Coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, the tourism industry has been going through a period of transition. This is a transition from quantity to quality, traveler centric to locally led, and complacency to complexity.
But this transition can not fully take place without travel content creators.
Influence matters … a lot.
And when it comes to travel, content creators hold a lot of influence.
In the past, much of the tourism industry hasn’t fully recognized or embraced the importance of content creators like travel writers, bloggers, videographers, and influencers. This means content creators have been allowed — and even encouraged — to share stories, images, and other content that flattened destinations, misrepresented people, and established inappropriate expectations.
Certainly the wider industry shoulders some of the blame for not taking this influence seriously and holding content creators accountable for their actions. However, transparency in influencer marketing is a growing expectation, especially by consumers. In fact, radical transparency is a major consumer trend, and as issues like the climate crisis continue to escalate, it’s not likely to lose steam any time soon.
What that means is, regardless of what the wider tourism industry does, if you are a travel content creator, you have a responsibility for conducting your work more honestly and transparently. The built-in bonus is that transparency establishes ethical boundaries and builds trust with audiences.
Here are three ways you can begin incorporating more transparency into your work.
1. Provide a 360-degree perspective of tourism.
Content creators are busy people. They bounce around from place to place and experience to experience, often creating content for multiple clients or handling assignments for lots of publications. Given the frenetic pace of work, it’s easy to pull together quick, easy, pleasing stories and posts that “get the job done” — meaning, it meets the assignment requirements and garners the stats needed.
What is often lacking is the more complete picture of a destination or travel experience — the story behind the story. The historical and cultural context. The bits that can’t be seen in a photograph or encapsulated in a quick interview.
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Places are rich, evolving ecosystems of manmade and natural systems. And while it’s clearly impossible to capture all of this diversity and complexity in any single piece of content, creators need to do a better job of representing places more accurately.
To be clear, there’s no need to lecture readers or followers about the darker sides of a place or their role as travelers. Instead, use creative storytelling skills to make the invisible visible, seek out alternative narratives, and lead readers and followers on the learning journey.
2. Be clear about your business model.
The vast majority of content creators have gone on press trips, received compensated products and services, and participated in sponsored programs and brand partnerships. However, the vast majority of readers and followers consuming their content probably have no idea what these things are.
People can’t be expected to know what they don’t know. That means that when content creators don’t disclose who is paying, how they’re able to have certain experiences, or whether they’ve received special access, their audience can’t be expected to know that either. But just as content creators provide insight like where to go, what to do, and when to visit — all pieces of information people use to make travel-related decisions — they should also be transparent about their business models so people can include that information in their decision-making process as well.
Being transparent about the content creation business model means clearly marking sponsored content or partnerships in social media and blogging spaces. It might also involve the creation of a general disclosure policy that explains how content creators navigate conflicts of interests and how they’ll communicate about sponsorships, partnerships, etc.
It also means being upfront with any editors about taking press trips. The shadowy, opaque “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that has plagued the travel media space for a long time needs to end. Content creators need to do their part by being completely honest with their editors about compensation and sponsorship.
3. Publicly state any commitments to push the new model of tourism forward.
Everyone working across the tourism industry should be modeling the behavior we expect travelers to have. That means content creators also need to walk the walk and integrate sustainable behaviors in the course of their work. And, because they are public figures, they should be transparent about those behaviors reflected in their work, such as mitigating their waste, cutting back on carbon emissions, and supporting local communities when traveling.
There is room for travel content creators to minimize environmental impact, support DEI efforts, and respect local people and cultures. The question is: How will you do that? Where do you need to improve? What are you willing to do to get there?
Decide on what you will do to make your work matter more to the world at large. Publicly state what your commitments are. Share them with your audience. Check in with and measure progress toward meeting these goals, and share that progress with your audience as well.
Travel content creators’ work doesn’t end with the publication of articles, blog posts, videos, or social media content. There is so much more to the story of how and why content creators do what they do. To be taken seriously within the wider tourism industry, and to help advance a more meaningful tourism ecosystem, it’s time for content creators to peel back the layers of their work.
Embracing transparency like this is a win-win-win for creators establishing trust with conscious content consumers, the tourism industry at large, and future travelers venturing around the world while (hopefully) minimizing harm and maximizing positive impact.