With the Travel Media Awards set to take place at The Dorchester, London on Monday 26 September, we catch up with a few of the finalists to find out what working in travel media is really like.

What do you think are the biggest challenges of working in this sector? 

Jessica Vincent – Young Writer of the Year

For me, the biggest challenge right now is balancing the environmental and social costs of being a travel writer. I love what I do, but I know that travelling full time has a significant impact on the planet, as does influencing thousands of readers to visit a destination.

Another challenge is making this career work financially. Freelance travel writing in the UK continues to be underpaid. I’m often asked to author articles and speak at events for free or expected to cover my own travel expenses for a commission that barely covers a day’s work. If we’re going to build a sustainable and impactful travel media industry, we need to find a way to pay writers fairly for their work.

 Alexandra (Zanny) Steffgen — Young Writer of the Year

Travel is a uniquely personal experience that impacts both the traveller and the community they visit. One challenge of working in travel media is balancing the needs and desires of the potential travellers with those of the communities they visit — such as knowing if, and when, to share a hidden gem destination and how to respect locals while travelling and writing about it.

Jessica Prupas — Young Writer of the Year

Precarity and frequently low pay. It may be a fun job, but to retain talent in the sector, the fun rewards need to come with financial incentives and contractual stability!

Lucy Perrin — Young Writer of the Year

Finding an angle that’s unique enough to stand out and has not been done a thousand times before while still appealing to a wide audience.

Stuart Kenny – Young Writer of the Year/ Sustainability Travel Feature of the Year

Is your story worth the carbon footprint that will be required to write it? There should and will always be a place for excellent travel writing focused on topics other than sustainability. It’s crucial, and beautiful, to be able to tell the stories of unique cultures that allow you to lean into your curiosity and add to that sense of global connectivity, but this question remains important regardless of your story subject. It’s a question that encourages you to focus on what you’re passionate about and to seek out the absolute best stories in travel. It’s also a question that will result in you turning down some lovely press trips, though.

Aside from that… should you write for anyone and everyone, or only publications you’re morally aligned with? If the latter, are you writing in an echo chamber? And are you going to be able to pay your bills if you decide to focus on a topic you feel particularly passionate about? Salary jobs are far from universal, and the freelance world can be daunting, so particularly when you’re getting started it can take a lot of demanding work and resilience to establish yourself in travel media. Luckily, it’s not a job that’s hard to get passionate about.

Lisa Grainger – Sustainability Travel Feature of the Year

Balancing the desire — we all must travel with the realities of climate change. Some destinations we must fly to, which creates huge amount of carbon. But the travel industry in those areas keeps millions of people in work: it provides funds to protect their forest and their wildlife, it protects their traditional livelihoods, so they don’t have to go to cities for work, it provides them with money to give their children education. Working in the luxury sector is particularly hard. But being inside it, I hope to be able to shine a light on people who are doing remarkable things — through responsible travel, through community and conservation initiatives and through philanthropic ventures — so that those who are lucky enough to have money can spend it wisely when the travel. They can make a difference, rather than contributing to the destruction of the planet.

Mark Parren Taylor – Photography Award

The skills that we’ve always relied on — creativity, adaptability, patience — seem to be needed by the truckload in this new normal age. In a world where little seems to go to plan, the ability to predict what the travel trends will be next month (let alone next year) seems well out of reach to me. A photographer relies on the ability to see a few seconds into the future, to be able to anticipate actions and reactions. Unfortunately, that is about as far as I can see in most aspects of my life now! Our biggest, most pressing challenge (and I know it is understood) is to continue to champion sustainability, diversity, and purpose-led and regenerative travel.

Mike MacEacheran – Sustainability Travel Feature of the Year

The competition, at least as a freelancer. Unlike journalists in other fields, travel writers exist on a weird plain where anyone else can parachute in and — for better or worse — do the same job. Add in a wealth of influencers, bloggers and part-timers who have other gigs (from radio hosts to comedians, novelists, scriptwriters, designers, teachers, PRs, you name it) and the competition while pitching for one-off assignments, listicles and guidebooks is relentless. This is a pie-in-the-sky job, though, so I don’t blame anyone for wanting to do it. It just means it’s a shark pool and you need skin as thick as whale shark. That last bit’s another challenge, especially as I am a wee timorous beastie.

