How to Work with Tourism Boards

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Despite the fact that I realize not everyone will be interested in this subject, I still feel like it's a topic worth addressing. More and more recently, I've been fielding questions from bloggers and non-bloggers alike about how I manage to work with tourism boards and companies when I travel.

Using a 2012 trip to Ottawa as an example (where I worked with both Ottawa Tourism and the HI Ottawa Jail Hostel), here are some answers to common questions I've received about working with tourism boards.

Ottawa Tourism
Ottawa Tourism

Common questions about my sponsored travels

(Note: This is not a post about “how to get invited on press trips” or “how to score free stuff when you travel.” If that's what you're here to find, you can navigate away right now!)

“How do I know when my blog is “big enough” to pitch to companies/tourism boards?”

The truth is (and I know this isn't what any blogger wants to hear), there's no “magic number” when it comes to knowing when it's the right time to start pitching. If you send the right pitch to the right company/tourism board, things like page views and RSS subscribers and Twitter followers won't really matter much.

In general, though, you want to be able to show that you have an engaged audience — regardless of how big it is. In my mind, a solid, small engaged audience is much more valuable than a large, indifferent one. My audience is by no means huge, but I've been able to encourage a lot of discussion and engagement on both my blog and social networks, proving that I'm not just writing all of this for myself. People actually read what I publish and respond to it, and Ottawa Tourism hinted that this was the main reason they decided to work with me.

But how do I build an engaged audience?, you ask. Well, the key to an engaged audience is content. It really is true that content is king. Before you start thinking about pitching to tourism boards and companies, build up a solid blog with top-notch content. Know what your niche is (if you plan to have one), and what you want the tone of your blog to be. And, above all, let your voice and personality shine through — this is what truly will grab the attention of tourism boards.

Ottawa

“How do I go about pitching?”

So you think you've developed your blog and audience enough to where you feel confident pitching to a company or tourism board. What's next? Here are my main tips for before you pitch, and for actually drafting the pitch itself.

Before you pitch:

  • Know what you ideally want. You obviously have to first know where you're going (and when) and then you need to figure out more or less what you're going to ask for. Do you want all your expenses covered or just one specific part of your trip? Are you hoping for a fully comped tour or would you be happy with a media discount? Figure this out before you even think about pitching.
  • Know what you can offer in return. Almost as important as knowing what you want, you should know what you can offer a company or destination in return. What value can YOU offer THEM? Why are you a good fit for their brand or destination? How much coverage will they get from working with you, and who is going to see that coverage?
  • Figure out who to pitch to. The next step is figuring out who to pitch to. Do a bit of detective work on the company or destination's official site or social media accounts. If they have a media contact listed, that's who you should pitch to. If you can avoid sending your pitch to a generic “info” e-mail address, do.
  • Keep in mind the time of year you'll be traveling. Will you be traveling to a destination during their high season or in the off-season? If you're traveling during high season (or around a popular event), send your pitch as early as possible. A tourism board might not be able (or willing) to accomodate you at the last minute. Since I was traveling to Ottawa in the dead of winter, I was fine contacting Ottawa Tourism a mere 3 weeks before my trip. But I wouldn't recommend waiting so long if you can help it.
Rideau Canal, Ottawa, Canada
Luckily Ottawa is quiet in the winter, so I was able to pitch my last-minute trip.

Drafting your pitch:

  • Introduce yourself completely (including who you are and who your audience is). Don't be vague. Be confident in yourself and your blog, and give a sense of who reads what you publish.
  • Tell them when you'll be there (be specific). Especially if you are hoping to get a sponsored tour or have your hotel/hostel stay covered, you will need to know the exact dates you'll be traveling. If you don't have your dates chosen yet, you probably aren't ready to send a pitch.
  • Be clear with your request, but also flexible. Above I mentioned that you should know what you ideally want before drafting your pitch. I still recommend this. But you don't want to come off as demanding on entitled in your pitch. So lay out what you would like to receive, but also be flexible in your request.
  • Provide stats, but expect them to do their own homework, too. I usually include my main stats in a short paragraph to sum up the size of my blog's audience, whether it's asked for or not. But I know for a fact Ottawa Tourism checked out all of my social networks on their own, too. So don't inflate those numbers too much.
  • Make your pitch professional, but still use your voice. When drafting your pitch, you want to make it more formal that something you'd post on your Facebook wall, but not so stuffy that it doesn't reflect your personality. This is your chance to sell yourself — do yourself justice.
  • Send a media kit. I highly recommend putting together a media kit for yourself that you can send out to potential partners. In this kit, you can go into more depth about your audience, your stats, and what you can offer. I also include testimonials in mine, proving that what I write actually inspires others to travel to certain destinations or spend their money with certain companies.
Media kit
The cover of my media kit

Want to see some sample pitches? Check out my course on partnerships for detailed examples!

“Should I just pitch to everyone?”

The short answer is no. This is not just about “scoring free stuff,” no matter how appealing that idea is. Before you think about sending out a pitch, educate yourself about the destination or company you're considering. Will it fit in with the rest of your blog's content? Is it in line with what your audience is interested in?

Not every destination, company, or tourism board will be a good fit for your blog and audience. And that's okay. The bottom line is, don't send out pitches just to send them out.

Parliament Hill, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
I pitched to Ottawa because it's a destination close to home not many people have written about recently, but one I knew my audience would be interested in.

“But what if they say no?”

If you're afraid of rejection, I have some bad news — you probably will get rejected. Other times you may never get a response to your pitch. But who cares? You shouldn't be planning your travel counting on free trips anyway.

You'll learn more with each pitch you write and with each sponsorship you secure. Don't look at rejection or being ignored as a bad thing — look at it as a learning opportunity.

Here are my tips for dealing with being ignored or rejected:

  • Follow up on your pitch. If you haven't gotten a response to your pitch within a week, send a follow-up e-mail, or even give the contact a call if you have a phone number for them. It's very easy for e-mails to slip through the cracks, and many PR reps are extremely busy. A friendly reminder can't hurt; sometimes you just have to be both patient and persistent.
  • Try again. Got rejected? Don't sweat it. There could be many reasons for receiving a rejection — maybe you weren't confident enough in your pitch; maybe they just don't have the budget to sponsor you; maybe you didn't get in touch soon enough. Regardless of the reason, just forget about it and try again somewhere else.
  • Get more creative. If you're consistently getting rejected, maybe it's time to go back to the drawing board. Maybe your blog needs a makeover. Maybe you need to concentrate on building your audience and polishing your content for a while. Maybe you need a catchier pitch or media kit.
  • Realize it might be them, not you. Sometimes it's all about the timing — timing you may not even know about. Maybe you sent your pitch when they had just run out of extra funds that month or year, or maybe your pitch got lost during restructuring in the company. Things happen, and you certainly can't control them all, or even prepare for them.
Ottawa
Don't be afraid of rejection.

And, at the end of the day, some companies and tourism boards just don't “get it” yet. This whole blogging thing is fairly new, and not everyone has embraced the idea of treating bloggers like they would traditional media. Ottawa Tourism definitely sees the value in online media, but not all boards and companies I've approached do. Sometimes you just have to chalk it up to a loss and hope they'll come around eventually.

Because, despite the fact that not everyone “gets it” right now, bloggers really can offer companies and destinations a lot if sponsorships/partnerships are approached in the right way.

Learn more about working with brands/tourism boards

 

Curious to learn even MORE about working with travel brands and tourism boards?

If you liked this post, then you should check out the in-depth course I've created all about successfully pitching and working with travel brands and tourism boards.

Bloggers, Brands, and Tourism Boards: A Guide to Successful Partnerships consists of 29 lessons, expert interviews with bloggers and PR professionals, and worksheets covering everything from developing and pitching ideas to delivering and following up on effective campaigns. The course also includes best practices for working with brands and destinations, a detailed lesson on how to create a media kit, a LOT of sample pitches, and a look at social campaigns and brand ambassadorships and how to land them.

