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When A Trip Turns Out Bad

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When a trip turns out bad

One thing which distinguishes travel from most (fashion is perhaps the closest) other lifestyle sections in newspapers, magazines or elsewhere is that they almost exclusively contain positive write-ups (excepting regular columns).

The cynical person would say that that’s because no travel journalist wants to upset those who pay their way, and nor do travel sections dare dismay their advertisers. But while there are troubling kernels of truth in both allegations, no travel writer nor travel section of which I know has ever been so constrained that they’ll tell readers that something is great when it’s not.

Which then begs the questions: so what happens when it’s not?

I had an instance in Africa a while ago when I decided that the destination simply wasn’t as alluring or diverse as I’d expected. It still had some upside, though, so in that case I agreed to produce a shorter piece, highlighting the good parts and repositioning the place as somewhere to visit during a multi-stop trip.

More recently, when I was working at the Times, a trusted writer reported back from a new, luxury European hotel she’d been commissioned to cover and said that it simply wasn’t up to scratch. At such times, it rather falls on you PRs and your clients to make a choice. You could either: a) push for the piece that you’re expecting, and say you’re happy to tolerate a scathing write-up, b) cut your losses and agree to abandon the article, reckoning that no publicity trumps bad publicity, or c) try and fudge a solution. In this case, if I remember, the hotel was relegated to a factual list of “new places to stay” in the city, with no sense of it being either recommended or chastised. Less coverage than initially hoped, but still some.

Do travel sections have a responsibility to report on stuff that’s bad, as well as good? Perhaps. But ultimately, whereas restaurants or movies get reviewed, travel tends to be more of a recommendation-based section — even though there is criticism involved. Readers, I would say, predominantly read it for inspiration, rather than to be told where is rubbish.

What Richard Thinks…

“I’m not sure it isn’t cheating, but how can a release entitled ‘Witness the world’s largest orgasm’ not win my weekly gong? Peak work by Sarah Barnett.”

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