Shafik Meghji – Sustainability Travel Feature of the Year

From the point of view of writers, editors and photographers — shrinking rates and commissioning budgets. More generally, the impact of the climate emergency and looming economic crisis on the industry.

 Jamie Lafferty – Photography Award

It’s hard to know where to begin. From a money point of view, wages have been in decline for years. In 14 years in the industry, I’ve had a single rate improvement, some have remained stagnant, while others have dwindled. We were not keeping pace with inflation before the current crises and now we are in a tailspin. Many titles — even long-running and reputable ones — refuse to pay for original photography, further diminishing the industry by relying on cheap agency shots. The unending uncertainty of travel plus the cost-of-living mess means that even organising the trips is becoming more challenging, occasionally tipping into being impossible. I’m saying this as someone who’s experienced: even putting the basics together is nightmarish unless you give yourself over entirely to an agenda-driven PR. Additionally, simply getting responses from editors can be eye-wateringly difficult. I have made enough of a nuisance of myself to have a reputation in the business and I still get ghosted or ignored every month. So, there is all of this, then the exhaustion, the isolation and the personal expense, plus the manifold horrors of working with accounts departments. I dare not start talking about the editing process. On top of all that, there are influencers snarling and snapping at our heels, eating up budgets for shallow sponsored content. If I had my time again, I would get a boob job, work on my selfie game, and retire rich at 40.

Karolina Wiercigroch – Photography Award

For me, it’s important to think about the impact that travel media may have on the destinations we’re portraying. There’s a lot to keep in mind: sustainability, local economies, overtourism, the need to decolonise travel content. Sometimes it seems like it would be easier to stop travelling altogether, but since travel does not seem to be going away anytime soon, I’m trying to do my best to create content that respects and represents the places I visit.

What destinations are on your travel wish list for the future?

Jessica Vincent – Young Writer of the Year

I’m headed to Bhutan in September [ED: or this month?] to walk the Trans Bhutan Trail, a dream of mine since seeing the nation’s Himalayan-backed monasteries on TV as a teenager. Thanks to The Best British Travel Writing of the 21st Century, Malawi, Iraqi Kurdistan and walking the England Coast Path are also on my list.

Alexandra (Zanny) Steffgen – Young Writer of the Year

My travel writing revolves around the places in the world that call to me at any time. At this phase of life, those places are Jordan, Turkey, Argentina and Slovenia. Some of those destinations fascinate me because of their history, others catch my attention because of their wines!

Jessica Prupas – Young Writer of the Year

Japan has long been my number one. I’m also keen on Beirut and Central Asia generally.

Lucy Perrin – Young Writer of the Year

Japan and South Korea are top of the list for 2023.

Stuart Kenny – Young Writer of the Year/ Sustainability Travel Feature of the Year 

I wouldn’t say I have a travel wish list, but I’m particularly interested in areas where responsible tourism is resulting in the establishment of circular, nature-based economies that help both local communities and biodiversity thrive. It was great to see the Albanian government commit to turning the Vjosa into Europe’s first Wild River National Park earlier this year, and it will be interesting to see what happens there next. There are also interesting examples of how tourism is helping to protect bear and wolf habitats in the mountains of northern Greece and central Sweden, and there’s a fantastic project in Mongolia that’s empowering local women by training them as guides. I always love exploring Scotland, too. I’d like to get out to the new gravel trails in Aberfoyle soon, and there are a bunch of fantastic snorkel trails that I think are well worth exploring.

 Lisa Grainger – Sustainability Travel Feature of the Year

Saudi Arabia; it’s had such repressive regimes for so long, and I’m told it is changing. I want to see with my own eyes whether it is — or whether the talk of them ‘opening up’ to tourism and democracy is just PR. I would love to visit Socotra [an island in Yemen]; I’m told it’s wild and beautiful. I want to walk through Japan, staying in historic inns — it seems to me a dream way of exploring their culture (and food!) And next year I’m going to Antarctica for the first time: it’s somewhere I’ve wanted to visit all my life, as I’m obsessed with wildlife and whales. I’m going on a ship with scientists on board, so I cannot wait.

