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Forget the future: this is the state of travel writing today 

This month we’ve been exploring what the future holds for travel writing, and it still feels quite uncertain. But most of us are probably more concerned with what’s happening right now, today, and the state of the media we operate in. 

When I interviewed the founder of Skift earlier this month, he had some pretty bleak things to say about the state of play in our industry: “I think travel PR is now fully in control of travel writing, as the resources for travel media companies to fund original travel writing has decreased or gone to zero.” 

It’s a deeply depressing prospect and one that I’m sure many of you will disagree with. There is, occasionally, scope for original, non-PR-influenced reporting. But he’s right to a certain extent: the pages of many of our favourite magazines and newspapers are indeed reliant on PRs stumping up the cost of travel so their journalists can actually get out there. Expenses-paid assignments are so very, very rare. And in fact, it seems well-paid assignments are rare these days, too. 

The results of our State of Travel Writing survey are in and they show a tricky picture for us travel writers today. We’ve asked about everything from your best rates and your lowest rates to the influence of AI in your work and your worries about the future. Here’s what 266 travel journalists told us about the state of their careers in 2023.

Travel writing rates: the headlines

  • The majority of travel journalists (60%) earn less than £19,999 per year through travel writing
  • Just 10% of travel journalists have earned consistently over £0.30 per word for every editorial assignment in the past 12 months, despite the fact that 62% of respondents have been working as a travel journalist for over five years
  • 39% of respondents believe that the rates they have been paid for editorial articles have decreased over the past five years

Talking Travel Writing surveyed 266 travel journalists from across the world, including the UK (52%), USA (14%) and Australia (6%) as part of their State of the Travel Media survey into what it means to be a travel journalist in 2023. Of those surveyed, the vast majority (69%) were female, while 28% were male and 3% identified as either transgender, gender non-conforming or preferred not to say. Respondents were predominantly aged between 35-44 (35%) and between 45-54 (26%). The majority (67%) of respondents were of white British ethnicity. 91% of all respondents were freelance writers, with a healthy 31% making over 80% of their total income from travel writing. 

Responses painted a worrying picture of the earning power of travel writers. 40% of respondents told us that their annual pre-tax profits from travel writing total between just £1 and £9,999. A further 20% said they earn between £10,000 and £19,999 from travel writing per year, 14% between £30,000 and £39,999 and just 6% over £50,000. Drawing these together we can see that the majority of travel writers who responded to our survey (60%) earn less than £19,999 per year from travel writing – despite the fact that 62% of respondents have over five years’ experience. 

While we cannot draw concrete conclusions from this data — we don’t know whether our respondents would wish to earn a greater proportion of their annual income from travel writing — anecdotal evidence from across the industry suggests travel journalists are concerned about their earning potential. As a result, many feel forced to take on additional work outside of the industry to supplement their income. 

Interestingly, for those with more than five years experience in the industry (167 respondents) who also make more than 80% of their income from travel writing, 63% earn upwards of £30,000 per year, of which 21% are making £40,000+. 

Per word rates didn’t paint a rosy picture for the earning power of travel journalists, either. For 22% of respondents, a rate of between £0.51 and £1.00 per word for an editorial article was the highest they had been paid in the past 12 months, while just 10% had earned upwards of £1.00. On the flip side of the coin, for 12.6% of those surveyed, £0.15 per word or less was the highest editorial rate they had earned in the preceding 12 months.

Just 10% of respondents had consistently earned over £0.30 per word for every editorial assignment in the past 12 months, with 32% saying they had been paid as little as £0.00 to £0.10 per word in the past 12 months. 

When asked “Do you feel the rates you have been paid for editorial articles as a travel writer have increased, decreased or stayed the same in the past five years?”, 39% of respondents said that rates had “decreased slightly” (22%) or “decreased significantly” (17%), while 34% said rates had stayed the same.

