I read a lot of travel blogs. There are roughly 60 in my blog reader right now, and I visit others via links from various social networks. However, I myself am not a professional travel blogger. My wife and I travel for our own enjoyment, at our own expense, and sometimes I write about it.
I tried allowing advertisements on this blog for a while earlier this year. After seeing a number of less-than-desirable advertisements show up next to my words, I decided it wasn’t worth it to me. Occasionally I also create affiliate links for specific products I mention in posts. If you end up buying a product from the vendor, I get a small cut.
So if it sounds like I’m trying to fault travel bloggers for wanting to earn some money from their sites, I’m not. If I were, I’d be the proverbial pot calling the kettle black.
Recently, though, I’ve been noticing a proliferation of travel blog posts that are outright bought and paid for by vendors. I don’t necessarily have a problem with that either, assuming the reader understands the nature of the transaction.
What does bother me is the shameful extent to which bloggers are eager to deny there was a transaction, even going so far as to disclaim their own disclosures.
Last week, I read a travel blog post casting a positive light on a hostel. I won’t say where. It was more than a mere description. It was a glowing review.
As the review went on, the blogger revealed running into several other travel bloggers who were staying in the same hostel at the same time. Quelle coïncidence! By this point it was obvious what I was reading was effectively sponsored by the hostel’s management, but I continued on.
Then, some 1,000 words into the post, I got the disclosure dropped on me. It read something like this:
Disclosure: I received two nights of accommodation from ABC Hostel. However, my acceptance of complimentary products and services has no influence over the content of this blog.
The first sentence in the disclosure is a statement of fact. The second sentence is, most likely, an outright lie.
In order for us to accept the idea that the complimentary services had no impact on the blogger’s content, we must believe the blogger would still have spent two nights at this hostel, spending his own money, and writing the same glowing review, if he had not received the free nights. That seems unlikely.
We must also believe the blogger hadn’t solicited any other hostel for the same two nights or, if the blogger had instead been offered two free nights at a different hostel, he would still have chosen not to write about it. That too seems unlikely.
As if the reader hasn’t been sufficiently insulted by this type of disclosure, a few bloggers have the nerve to tack on a brief rant about journalistic integrity. When I see that, I attribute it to some form of delusion.
By the way, it’s well known most people don’t read more than a few hundred words of a typical blog post. Burying a disclosure deep in a long blog post and adding a lot of photos is how professional bloggers ensure most readers won’t read it.
Since I do read a lot of travel blogs — and I read many posts all the way to the end — I’d like to offer two unsolicited suggestions to any professional travel blogger who happens to stumble upon this post.
- Move the disclosure closer to the top of the post, making it perhaps the first paragraph after the jump, or no later than the third paragraph. I don’t want to be 1,000 words into a blog post when I find out I’m the product being sold.
- Embrace the gift you’ve received rather than trying to make excuses for it. The honesty would be refreshing. If you describe the transaction in detail, I might even walk away from the post with a renewed appreciation for your entrepreneurship.
If it were me, I’d try something like this:
Being an influential travel blogger, I asked the management of ABC Hostel for a two-night complimentary stay, which they graciously offered. In return, they asked me to share my impressions of the stay with my readers. I’m pleased to say all were positive.
Seeing this kind of disclosure as the second paragraph of a post about a hostel stay — or any other complimentary product or service — would be a breath of fresh air. It would demonstrate a degree of humility on the part of the blogger while letting the reader know exactly how the post was paid for.
Disclosure: I once accepted a free burrito from Chipotle after complaining about slow service on Foursquare.