Mark Parren Taylor – Photography Award

East and southeast Asian destinations have always been in the top ten of my wish list (which, let’s face it, is an inventory of everywhere in the world) … and now that borders are opening and rules are being relaxed it’s time I started looking at combined, one-flight-only trips to Laos and Vietnam, for example. Even though places like Seoul and Singapore are becoming easier to visit again, the cities closest to my heart, Tokyo and Hong Kong, are still tricky for one reason or another. That said, recently I’ve been sent on assignments to parts of the UK and just over the water to France and Belgium—and, like so many people, I’ve been reminded (and if I’m honest, astonished that I’ve been so generally ignorant) how glorious many places that are on our doorsteps really are.

I have another (up until now secret!) wish list, though, and it’s of experiences that somehow, I cannot ever imagine being lucky enough to enjoy, from taking the luxury train to Machu Picchu to eating my way through the street food of Kolkata and visiting a tulou roundhouse in China’s Fujian province.

Mike MacEacheran — Sustainability Travel Feature of the Year 

I’m lucky in that I’ve travelled far and wide. And where I go these days is always driven by a strong story hook or sense of purpose and what will best pay my bills. I receive about 20 or so press invites a week on average, which is hugely flattering, but I certainly don’t have the time for all of them. I often tend to write about the same destinations, too, so places I would love to go to help with that — and for purely selfish reasons — are St Kilda, Northern Norway, Maritime Canada, the Dolomites, and all ski resorts. Plus, I would love to go on a multi-day kayaking or river rafting trip (PRs hit me up!). Oh, and if any editors are reading this, then I can guarantee strong hooks and exclusive content for all commissions.

Shafik Meghji — Sustainability Travel Feature of the Year 

Guyana, Bosnia,and Madagascar are all high on my list.

 Jamie Lafferty — Photography Award

I’ve moved away from ticking countries off lists, but I still like visiting places I’ve never been to before. To that end: Mongolia, North Korea, Timor-Leste and Bhutan would all be good. I’d like to see Taiwan before the inevitable, too. I hesitated when I had chances to see Lebanon, Syria, Ukraine, and Yemen, so there’s probably some kind of lesson there. Other than that, I’m interested in extremely remote islands so Rapa Nui, Pitcairn, Tristan da Cunha, Macquarie and Socotra.

 Karolina Wiercigroch — Photography Award

I’m planning a sailing trip of the islands around Sicily and a culinary escapade to Oman later this year. I’m also looking to explore more stories around the UK, like the increasingly interesting English wine scene or the renaissance of British truffle hunting.

 

Do you think travel reporting will change over the next few years? 

Jessica Vincent — Young Writer of the Year

I hope so! We’re at an important crossroads in travel writing, where we’re finally talking about the use of colonial language and underrepresentation in travel media. But there’s still a long way to go. I hope travel writing, and travel itself, will grow to be more sensitive toward the destinations and communities we’re visiting. With more conscious and diverse travel writing being published, I hope more of us will see travel writing for what it should and can be: an accessible medium through which people everywhere can better understand the world around them.

Alexandra (Zanny) Steffgen — Young Writer of the Year

I think travel reporting will be heavily impacted by climate change in the next few years. Some destinations may no longer exist, others may not be viable due to extreme weather, and I think travellers will start adapting their travel to rely less on airplanes. Travel reporting will naturally shift along with these changes.

 Jessica Prupas — Young Writer of the Year

As publications struggle to keep afloat, I understand the temptation to SEO-chase or pivot to video. But I’m hoping longer-form, first-person features don’t completely fall by the wayside. I’ve seen a heartening rise in independent publishers who are trying to preserve the form, and I think that’s cool.

