Writing a travel guide? Read our interview with a Booking.com Travel Guide writer, Alex.
Travel is so bound up with inspiration – it’s often about that little spark of curiosity, that jaw-dropping photo, that bit of quirky information that triggers people to pack their suitcase and book into a hotel online, looking for the trip of a lifetime. But how do we create that spark in people’s imagination, and reap the rewards?
In 2014, Booking.com started producing its own travel guides for top city destinations, has produced 180 guides to date. We spoke to Alex, one of the writers of the guides, to find out more.
How do you decide what to include in your guides?
Well, we’re lucky that Booking.com has over a hundred offices across the world, so we can always enlist a local employee to give us that juicy inside information on our destinations. We leave it up to our contacts on the ground to choose the most relevant districts and landmarks, based on their knowledge. That local knowledge is key!
In the guides we try to cover both major landmarks and lesser-known spots. In this second case, the idea is to dig a bit deeper into the city and really make use of the local knowledge available to us.
The recommendations are for hidden bars, quirky customs or cool itineraries that you might not find in guide books.
Each one comes accompanied by a photo of our local employee and a little biography to underline the local, personal element. This is definitely something that our partners could use in their travel websites or blogs.
When your readers feel that they’re accessing knowledge that’s somehow “secret”, or beyond the superficial information that a simple internet search might produce, that can be a really powerful and inspirational tool.
OK, so once you’ve chosen what to write about, what happens next?
The next step is taking photos of each thing we’re including in the guide.
In our case, we hire freelance photographers that we hand-pick. We’re looking for photography that’s inspiring, but still natural. Just as with the City Secrets, we want to maintain a feeling of authenticity throughout the guide.
Of course it’s great to use professional photographers, but with cameraphone technology being what it is nowadays, you don’t necessarily need them – a decent understanding of your camera, a good eye and a little creativity go a long way.
In any guide or blog like this, it’s important that the photos align with the copy – it’s no good writing about the amazing façade of a cathedral when the photos are of the crypt.
So when taking your photos, think a bit about aspects of the places that will be interesting to the reader, and aim to get some decent shots of them.
And how about the writing process? What was your approach, and what would you recommend to people writing a travel blog?
In the Booking.com Travel Guides, we try to keep the tone friendly and conversational, as if you were chatting to a friend who lived in the city.
We also want it to be sparky and light-hearted, maybe with the odd joke or bit of word play. We want to make the reader feel comfortable and above all, to make them engage with the copy.
In order for the text to be inspiring, you can’t just reel off a list of dry facts, it needs to have an energy and pizazz to it.
In terms of information, it’s great to include some factual or historical information – but you don’t want it to turn into a history text book! I always try to find an interesting angle or quirky anecdote to bring it to life. That way, it’s short, sweet and coherent – and the reader doesn’t get too bogged down in facts.
I’ll give you an example. Valencia Cathedral is a beautiful building with a bell tower with a lot of history and tradition behind it. You could certainly write some inspiring words about its aesthetics or its heritage. However, I found out from our local contact that inside the cathedral there’s a cup which is claimed to be the Holy Grail, as well as the arm of a 4th-century saint.
I thought that this could be an interesting angle on the cathedral to get the readers engaged – a bit of quirkiness goes a long way! So rather than getting too involved in architectural descriptions, I focused the copy on the curiousness of these relics.
In our guides we have to keep the blurbs short due to the format, but in most travel blogs there’s more freedom to go into a bit more detail and spin the yarn a bit more. I’d always recommend keeping the copy focused though – it’s hard to resist the temptation to share everything you know about a place, but the end result is always better for the reader if there’s a coherent narrative running through.
Overall, I’d recommend something light-hearted and fun, informative and interesting. If you can crack those things, you’re well on your way to an inspiring, engaging and profitable travel guide.