Check out the course here.

 

"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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242 Comments on “How to Work with Tourism Boards

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  1. These are some great tips Amanda. I’ve never tried pitching any tourism boards, because it’s always seemed a little overwhelming to me. But after reading your post it doesn’t seem like it would be as painful as I once thought. By the way I love the cover photo for your media kit.

      Thanks, Alouise! Everything regarding blogging was overwhelming to me at first — figuring out wordpress, moving to a self-hosted site, dealing with advertisers, crafting sponsorship pitches… But you know what? It’s all been SO worth it to figure out.

      And no, it’s really not very painful at all, once you get one or two under your belt! 🙂

        Do you have a good self-hosting service you recommend? I’ll be using WordPress, but what’s a good hosting site? (godaddy, bluehost, etc.)

          I use Bluehost, though I do have server issues and downtime with them from time to time. If I were to switch, it would probably be to Hostgator or Media Temple. (Though, to be fair, no server will ever have 100% uptime!)

    Hey Amanda, really quality write-up here. Thanks for the tips and the example pitch. I really like your pitch as it lays everything out really clear for the tourism board (actually, a specific person on the tourism board) so it makes their decision easier. From a business standpoint, they are always looking at their ROI, and so stating what they will get in return was definitely the way to go. If you make it a win-win for both sides, they will be much more likely to accept a proposal. Cheers! 🙂

      Thanks, Ryan! Hopefully it will be helpful to others. I’m glad you liked the addition of the sample pitch! I know it’s something I’ve always wished others would include in these sorts of how-to posts.

      And yes, the key is definitely figuring out how you can make the sponsorship win-win for both parties involved. It should never be one-sided, otherwise it’s not really a partnership at all. I’ve found that laying out pitches like this has gotten me quite a few positive responses lately!

    Great stuff Amanda….I’ve had some success in this area for my blog, but it is definitely a learning process. This post certainly helps!

      Great to hear! Like I said, I’m certainly no authority, but I’m always happy to share the knowledge that I do have.

    Great guide, Amanda! The most important bit, in my mind, is making sure that the trip fits in line with your blog! I’ve seen other writers try to score (and succeed) as much free stuff as possible but, really, that’s not the idea. It’s about running a quality blog with relevant content! Some excellent tips here!

      EXACTLY, Jeremy. Sure, as a blogger it’s sometimes relatively easy to score discounts and freebies when you travel. But just because you can get it doesn’t mean you should. I, for example, would not be likely to accept a luxury press trip, because that’s not really what I’m about, and it’s not what my readers would want to read about.

      Also, I don’t think you should accept anything free unless you plan to write about it without making it sound like an advertorial.

    Not something that I’m likely to do, but this is interesting stuff. Thanks for sharing.

    I’m bookmarking this article. Someday, if I can improve my content and develop a niche, I hope I can use the tips here.

    Obviously, with a 29 day trip planned to a destination that isn’t cheap, I have thought about this a lot. I’ve decided not to try and pitch myself, because, quite frankly, my numbers are way too low to even think about trying to find sponsored opportunities. Numbers are hard to gage, I have no idea how to find out how many subscribers I have, and for a blog that averages over 100 views a day, I only average a comment every 90 views or so, and that seems low.

    I’ve been offered some opportunities in the past, but I have a feeling that those offers have been from places that offer every blogger they can find the same opportunity.

    But thanks for the road map, maybe sometime in the future, I’ll be able to use it.

    p.s. Smart and concise- I think the TBEX people would be wise to look at this post when picking speakers or small group leaders- you would be excellent.

      Definitely don’t count yourself out, Erik! You’ll never know the answer if you don’t pitch at all. 😉

      And thanks for the kind words about the article. I’m not sure that I’m TBEX-speaker worthy, but that was nice of you to say anyway.

    Great information, Amanda. Thanks for sharing.

