Travel content creators – let’s get real

Travel content creators Lauren Gay Outdoorsy Diva at TBEX North America 2022 Lafayette LA session on repeat business with DMOs

The Outdoorsy Diva, Lauren Gay, giving advice to travel content creators at the TBEX North America 2022 conference in Lafayette, Louisiana (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

The best influencer marketing campaigns are a true partnership. Yes, a paid one, but still a partnership.

When travel creator Lauren Gay asked DMOs that she’d worked with for some feedback to use during her breakout session at the recent TBEX North America 2022 conference, one comment stood out to her, and to us…

“Your content about our destination did not feel forced, or canned, or like an ad.”

Another TBEX speaker, Costa Rica expert Samantha Wei from MyTanFeet, said that her thousands of followers want,

“Personal recommendations from sources they trust, that they see as authoritative.”

This is the power of working with talented travel content creators to help tell your destination’s story – it feels more believable and authentic to prospective visitors, guests, and customers.

Relationships & Expectations Have Evolved

We’ve been around long enough to remember when travel blogger visits were sort of an oddity; a fun diversion, but not as desirable as landing visits from print-focused travel writers.

As online publishing expanded to include social media channels, podcasts, photo shoots, and video production, tourism organizations would try to fit blogger press/media trips and fam trips into the mold that used to work for print writers.

It was kind of a failure, honestly. Buggy whip techniques in the jet age.

Digital travel content creators (some use the terms influencer, blogger, and content creator interchangeably, along with plain ol’ writer, photographer, and videographer) didn’t gather information to pitch weeks or months later to a magazine editor.

They brought their audiences along on their journeys in real time via social media, with all of the marketing communications power and immediate impact that that implies.

They needed WiFi and electrical outlets. Instead of frenetic fam trip schedules, they needed time to shoot and edit photos and video. They wanted to allow some serendipity to experience a destination like an actual visitor. They didn’t want to be forced to do and see things that wouldn’t interest their particular audience.

They didn’t want to spoon-feed readers and followers the same information that they could get on a DMO website.

Digital creators didn’t want to be herded off and on a bus with a bunch of people all seeing the same thing… and a lot of print writers wanted nothing to do with this model either, truth be told. Online publishers were often publishing on social channels and writing blog posts while still in the destination, and they wanted DMOs to be paying attention, sharing, and engaging on social media right then.

Most importantly, in addition to its perceived authenticity, their content LASTED.

It could capture attention and traffic for months and years, because it was online and findable through search engines and the Search box on every social media platform.

Evolution of Creator Conferences like TBEX

We’ve attended and spoken at a number of TBEX events over the years, starting in 2010 – here is our list of conferences to connect with travel bloggers, influencers, and creators. There is also a TBEX Europe and a TBEX Asia.

The vibe has certainly changed.

Travel creator attendees mostly tried to take themselves seriously as a business from the beginning; the shift was getting CVBs and DMOs to truly recognize and budget for paid content collaboration projects.

It took years for some destinations to realize that many (most?) online publishers weren’t going to pitch magazines and newspapers for paid work – they would publish themselves, on their own sites with their own audiences, and try to make money through affiliate sales and ad revenue.

That meant that freebie press trips, for most serious creators, weren’t going to work because they don’t result in revenue that pays the bills, AND they take time away from doing work that does pay.

They’re not a good business model.

The “free trip in exchange for coverage” is not nearly as attractive in today’s online publishing environment as “a paid project where the creator does imaginative work for a destination, attraction, hotel, or business.”

Most tourism organizations wouldn’t bat an eye at budgeting to hire a freelance copywriter or professional photographer, but some could not (and still cannot!) make the mindset shift to see the content “Swiss Army knife” value that good digital creators bring to destination coverage.

The industry is a lot farther along than it was ten or even five years ago, but just as you wouldn’t run out and hire any random person to do photos for your brochure, you need to take care of the due diligence and contracts basics when doing paid creator campaigns.

Related post – Ask for these influencer campaign stats

“I’m Not a Businessman, I’m a Business, Man!”


In her TBEX session, Lauren Gay emphasized over and over that both creators and DMOs must set realistic expectations for campaigns, including specifics about content deliverables, content production timelines, and which metrics will be tracked/measured to determine campaign success or failure.

Work up a contract, just as you would if you hired a copywriter or photographer.

Communicate, communicate, communicate.

Related post – 5 tips for influencer marketing in tourism, plus a sample contract

Keep in mind that additional coverage may result from your collaboration; content that neither you nor the creator had planned on.

Opportunites fall into laps, right?

For example, Ms. Gay pointed out that travel content creators may have a chance to talk about you when…

  • They are invited on as a podcast guest
  • They are interviewed on a TV show
  • They write a guest blog post for another site, which gets you in front of a new audience
  • They pitch a print publication (This past year, Sheila got an unexpected offer from AAA Travel to turn her blog post about the Kansas Symphony in the Flint Hills into a print article for AAA Midwest magazine, because they needed content from someone who had personal experience attending the concert.)
  • They recommend you to one of their other brand partners

Like so many online initiatives that are done right, a DMO and creator paid content partnership can be the “gift that keeps on giving.”

Scroll to the bottom of this blog post to see another way to find and connect with travel content creators…

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NATJA membership drive graphic Oct 2022


Excellent, affordable opportunity especially for smaller DMOs. We are partnering with NATJA (North American Travel Journalists Association) during their October 2022 membership drive.

Join to get a $200 discount on their 2023 annual conference, and meet more travel content creators.

We really like their active private member Facebook Group, and the Membership Directory for creators and DMOs.

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