Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

Grantourismo: a business model for travel journalism?

Posted in Entrepreneurial Journalism by Adam Westbrook on March 14, 2011

Alright for some. Image credit: Sarah_Ackerman on Flickr

[NOTE: Lara Dunston, mentioned below, has added some thoughts/corrections to this post & comments – click here to read]

Hold the plane! Someone might just have found a way to make travel journalism pay.

If so, it’s big news for wannabe travel writers the world over, pursuing that elusive dream: to travel the world and get paid to write about it. It’s an area of professional journalism that has declined in the digital age: cheap air travel combined with Flickr, blogs and Youtube, has removed the exclusivity (and therefore value) of being somewhere exotic. Meanwhile, struggling publications have found it harder to justify the flights, visas and travel costs for writers.

Last summer it certainly had a few of us stumped. I held a Future of News bootcamp on travel journalism back in July 2010, where we tried to come up with new approaches to the idea. We came close to something, I feel, focusing on creating a community around a location or travel niche, and selling ‘actionable’ products around our journalism.

But a couple from Australia have come up with another approach, which has been successful a lot more quickly.

The brainchild of writer and photographer duo Lara Dunston and Terence Carter, GranTourismo is a 12 month global journey around the world. According to the blurb on the official website:

They’ll be travelling slowly, living like locals, doing and learning things and giving something back at each destination they visit. Their mission is to explore more authentic ways of travelling and make travel more meaningful and more memorable.

How’s it being funded? Well, they’ve secured a ‘partnership’ with London based travel company HomeAway Holiday Rentals, who are paying for fees and expenses for the trip, and putting Lara and Terence up in their rental properties wherever they go. It’s probably one of the first times professional travel writers have been paid directly by a travel company.

Lara & Terence of GranTourismo

In an in-depth account on the tnooz blog, Lara describes how the idea came about:

Terence and I started developing Grantourismo a few years ago, as a personal travel experiment aimed at exploring more enriching ways to travel. The project grew out of frustrations with our work as travel writers, as much as with how we observed people travel, speeding through places ticking off sights…

…The question was which companies to approach to present our project. I was fine-tuning our proposal in July 2009 when I spotted HomeAway Holiday-Rentals’ advertisement on TravMedia calling for a writer-photographer team to work on a similar but more ambitious marketing project. We responded and over the course of a few months persuaded HomeAway Holiday-Rentals to go with our project instead.

A few enterprising themes are revealed here: it’s a project that’s been developed for a long time, born out of a frustration (or pain) about something; and even once HomeAway Holiday-Rentals were approached, the deal took a few months to broker.

So far, so good. But what about editorial independence?

…from the outset we made it clear to HomeAway Holiday-Rentals that we had to have complete editorial control so that the content would not be construed as advertorial. If it was, then their credibility, as much as ours, would be on the line…This, we believed, was essential to establishing our readers’ trust and maintaining the integrity of the project.

A model for the future?

What’s quite promising about Lara and Terence’s model is that it is replicable: it can be used by journalists and photographers (and even film makers) in a near infinite number of ways, in an unlimited number of places. Lara says they’ve already been approached by wine producers who want to use their skills for a wine-specific campaign.

In an interview with Traveling Savage, Lara says it’s a growing trend:

Travel companies will increasingly be exploring direct partnerships with writers/bloggers in order to develop innovative, attention-grabbing projects and cut out the middle man (the editor) so the company knows what kind of coverage they’re going to get. Freelance writers will be increasingly seeking to work directly with companies as the industry becomes even more competitive, as will bloggers, because they’re always looking for ways to monetize their sites. These partnerships can be tricky things to negotiate, however, so writers/bloggers need to take care to ensure that they maintain their credibility, especially if they want to continue to work in the media: professionalism and ethics are everything.

It’s only one way to do it

On the flip-side however, it’s one that’s very dependent upon other people. If you can’t get a ‘partner’ to back you, you might as well put the passport back in the drawer. Lara says there’s no other advertising on the site, which takes away much growth potential if the audience grows.

It also means there’s little benefit for the pair in growing an active, vibrant community around their content. That was the breakthrough with our London bootcamp in 2010. We figured if you’re creating valuable content inside a specific niche within travel journalism (gay/children/eco-friendly are the first three which spring to mind) you can build up a small, but loyal base of readers. From there you can develop sponsored newsletters, sell products (photographs, ebooks etc) and wrangle affiliate deals with all sorts of travel firms. (See Lara’s comments for more on this.)

If you aim to become a thought-leader in your niche, rather than just ‘the water here’s lovely’ type writing then you can really make an impact, change lives and develop a sustainable brand.

That, of course, takes time; and if  there’s one thing to be said for the GranTourismo model, it got them travelling pretty quickly.

So what do you think? Is this a new way to do travel journalism in the digital age? Is it worth cutting out the middle-man? Or is it a lucky luxury the new media age just can’t support? Leave your comments below!

Hattip: Craig McGinty on Twitter


7 Responses

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  1. Prime said, on March 16, 2011 at 4:53 am

    I don’t see anything new about The Grantourismo project. It reminds me on reality shows on tv – but this time delivered via the internet. It also relies too much on advertising – I’m uncomfotable with any business that only has one revenue stream.

