What Do Travel Bloggers Owe the Places That Sustain Them? A Lingering Question from TBEX and TBU

TBEX conference at Keystone, Colorado

A quiet moment at TBEX 2012

This past weekend, I attended the Travel Blog Exchange Conference (TBEX, in bloggers’ lingo), in Keystone, Colorado. And I was blown away—by the organization, by the location (yay, mountains!), by the events, and by the other attendees. I’ll definitely be back.

But, long after the rooms had emptied of their 800 conference-goers, one question lingered in my mind.

We spent the weekend talking about influence. In particular, we spoke about how to grow that influence (seminars included “SEO for Beginners,” “How to Create a Social Media Strategy,” “Email Marketing with Your Newsletter”). And how to turn it into cash (“Monetize Like You Mean It,” “How to Work with Brands,” “Creating a Business with Your Blog”). 

There was little talk about what else we should do with that influence. Other than, of course, getting ridiculously rich off blogging being able to scrape together enough pennies to live (and, hopefully, travel).

This isn’t unique to TBEX. I visited Travel Bloggers Unite (TBU) in Umbria this spring, and the focus was the same: Social influence. Networking. Monetization. All good stuff—but, I think, missing an important part of the puzzle.

Especially as travel bloggers get more and more influential, what we each owe the locations, and people, we write about seems integral to the discussion. I would have loved, for example, some talk of what ethical responsibilities (if any!) come with publicizing “undiscovered” towns or regions. Or with giving further publicity to sites already unhealthily flooded with tourists. Or with how to decide when to write about a big, multinational hotel chain or an independent B&B. Or a chain store or a local artisan


Venice on the Ponte Rialto

Venice’s Ponte Rialto in August


And no, it’s not that each, or any, of us are a Rick Steves, able to single-handedly turn a corner of the world like the Cinque Terre from undiscovered gem to tourist Disneyland destination, where the tiny streets are full of souvenir shops and mediocre restaurants and where tourism’s consequences are damaging the area’s natural resources in concrete, even lethal, ways. (The floods of October 2011, for example, were devastating in large part because as tourism has replaced agriculture, the Cinque Terre’s terraced hills haven’t been maintained—meaning little resistance to the rains).

But, as a community, we do have influence. The same way the travel journalism community does. And that influence is growing.

With that influence, I think, comes responsibility. And it would be fantastic if discussion about this responsibility could be a part of our conversations from the get-go, while the community is still relatively new.

Of course, some of us already think about this, a lot. Some bloggers write about green travel and agritourism; many others make a point to write about “immersion travel,” which seems far more beneficial to local communities, at least to me, than slam-bam-thank-you-ma’am resort stays.

Peacocks at a local farm in Tuscany

Hanging out with peacocks at a cheese farm in Tuscany


Most notably of all, Passports with Purpose—a fantastic nonprofit started by bloggers Beth Whitman of “Wanderlust and Lipstick,” Debbie Dubrow of “Delicious Baby,” Michelle Duffy of “Wander Mom,” and Pam Mandel of “Nerd’s Eye View”—had a huge presence at the conference (and the smarts to lure people to their booth with cupcakes!). Their concept is great: Get the blogging community to rally behind one carefully-chosen project each year. This year, Passports with Purpose is raising $100,000 to fund the construction of five wells in Haiti. I’ll be participating, so keep an eye out on the site for how you can win great, Italy-related prizes.

But I think the conversation about responsibility, and ethics, and what we owe to the communities that we’re so lucky to travel to, live in, and write about, can—and should—extend beyond one (excellent!) cause a year.

Bloggers, travelers, readers: What do you think? Let me know in the comments!

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