AI and travel writing: the headlines 

  • 52% of journalists surveyed said they were worried about the impact of AI on travel writing
  • Only 17% of travel journalists said they had used AI to research an article
  • 60% of respondents said they haven’t used AI at all, or been asked to use it by an editor or employer 

Despite all the talk of AI taking over from journalists in all sectors, it seems the tools are yet to make their way into mainstream content production for travel writers. The majority (60%) of respondents in the survey said they’d not used, or been asked to use, AI in their jobs as travel writers. Several respondents said they had experimented with AI for fun, but never used it in their written work, while some who have used it for work have said it was unhelpful or needed significant research due to AI “hallucinations” (when the technology invents things). 

Around 11% of respondents said they have used AI to help plan an article, while 15% said they have used it to do research for a piece. Only 3% have used AI to actually help with the writing of the article itself. 

When asked what impact there might be on the travel media in the wake of AI, 75% of respondents said they believed the quality of travel would be lowered as a result of the use of AI-generated rather than human-written content. Almost two-thirds (64%) of travel journalists said they believed publications would use AI rather than commission freelancers, and the same number said they expected it would reduce travel writing rates.

Climate change and travel writing: the headlines 

  • 55% of travel journalists are concerned about the impact of climate change on their career
  • A quarter of respondents said they aren’t concerned about the climate crisis impacting their work at all

Much is said about climate change and the way it will impact the future of travel, and travel writers are rightly concerned about it affecting our industry, too. Over half (55%) said they are concerned about the impact of the climate emergency on their careers. Around a quarter (27%) said they weren’t concerned at all, while 18% said they were unsure. 

When we asked travel writers how they think the climate crisis may impact travel writing, a huge number of respondents noted how it would change the way people travel, and thus change our role as travel journalists. Of particular concern was how extreme weather and natural disasters would impact the places we pen our stories about. One writer said: “I write about Greece primarily and I fear that all the negative press about wildfires and European heatwaves will stop people wanting to visit, hence a lack of travel writing in my market.” 

Others were concerned about government policy restricting freedom of movement around the world, and several suggested flying would become a taboo — a nod to the Swedish concept of “flygskam” (flight shame). However, not all felt that the consumers of travel media are as concerned about the climate as we are: “As much as it pains me to say it, I don’t think holidaymakers worry/are aware of climate change as much as we think — or at least not in the same way. 

“Take the wildfires: many are simply concerned about the effect it will have on their holiday, potential disruption etc — not about the global picture. As a veteran of a national news desk, in my experience, readers engage very little with sustainability-focused news stories, or anything to do with responsible travel. Their focus is on their holiday, where’s sunny, etc. I think subtly weaving responsibility into travel stories or introducing alternative destinations is the way forward, not ramming it down readers’ throats — otherwise, they simply turn off.” 

Many were also concerned with the ethics of travelling overall, suggesting it will become a less fashionable pastime in the future due to climate change. 

Struggles, future-proofing and changing the industry: the headlines

  • 65% of travel journalists say they’re building a portfolio career with skills beyond travel writing to protect their future income 
  • 25% of travel journalists have or will take on a part-time job to support themselves 
  • Low rates and high competition are the two major concerns for travel journalists today

We’ve already seen how dismal rates can be (see our rates section above), and when we asked our 266 travel journalists to tell us their main struggles while working in this industry, over 65% of them said rates were too low. Interestingly, competing with other travel writers was another major concern, cited by over half (51%) of respondents as a major struggle in their daily work. Around two-fifths (42%) of travel journalists also said the majority of their pitches are rejected by editors. 

Around 27% of travel journalists said they struggled to juggle their work alongside family commitments; among female respondents only, this figure was also 27% while among males it was slightly lower at 25%. 

Other struggles included finding sellable story ideas (27%), not enough networking opportunities with PRs (11%), and planning and writing features (10%). Around 21% of travel journalists said living outside of their capital city made their job more difficult, too. 

When asked what sort of changes they’d like to see in our industry, travel journalists overwhelmingly voted for increased rates (82%). Half of respondents are keen for more networking opportunities with editors, while a healthy 44% would like to see the creation of a union to push for wholesale changes in rates and conditions for freelance travel writers. 

Networking opportunities with PRs were a priority for over a third (35%) of travel journalists, and more training available for travel writers to improve writing skills or deepen knowledge of the industry was a priority for around 28% of people. Nearly a quarter (24%) of travel journalists said they’d like to see more networking with PRs and other writers outside of London. 

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