Travel marketing writing requires a peculiar set of skills. It’s not strictly journalism, and it’s not ad copywriting either, though it contains elements of both. It’s a bit like sales, though what we’re selling is not a product. Rather, we’re marketing experiences that readers can have when they visit the places we cover. The job of us writers and editors is to get readers as excited about these destinations as we are.
With that in mind, here are a few tips for travel marketing writers (big thanks to editors Shelly Benson, Patrick Rodgers and Janet Fusco for their suggestions):
I. Thou Shalt Know Thy Audience
Aside from web work on LouisianaTravel.com, I edit numerous print guides with distinctly different audiences. For example, the New Orleans Group Travel Planner is for organizers of family reunions, student groups, weddings and the like, and the New Orleans Official Visitors Guide is for general audiences visiting the Big Easy.
What do these groups have in common? They are both interested in visiting New Orleans. Beyond that, though, it’s a little more complicated. Be formal when necessary and be irreverent when the situation calls for it.
II. Thou Shalt Not Offend
Playwright Tennessee Williams famously once said, “America has three cities: New York, San Francisco and New Orleans. Everywhere else is Cleveland.”
Now, New Orleanians love the saying. It speaks to the Big Easy’s reputation as being among America’s quirkiest cities. But what about our visitors from Cleveland? They probably love that quote about as much as they would like to see LeBron James leave the Cavaliers again. And anyway, Cleveland’s awesome! It’s got the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, for cryin’ out loud.
There are infinite ways to interpret an opinion. And travel marketing is all about offering opinions: suggesting the best things to see and do in a variety of venues. That’s a tricky thing — but it’s also part of the fun. Craft your argument in favor of a place to go or event to see, but always consider the myriad ways in which it could be interpreted.
III. Thou Shalt Be Brief
A friend from Tennessee recently visited New Orleans. Before she and her husband arrived, she emailed me with a seemingly innocent question: “What are some good restaurants?”
I spent the following half-hour composing a novella’s worth of recommendations, and would have written more had my fingers not cramped up.
As fun as it is to write those emails, it’s not practical to do so within the constraints of a print guide or travel blog. Tell a story well, and tell it succinctly.
IV. Thou Shalt Embrace Thy Inner Goofball
In the travel marketing world, puns, rhymes and alliteration are your friends. Why? Because they are fun, and travel is fun. If you’re writing about climbing mountains in Colorado, describe it as a “peak” experience. In an article about shopping options, employ the word “shopper-tunities.” And so on. You may cause a few eye rolls, but at least you won’t be boring.
V. Thou Shalt Exalt Virtues Great and Small
Countless other travel writers and I have written extensively about the charms of New Orleans’ French Quarter, and will continue to do so. It’s not because that’s the only place in New Orleans worth visiting. It’s because, after 300 years and countless articles extoling its virtues, people still want to go there.
Tempting though it may be for travel writers to cover lesser-known spots, we have to keep the readers — particularly first-time visitors — in mind. If they have a short amount of time here, they should see the marquee highlights as well as the more out-of-the-way destinations. Having that mix is essential.
VI. Thou Shalt Write of Sensory Details
You climbed a snowcapped mountain in Washington? Cool! Tell readers about the scent of snow and Douglas firs. Kayaking through a remote mangrove swamp in the Everglades? Wow! Now what kind of critters did you hear?
You get the idea. Sensory details help place the reader right where you are and, more importantly, where they want to be.
VII. Thou Shalt Not Plagiarize
You’ll possibly lose your job. You will definitely lose the respect of your peers. Like a hotel that gets a TripAdvisor review warning readers of a bedbug infestation, plagiarizing is the kind of negative PR that will follow you for a long, long time.
VIII. Thou Shalt Highlight Specific Attributes that Lend Themselves to a Broader Understanding of a Place
Remember coming home from a trip and telling (eh, bragging) to your friends and loved ones about it? You didn’t just say, for example, “We went Iceland and had a nice time.” Rather, you tell them about the incredible lobster bisque you ate in Reykjavik, and how you hitchhiked with a guy from Akureyri who had a pet crow. And so on.
These kinds of details give a glimpse into the overall experience of the place and its people. We’re in the storytelling business, after all, and good travel marketing writing is about revealing something deeper about a place than just where to go and what to see.
IX. Thou Shalt Not Confuse Flowery Writing with Good Writing
Ah, purple prose. It flitters across the page like a garish flower petal, over-scented with the saccharine sweetness of jasmine-honeysuckle rose.
What the heck’s that mean? Never mind; please just don’t write like that. Trust Mark Twain’s advice: “When you catch an adjective, kill it.”
X. Thou Shalt Keep Readers Within Your Realm
You’re not just writing for yourself, but for your readers and your client as well. When writing for a client’s website (e.g. LouisianaTravel.com), there are almost always related stories on the site worth linking to. Those articles serve dual purposes: they inform readers of other travel details and opportunities, while simultaneously boosting your client’s web stats.
With that in mind, here are a few other articles in the Miles blogosphere worth checking out: John Deleva’s tale of almost visiting all 50 states (missing West Virginia — ?), Melissa Bartolos’ car talk about summer road trips and Steven Keith’s piece about creating successful blog posts.