I've written here about the blurring of the lines between pro and non-pro travel writers, so I won't repeat it. (The photo shows S. writing up his trip to Disneyland, by the way - he definitely intends to be a writer.)
In a way, making travel writing more democratic is good - it opens up the field and allows fresh insights. But one way in which it's bad, is that more travel writing is now about plugging a particular product - a hotel, a resort - instead of giving a genuine impression of how you found a place or making recommendations you actually want to make. Sort of like McWriting
(photo credit: McD)
It suits most PRs and travel companies to support this, because their aim has always been, naturally, to get the publicity. But it's not that good for readers, or for writers who don't want to write advertorial.
Still, serious and "professional" travel writing carries on, and the reason is numbers. Even a local newspaper might offer 30,000 weekly readers - targeted readers, who will buy local travel products. Nationals, of course, can offer many more. So far, I don't know any blogs that can match that. So PRs and travel suppliers find it worth cultivating professional writers who can get material into reputable print media editorial.
Some of them are very good at it. Earlier this week I went to a French media roadshow and met a colleague who said he'd got seven commissions for a recent three week trip to Australia. That's professionalism.
Anyway, I thought that I'd share this French press event with you, as it's pretty typical and it's a glimpse into the world of travel writing as a business. The aim is to answer any questions journalists might have, tell them about everything new in French holidays, and also advise them about trips the French tourist board is planning.
The event was in a nice central London hotel, so as I clumped in with my cycle helmet and backpack, I admired the flowers in reception. Can't imagine what some hotels spend on flowers.
Then I paid a visit to the ladies room to fix the uncouth impression of "sweaty cyclist" ruining the ambience of their fancy hotel. Wash, comb hair and so on. I very much admired the little hand towels rolled up like sausage rolls and the l'Occitaine hand wash.
My next call was at the cloakroom where I hid away the coat, backpack and helmet, then I set off to meet the regional representatives of various parts of France. I found myself in a suite of rooms lined with desks behind which sat representative of various French regions, and also travel partners with a large business going to and from France. These include BMI, which has just begun a service to Nice, the ferry companies and Rail Europe, which specialises in European train tickets, Eurostar and Interrail.
And there were refreshments, coffee, orange juice, Bonne Maman galettes (this was a French event, after all) wine and dinky little canapes.
Those pointed things look like a mass rally of the Ku Klux Klan but they're actually fancy tea bags I had juice. I didn't feel like drinking wine at 10 AM, although some did. Perhaps they weren't planning to cycle home through London traffic afterwards.
The representatives told me about dozens of things I'd like to write about and see, some of them particularly "French." The exhibition of "Perfumes and Love" at the Grasse Perfume Museum near Nice is bound to be hopelessly glamorous. Some of the perfume factories, like Fragonard, Galimard and Molinard, also offer the chance to blend your own perfumes.
When K was eight, she and I went on a perfume-blending trip to Grasse. Her elegant fragrance (called "Aftershave for Daddy") was so nice that daddy used it all up and wished he had more. We still have the recipe, in case we ever return.
I was also interested in Utopix, in Lozere, a sort of sculpture park where you can make up games and explore the home of the artist-in-residence. The French seem to love attractions based on art for its own sake like this. Any other country, they'd feel obliged to instal electronic games or rides.
Then there's the Hotel le Corbusier in Marseilles... wouldn't mind staying in a real building by the architect whose ideas have blighted countless housing estates worldwide, but undoubtedly had something worthwhile to say..
And if you've ever enjoyed that famous dish, the cassoulet (pork and beans like never before)....
then visit the Fete of Cassoulets at Castelnaudary, in Languedoc-Roussillon.
At the end, people signed up for some of the many scheduled press trips. I don't have too much space in my diary but I did sign up for the chance to attend Lille's 3000th birthday party. just across the Channel on the Eurostar. I hope I get to go. Here is the press trip desk.
And then I put my helmet on again, and went home, with a backpack full of ideas. And, as always with these events, I felt totally inspired, as if I'd like to rush off and get the train to France immediately.
By the way, for anyone who wants to get into the writing or travel writing business, there's a good blog called The Butterflyist written in association with the Guardian newspaper. The writer, Amanda Wren, wanted to create a popular, paying writing blog over six months, and the paper has been charting her progress. If you sign up for email alerts you get a free e-book about how to get your big writing break, the one that will push you into a different league. I haven't yet read my copy of it, but the blog is very engaging and Amanda herself is living proof that her advice works.
And finally, Amanda made me think that a giveaway's a good idea. I did a few for my book on Lewis Carroll and the publishers tell me that it helped sales. But I don't know what to give away. Does anyone have an idea of the kind of giveaway appropriate for this blog?
Don't say it! :)
I mean something practical.