Getting free trips to fun destinations is a major incentive for travel writers who have established a network of travel editors that will take their stories on spec.
However, CVB’s or Chambers of Commerce usually insist on a Letter Of Assignment (LOA) before they arrange a trip for you. If you’re a print journalist, ideally, you’ll have built up a stable of editors who’ll issue you with a letter of assignment. But unless you’ve been writing for several years and have several willing editors who’ll write out a letter of assignment at your request, you’re going to have to beat the travel magazine and travel website bushes with pitches for stories about your destination.
Obviously, if your travel blog has enough Unique Daily & Monthly Visitors—and an excellent Alexa Ranking—you can use this as your own personal LOI.
But, the reality is that most travel sites have not yet built up enough traffic to interest the CVB media professionals, and you will probably have to resort to getting a LOI the old-fashioned way, by pitching a story or two to a print travel magazine.
The pitching process is time consuming and can be disheartening, as responses are often mainly “no thank you” or no response at all. But there’s no way around it. You’ve got to get that letter of assignment. It’s the free publicity from nicely-written travel articles that lures lots of people and their disposable tourist dollars to the destination. Tourism agencies are reluctant to give you VIP treatment unless they believe that you’ll bring their town or area some good publicity. So you’ll need that golden letter of assignment.
Many CVB representatives don’t bother checking whether you have a letter of assignment, but never, ever, be tempted to fabricate or make one up. Likewise, do not exaggerate about a magazine that ‘might’ publish your story.
Problems arise when unscrupulous or bogus travel writers and bloggers milk this unwritten arrangement and have no intention of producing any stories after the tour. A freelance writer friend of mine recently told me about how, half way through an organized press trip, it was discovered that one of the “writers” had lied about his letter of assignment. Needless to say, that writer was sent home with great ignominy, never to be invited back by any CVB in the state.
This sort of misrepresentation is unethical and dishonest, and it makes life harder for the rest of your travel-writing and blogging brethren. The result is that genuine travel writers and bloggers are greeted with less and less enthusiasm when they pitch tourist agencies for accommodations, comped meals in restaurants, free passes to tourist attractions, etc.
Many CVB coordinators have become gun shy of travel writers and bloggers. If you fabricate your letter of assignment, you will probably be found out. Remember, bad karma has a way of returning to its instigator.
Good ethical karma also has a way of coming back. I recently toured a county in Washington State, mined several story ideas and took lots of great photographs. Then I managed to sell several stories about this place to regional and national magazines. Some time later, I started getting calls from other CVB’s insisting that I visit their territory. Word had gotten around that I was a “hot” writer who delivers. Suddenly I was bombarded with invitations. CVB reps do talk to each other about these things and their grapevine is alive and well and active.
Another thing about the letter of assignment: get as many as you can. Don’t stop when you get one. If you have several assignments it’s going to be very difficult for the Chamber of Commerce or Convention and Visitor’s Bureau to turn you down when you politely request complimentary accommodations, meals, press passes to tourist attractions, etc.
If you can show the CVB that you’re writing several stories about tourist attractions in their town, they’re more likely to pull out all the stops for you. Many travel writers use this approach to arrange one-to-two week trips in their region, to other parts of the U.S., or even to other countries. All accommodations are comped, press passes are provided into museums, plus they often receive personal guided tours of tourist attractions.
Once you have your LOI, this is your proof that an editor has assigned you to write an article—and it’s your ticket to ride!