    My position on entrepreneurial travel journalism is similar to yours – “creating valuable content inside a specific niche within travel journalism (gay/children/eco-friendly are the first three which spring to mind) you can build up a small, but loyal base of readers.” And from there, develop products and services that will appeal to that market niche. Which is why when thinking about the future of travel journalism and whether it can be profitable., I think about Evelyn Hannon of Journeywoman.com. She continues to dominate the “woman travel” niche (and she’s been in cyberspace years before everyone and her mother got a travel blog) and makes a good living out of it.

    • Adam Westbrook said, on March 17, 2011 at 9:16 am

      I agree, a single revenue stream is not a healthy way to run a business. As I said in the post, it’s not particularly scalable.

      Thanks for suggesting JourneyWoman – definitely filling a gap inside a niche…but maybe she could do with redesigning the site!

      Thanks for your comment🙂

    • lara dunston said, on March 22, 2011 at 4:25 pm

      A few corrections:
      1. There’s a lot that’s new about Grantourismo, but you can read our Project page on the site and take a read of the site. I doubt you’ll find anything else like it.
      2. The project has nothing to do with a reality show. Again, read the Project page.
      3. Grantourismo does not have any advertising at all.
      4. Grantourismo does not not have one revenue stream. We are professional travel writers who have been writing on travel for a decade for some of the world’s best publications, from National Geographic Traveler to Wanderlust, The Telegraph to The Independent. We didn’t stop working as travel writers during the first year of Grantourismo and we’re busier than ever now.

  2. lara dunston said, on March 22, 2011 at 4:43 pm

    Hi Adam

    The last comment I posted was intended for Prime, but despite clicking ‘reply’ to her comment, it appeared where it has.

    This comment is in response to your post:

    There are some mistakes in your post that I need to correct:
    1. We’re not from the U.S. We’re Australians who’ve lived in the Middle East since 1998, and on the road since 2006.
    2. HomeAway Holiday-Rentals did not only pay for our flights and accommodation, but paid us a fee and expenses.
    3. There’s no advertising on the site. Full stop. Not ‘other’.
    4. There’s no “if” – the audience has been steadily growing since we began the site/project in January 2010 and continues to build. There’s been a very nice momentum these past couple of months.
    5. You say: “It also means there’s little benefit for the pair in growing an active, vibrant community around their content.” In fact, we have a very active, vibrant community of loyal and engaged readers who visit every time we post new content, participate in our monthly competitions, and engage with us on Twitter. And there’s a long list of benefits from this aside from the fact that it’s just wonderful to interact with like-minded individuals who believe in the same things we do.
    6. “It” got us travelling pretty quickly – are you referring to Grantourismo? We’ve been travelling constantly for more than 20 years and working as professional travel writers for a decade, so nothing new there. Grantourismo didn’t *get* us travelling, but rather was the motivation for us to experiment with different forms of travelling.

    You refer to comments I made about being approached by various companies in wine tourism. In fact, we’ve been approached by an array of tourism bodies and organizations, but for now, we’ve returned to complete a book we began prior to Grantourismo took over our lives and we’re frantically busy working on half a dozen magazine stories. Travel journalism *does* pay. It never stopped paying for some, but that’s another post, isn’t it?

    all the best,
    Lara

    • Adam Westbrook said, on March 22, 2011 at 5:01 pm

      Hi Lara,
      Thanks for corrections. I’ve edited where appropriate and signposted this comment at the top of the article.🙂

  3. lara dunston said, on March 22, 2011 at 4:44 pm

    Woops! Correction to my own text: “prior to Grantourismo *taking* over our lives”. Sorry, in a hurry – deadlines!

  4. Paola Vizcaino said, on April 9, 2011 at 11:34 pm

    Hello! I have found Grantourismo’s model quite interesting, since it is opening new partnerships between tourism companies and professional journalists / bloggers. I hope Lara and Terrence find it a rewarding experience. I wanted to share my own project – which is still on the planning phase – and get some feedback from Adam and Lara if possible. I’m not a travel journalist, but a tourism-professional who has worked on tourism planning initiatives for the public sector in Mexico and Spain (more recently as a freelance consultant). Last year, I got married and moved to Galicia – northern Spain. I have completely fallen in love with the region (I’m originally from Mexico). Even though Galicia is famous for the Way of Saint James – and it attracts thousands of pilgrims every year – I get the impression that there are many stereotypes about Galicia, its culture and its people. I would like to promote the region through a Video-blog that covers travel, culture, people, landscape and gastronomy of the region. It would be like an “Internet TV travel show” of some sort. I would make interviews to locals, promote local products (seafood, wine, etc.) and share cultural & natural routes for independent travelers. I guess my main objective would be to share some of the reasons why I have fallen in love with this region, as well as provide insider tips on places to visit, local events, gastronomy and so forth. Do you think I could approach local tourism authorities and companies for sponsorships? Should I also tap on existing online communities about Galicia? Thanks for your insights in advance.


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