Who wouldn’t want to stay in hotels for free and write about it? In my four years of travel writing, I’ve managed to have 100 hotel feature articles published on two websites, and one magazine. Most of those hotel stays were comps, many of which I found by contacting the hotel directly. Some of the visits have been in Spartan lodgings, while others have been in the lap of luxury. Here’s how I did it.
First, a little history is in order. I used to work as a professional cook and baker for 20 years. During that career, I worked at a few restaurants inside hotels. When I contact hotels, I often stress I am not seeking a room during high-occupancy dates to make it less costly to host me. I let them know I used to work for a couple of hotels and understand their situation. Off-season travel is my preference, and mid-week stays are okay with me if they can’t comp a weekend.
To get the ball rolling, I either call or ask who the PR/marketing contact is, or I pop in and ask at the front desk. At first contact, if I’m sending a cold-call type email, I always include links to articles on hotels similar to the property I’m querying. Hotel PR staff are just as hammered with queries as editors, and I want to make it easy for them to vet me. If they can click on an article link and see my work, it makes their job easier. If I start with a phone call, I usually ask for an email address to send a formal query.
Once I have their attention, and the conversation is leaning toward hosting me, I let them decide the best dates for my stay. Sometimes those stays are peak season, but usually, it’s during their off-season.
One of the best ways I’ve found to land more desirable dates is to find hotels that have recently completed a significant remodeling project, changed ownership, or just opened. These situations seem to make comps more available.
In my first year of travel writing, the Westin had just opened at Denver International Airport. The Westin DIA is a wonderful hotel at an airport I fly into often. I couldn’t believe my luck when the Westin comped a junior suite, a bucket of local beer, and dinner.
Since then, I’ve gotten a bit pickier. Instead of accepting just one night, if I have to travel a long distance I ask for two nights lodging. This is not an unreasonable request and a luxury lodge in Alaska was happy to comp two nights knowing how far I had to travel.
To find hotels that have recently undergone renovations, I ask local visitor bureaus, Destination Marketing Organizations (DMOs), or PR firms. By subscribing to TravMedia emails, I often get tipped off about new hotels opening, or extensive renovations. Sometimes a newspaper or magazine article will alert me about a hotel to approach.
Good photos of the hotel, the room, and common areas are a must. Photographing hotel rooms can be a challenge for some so it’s important to be a competent photographer. Some publications will let you use sourced photos, making it much easier on us writers.
To make sure I publish the best story possible, I always have someone at the hotel or their PR firm fact-check my article. On a recent stay, at the Hilton Short Pump in Richmond, the general manager fact-checked my article and pointed out that the on-site hotel restaurant had changed. This same manager sent me the fact sheet I used to list the hotel’s restaurant, and it turned out to be wrong! By taking this extra step, I’ve only ever had two articles of my nearly 400 that needed correcting. Warning: don’t let the person fact-checking your article suggest changes/additions that have nothing to do with incorrect facts. This is your story, not theirs.
After the story is published, send a link to the hotel and ask them to share the story on social media and their website. This request is a courtesy all of us should be doing. By sharing the story, this helps you, your publisher, and the hotel.
I mainly pursue hotel feature stories for the comps. My two main publishers pay $25 per article (Trip101.com) and nada (Justluxe.com), but the comps make it worthwhile. This type of writing isn’t for everyone, but if you want to rack up a bunch of comped hotel rooms outside of media trips, it can be done.