The Ethics of Travel Journalism

Adam Tinworth
Adam Tinworth

Sarah Hartley’s back from some travels:

But as I finished writing up and downloading the pictures of a recent trip to Dublin, I started wondering how aware readers are about how these, often glossy, pieces of journalism come to be in their daily newspapers.
Paid for by the hosting holiday company (cost would obviously make the activity otherwise prohibitive), it could be seen as a semi-commercial activity. In itself perhaps not so much a problem, but do we always make that distinction crystal clear?

A former boss of mine used to describe paid-for trips (alongside assorted other gifts) as “moral hazards”, and he discouraged us from taking them in most circumstances.

Fort Lauderdale sunset

But, as Sarah points out, in this situation a lot of travel journalism just wouldn’t happen, because the costs involved in sending the hack on holiday outweigh the benefit of having the report in the paper. Yet, I’d imagine that the majority of the readers are unaware that these are paid for trips. Of course, there’s another layer in here, in that the travel industry works on the back of the familiarisation trip, or “fam trip”, whereby agents are sent on the holidays people want them to sell to their clients. Travel Weekly‘s B2B journalists will be blogging some of these on its new Postcards blog (still under construction at the time of writing).

But what are the ethical issues here? How would readers feel if they knew that all the trips had been paid for by the company running them?

I’d be interested in what my colleagues from Travel Weekly and Travolution think about this…


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Adam is a lecturer, trainer and writer. He's been a blogger for over 20 years, and a journalist for more than 30. He lectures on audience strategy and engagement at City, University of London.