sell affiliate products just like you can use them to sell regular products. I send out a sales-related email about every other month, typically for a product that’s discounted for some reason.

5. Take advantage of buying seasons.

There are certain times of year when everyone is buying, regardless of niche – right before Christmas and Valentine’s Day, for example. In addition, specific products sell well during specific times of the year (for example, right now, weight loss products are hot since everyone’s trying to keep their resolutions). When you talk about products on your blog, using affiliate links of course, time your posts well.

6. Choose affiliate programs wisely.

Sometimes making more money as an affiliate is as easy as signing up for different programs. Some products are available from multiple companies and, thus, are available through multiple affiliate programs. Amazon has just about everything, but the percentage you’ll earn per sale is lower. Other affiliate programs may be more limited, but offer a larger percentage. Compare rates before you insert links, and consider going back through older posts that still receive a lot of traffic to replace links to better affiliate programs.

7. Compare products.

Readers love to learn about products relevant to them, but reviews aren’t your only option. You can also compare products, especially if there are two or three brands all selling similar items. Comparing them is great for search engine traffic, since lots of people look up “vs.” advice before they buy something.

8. Switch the locations of your banners and links.

It really is that simple sometimes. Affiliate links are great to place within posts and emails, but you can also make sales with banners and links on your site. Sometimes, just moving a button above the fold or to the end of a post or somewhere else makes a ton of difference. For example, I saw my sales increase when I added a product carousal to the end of posts on one of the blogs I run. Previously, I had the carousal on the sidebar and it barely got any attention at all. So do some split testing to find out what works.

Now it’s your turn: If you’re an affiliate, what changes have you made that have given you a boost in sales? Leave a comment with your best tip!

Photo credit:  SXC

TBEX Event at NMX


We’ve been putting the finishing touches on a couple of announcements – and an invitation – about TBEX at NMX, and we’re finally ready to show you what’s behind the curtain.

But before we do, in case you’re confused about that second acronym in the first sentence, a quick note about NMX. New Media Expo, or NMX (formerly known as BlogWorld Expo), is the preeminent conference and trade show for bloggers, podcasters, web TV and video series creators. It spans multiple genres and attracts attendees from over 50 countries. This year’s event will be held January 6-8th at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, and registration is still available. NMX is also the parent organization of TBEX, so TBEX will be represented at the NMX conference, too.

Now for the invitation.

We’ll be having a TBEX meet up, tweet up, casual gathering, party – whatever you want to call it – and we would love to see you there.

We don’t have the bar to ourselves, so space is limited. We’ll be sending out invitations to those travel bloggers and travel industry representatives who are registered to attend NMX. However, if you’re going to be in the Las Vegas area (not attending NMX) and are interested in joining us on Monday night, just leave a comment on this blog post telling us and we’ll get your name added to our list. There will be complimentary beverages available to those who RSVP* and get to the party early, some contests and prizes, and an overall fun evening. If you’re a travel blogger, food blogger, lifestyle blogger, work in the travel industry, or want to spend a fun evening with people who love travel, get this date on your calendar and we’ll see you there.

Please note that like the space at the bar, the budget is limited, too – this isn’t an open bar event. When the complimentary beverages are gone, they’re gone – but you’re more than welcome to purchase additional drinks directly from the bar. And, naturally, to tip your bartenders generously.

* NOTE:  Use this link to RSVP.

So – will we see you there?

And hey, those of you who are already familiar with NMX and want to learn more about TBEX, you’re in luck. TBEX will have a table at NMX, and Jessica (our Community Manager) and I will be available for scheduled appointments during the speed dating event. Come find us at table 67, or make a speed dating appointment. We’d love to tell you what we’ve got lined up for our upcoming conference in Toronto this June (as well as TBEX Europe in Dublin this October), and how you or your company can get involved in the world’s largest travel blogging conference.

See you next week at NMX!


Happy New Year, TBEXers!


photo by poolie, via Flickr

From all of us at TBEX and NMX, we want to wish you a very happy new year!

We’ve got lots to look forward to in 2013, with two excellent host cities in Toronto and Dublin to help us bring you the best possible travel blogging conference experiences, and we look forward to helping you achieve your blogging goals in 2013 and beyond.

Let’s get this year started in the right direction. If you’ve got a travel blogging goal you’re working on for 2013, tell us in the comments!