 Lucy Perrin — Young Writer of the Year

The move from print to digital will continue to pick up pace, which will impact everything from the topics we cover to the format they take.

 Stuart Kenny — Young Writer of the Year/ Sustainability Travel Feature of the Year 

There’s obviously been a significant shift towards telling more stories rooted in sustainability in the last few years, and I’m sure that will continue. As I mentioned, it’s obviously crucial that we continue to tell other stories, too, but the media plays such a significant part in framing the narrative of wider conversation that it does have a responsibility to discuss both the pros and substantial cons of travel. I believe that tourism can be a powerful force for good — distributing wealth, protecting nature and supporting local economies — but that’s not the norm. There’s still so much tourism that overcrowds cities and has no measurable, positive impact for locals. I’d like to see travel that benefits local communities pushed more often, with the same energy that we’ve pushed train travel up the agenda.

I’m not sure I know enough about the way mainstream media is run to predict where it will go next, but the best way to predict the future is to create it. Hopefully we’ll see that continued focus on positive, regenerative tourism. There’s a James Baldwin quote that I like, which reads: “You write in order to change the world, knowing perfectly well you probably can’t, [but] the world changes according to the way people see it, and if you alter, even by a millimetre, the way people look at reality, then you can change it.” I would like to be part of an industry trying to move it in the right direction.

Lisa Grainger – Sustainability Travel Feature of the Year

As digital becomes more important in all our lives, I think it will. Films are becoming increasingly important, as is social media. But I hope — having been a journalist all my life — that the public still trusts great publications, with strict rules about honesty and objectivity. I know I only read reviews by journalists that I trust — I hope that the public does the same.

Mark Parren Taylor – Photography Award

I’m fairly certain that travel reporting is changing dramatically already, before our very eyes — it seems to have gone through several versions of itself since early 2020, as the industry has adapted and re-adapted to an ever-changing outlook. But in the medium term, and certainly from the viewpoint of a jobbing travel photographer, my own work is becoming slower, gentler, and perhaps wistful, observing little moments, and taking pleasure in quirky, short-lived experiences (something perhaps that we all have learnt to do as we face last-minute cancellations, stand in lengthy queues, and are confronted with unexpected bureaucracy and half-empty shelves). Little things have started to matter again, and though I’ve always found a romance in enjoying them, it seems to me that these days it’s OK to share that romance with others!

 Mike MacEacheran – Sustainability Travel Feature of the Year

Editors are increasingly relying on writers already on the ground, rather than send a freelancer. This is exactly what’s needed to encourage sustainable travel right from the source and combat negative climate effects. It’s long overdue, in fact. But it adds to the squeeze and is certainly making life tougher for a self-employed travel hack like me.

 Shafik Meghji — Sustainability Travel Feature of the Year

Travel writing has (gradually and belatedly) started to diversify over the last few years and I think that process will continue, not merely in terms of personnel but also the types of stories covered. I also hope we see greater engagement with issues such as the climate emergency and human rights, along with honest assessments of the role played by the travel industry.

Jamie Lafferty — Photography Award

Everything hinges on me getting commissioned lots and lots. If that happens then I think we will just about survive. Otherwise, I think it will move deeper into sponsored content, declared and otherwise, and stories so corrupted by SEO that they will barely be legible. I’d like to think the pandemic has taught us something about the value of deeper thought and thorough reportage, but that doesn’t look to be the way things are going.

Karolina Wiercigroch — Photography Award

With tighter budgets, stronger environmental concerns and some changes already forced by the pandemic, it looks like the travel reporting industry is on a trajectory to scale down: use local journalists and photographers, when possible, stay in destinations for longer when flying long-haul and combine writing with photography. Personally, I’m doing an increasing number of writing assignments on top of photography and am trying to find more remarkable stories closer to home.

 

 TRAVEL MEDIA AWARDS – LAST FEW TICKETS REMAINING

The Travel Media Awards 2022 will take place on 26 September at The Dorchester.

The event will begin at 6.30pm with a champagne reception, with the award ceremony starting at 7.15pm. A networking after-party will follow, with drinks and canapes served.