    Good article and recommendations. I appreciate your willingness to share from your own experiences. I admire your pitch, hook and style.

    After three years of blogging I believe I’m there with a growing influence and next years adventure will produce some pitches while in the planning.

    Thanks.

      I don’t see any point in not sharing what I’ve learned with others. 🙂 Glad to be able to help. Good luck with those pitches!

    I have just starting pitching select tourism boards and have been totally surprised at the success I have had so far. Though, I do agree with The World of Deej, it is a learning process. I have changed my pitch letter and approach a dozen times. And now that I’ve seen yours, I might have to alter it a dozen more 😉

      Congrats on your success so far, Annette! I’ve had some luck recently, too, which has been really surprising, yet exciting. And believe me, I’m still learning, too!

    Wow, thanks for posting this! It’s definitely a topic I’ve been very curious to learn more about. Especially loved the actual email you sent as I’m a very visual/hands-on examples person as well.

      I love visual aids, so I’m glad to hear that that sample pitch is helpful to others, too!

    Great post! Love the detail– including your pitch email. This is super helpful for bloggers looking to work with tourism boards. I find that some boards and companies are more open than others to working with bloggers. It never hurts to contact them and see if they are interested 🙂

      Yes, you’re definitely right that some boards are far more receptive than others, Leslie. But, like you said, it never hurts to contact them! Because you never know if you don’t ask.

    I’ve pitched a ton of companies, with moderate success. My advice is always this… if you never ask, the answer will always be “no”. So go for it!

    This is such an informative post, Amanda! Your tips are just what I needed. Being new to the world of travel blogging I have often wondered about such things. Am definitely gonna give it a try. Thanks for sharing!

      I wondered about these things for a long time too, and eventually decided to learn just by trial and error! So I’m happy to be able to pass on what I’ve learned so it’ll hopefully help others like yourself!

    Great tips!! My only complaint is that you didn’t publish this sooner – like before I started reaching out to everyone throughout the Caucasus and Central Asia. 🙂

    I think it is important to keep in mind that this whole blogging thing and working with bloggers is very new (or even unheard of) in many parts of the world (I am definitely finding that out now). Do you ever find yourself making a plug for blogging/social media in general when you are pitching?

      Haha, sorry I didn’t post it sooner, Katie! I didn’t really think anyone would want any advice from me, though, until I started getting some of these questions recently…

      And yes, I do sometimes find myself making a plug for blogging/social media when I’m pitching. I didn’t feel a need to for Ottawa since their media page was welcoming and they have a good presence on Facebook and Twitter. But in other pitches I have pointed out the benefits of blogging over traditional media — that bloggers provide both immediate coverage while they travel, and then more coverage after the trip. While a print journalist may produce 1 or 2 stories for publications after a 5-day press trip, a blogger might do 5 or 6 and also throw in a video. Blogging is also more flexible, too, in that usually a blogger isn’t “on assignment” from an editor with a story idea already in mind before they arrive at a destination, meaning they have a bit more freedom in the content they ultimately produce.

    Great actionable advice, Amanda!
    I think the point of the media kit is currently underestimated. Many companies and tourism boards will not be able (or willing) to go look through a blog or website to find out more about a travel blogger that contacts them. Being able to send a concise, yet compelling media kit could definitely make a difference.
    Thanks for sharing.

      I definitely agree about the media kit, David. I just started using one recently, and the response has been great. It makes it so easy for a PR person to get an overview of my blog without them having to lift a finger, which I think they really appreciate.

      Thanks for reading!

    This is really helpful Amanda! I love step by step guides like this. Pitching these agencies always seemed so intimidating to me. Thanks for breaking it down to an easier, more managable process.

      You are very welcome, John! I know how intimidating pitching can be (from experience!) so I figured there definitely would be an audience for this post.

    Great tips Amanda! I’ve been doing something similar and have received positive responses from the majority of tourist boards I’ve approached. I have never been invited on a press trip either but doing things on an individual basis works out much better for me and it probably would for most bloggers.