During my first year in travel writing, I knew very little about regional media events. These are conferences where organizations promote destinations, hotels, and attractions. At these meetings, a writer gets to attend educational sessions, enjoy comped meals at restaurants, visit attractions, and stay in a comped or media-rate hotel.
My first regional media conference was Travel and Words Northwest Travel & Lifestyle Writers Conference. Some media conferences are invitation-only, while others are pay up, show up. Travel and Words was the latter type. I looked over the agenda before signing up and decided it was worth attending. The rate for writers varies depending on if you are in the experienced group ($175), or beginner ($225). Lodging was not covered, but most meals were. Even though I live in Baltimore, I had lived in the Northwest (Alaska, Oregon, Idaho, and Washington) and felt I knew enough to be able to write about the region.
At Travel and Words, held in Walla Walla, WA that year, I met fellow writers, editors, and DMOs (destination marketing organizations) that helped my career significantly. It was there I met Allen Cox, the editor of Northwest Travel and Life Magazine. From that meeting, I had two stories accepted over the next two years. I also got into Meeting News Northwest magazine from attending the event.
Max Hartshorne, the editor at GoNOMAD.com, helped me learn the ropes early on in my career. During my second year in travel writing, he sent me a brief email with a link and said: “Kurt, you should attend this meeting.” The email was about the annual MATPRA (Mid-Atlantic Tourism Public Relations Alliance) conference for visitors bureaus and travel writers in the Mid-Atlantic area. I applied to the meeting held in Winchester, VA, that year. I was thrilled to be accepted. At that meeting, we were hosted at the George Washington Hotel and comped mini-massages, food, and drink.
MATPRA also covered most meals, and we got to meet dozens of DMOs in a marketplace-like event. Most of these regional events feature a marketplace session in a large room where writers sit down with a DMO for 10 minutes (think speed dating) to hear what they have to offer. The DMOs court writers to come and visit their region to eat, drink, stay, and play for free. The only catch is you have to write about your experience. I typically write two or more stories based on my experience from the media trips I’ve attended. Not a bad price to pay for so much fun!
At MATPRA, I landed a media trip to West Virginia, where we stayed at a mountaintop resort with bluegrass music, great food, views to die for, and more (all free). Another DMO invited me to Charlottesville, VA, where I stayed at a luxury resort on the outskirts of town. The food and drink scene in Charlottesville is one of the most underrated on the East Coast, and I found some of the best bakeries in the country to write about from that trip.
There are other regional meetings like Travel South USA that are similar to the above conferences. You should also consider joining a travel writers’ organization like IFWTWA (International Food Wine and Travel Writers Association) and attend their annual conferences. These conferences offer similar opportunities as regional DMO-type travel writer meetings. If you’re serious about advancing in the travel writer’s life, pursue the events mentioned above. Chances are you’ll soon be living a lifestyle you only dreamed of previously.
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