This is a guest contribution from Dan Bagby of Honeymoon Always.
Many travel bloggers start blogging with dreams of getting free travel around the world. Last year, I set out with the goal to see what it would take to make that a reality – and I was surprised at how little time it took to get upgrades and “freebies” in exchange for coverage on my blog.
After only three blog posts and 100 Instagram followers, we received our first perk: an upgrade to the best suite in a 4-star hotel. It was an amazing experience and we felt like little kids at Disney World. Our next trip included a complimentary weekend at a 4-star resort with couples massages and 5-course meals. Even with a full time job, I was able to enjoy theme park tickets, ski passes and invitations to resorts in Mexico in Jamaica before I had 10 blog posts published, and having less than 500 followers on social media.
So here is my secret I hope I don’t regret sharing. What matters isn’t the size of your blog’s audience, but what value you bring to the PR or marketing professional you would like to work with.
It really comes down to the way you ask and the value you can provide.
Making the Right Ask
You have to actually ask
Do not fear rejection; just ask! If you don’t ask in the first place, the answer is always no. I would say for every 10 emails I sent, we end up getting some sort of free travel from at least one contact.
Ask at the right time
It is all about timing. Businesses needing coverage when you contact them will value your offer more than those that are well established and overbooked. For example, if you were to reach out to the Hard Rock Café Resort in Orlando and it is always booked they may not even respond, but a brand new hotel in the area is looking for ways to market their recent opening.
One hotel we reached out to recently reopened after a multimillion-dollar renovation and another had just reopened their spa. Both welcomed our visit and made for a great experience.
Another aspect of timing is seasonality. If you ask for anything during a busy time of year or busiest day of the week, you are less likely to get the answer you are looking for.
Ask for the right things
At first, ask for things that will not cost the business much money or displace paying guests. At first we found success booking a hotel room and asking for an upgrade. We were upgraded to a suite costing over 400 euros a night more than we paid. We also found success with attractions like theme parks where providing passes to two extra people does not impact their profit.
Find Ways to Provide Value
Use other bloggers’ audiences
Did you know there are plenty of writers who don’t have their own blog and get free travel all the time? While I still believe in having a blog of your own, until it is well established you can “borrow” someone else’s audience to show value. By writing guest posts on these blogs, you’re providing great content and they’re providing you authority. It’s a way to build links to build your own brand and get in front of another audience that travel destinations find valuable.
After you have written a few guest posts, see if you can become a regular contributor. At this point, when you ask for hosted travel let them know the bigger sites you contribute to and what you can provide for them on those sites. The focus is not longer on the size of your site, but on the other audience they will reach.
Once you have a well established relationship with the site owners or editor, don’t be afraid to tell them what you are working towards and they can actually assign you an article you can share with the destination or attraction you are contacting.
Used paid promotion to pick up the slack
Instead of mentioning the size of your social following while emailing destinations, focus on reach you can guarantee using paid social media. For example, I know that $10 will get a reach of around 20,000 targeted users. Instead of saying I have 500 Instagram followers, commit to boosting two Instagram posts to people living in nearby cities that show interest in resorts and holidays.
Provide Additional Services
What else can you do to provide value? Are you a professional photographer, videographer or have a drone you can create content with and provide it to the resort after? Providing other services will make it easier for the PR and marketing professionals see the value in your proposal.
A few more tips for success
Be in a clear niche
Being a generic travel blogger is fun but in the early days, it won’t help you stand out. Instead focus on a specific niche. With a simple mention of your blog and niche, whoever you contact should quickly know what kind of angle you will be covering and how they fit within the brand you are creating.
Be specific with coverage
Last, tell them exactly what to expect from you. For example, if emailing an hotel in Los Angeles you could say they can expect one detailed review post on your blog, and a mention in a “2 Days in Los Angeles Itinerary” post that will be posted on another site. Additionally they will be featured in three Instagram posts that will be boosted to 3000 targeted users in San Diego and San Francisco with premium travel credit cards. This lets them know exactly what will be expected if they host you.
Its been a fun ride these last few months traveling and learning the travel blogging industry. I look forward to the day that my blog stands on its own to get hosted trips, but until then its nice to know with a little extra work, I can already get the travel experience benefits of a larger blog.
How about you? Have you been successful working with brands or destinations early on? What do you recommend?
Dan Bagby is a digital marketing and SEO specialist who is venturing into travel writing on his blog, Honeymoon Always, in hopes of making it easier to plan honeymoons and never leave the honeymoon stage.