Archive for September, 2011

The very mention of ‘blog trip’ on Tenerife and eyes light up and hands are wrung (okay maybe not the hands, but on occasions it looks damn close) as if the phrase ‘hidden treasure’ just floated in on the breeze.

All sorts of people have shown interest in blog trips – some with Tenerife’s interests at heart, others, I suspect, with their own interests in pole position. It’s easy to understand why. An intelligently planned blog trip can generate positive publicity to a massive international audience. It represents the sort of priceless PR that you just couldn’t achieve using any other medium.

But every coin has two sides. A badly organised and executed blog trip can be as effective as a soggy match or worse, do as much harm as good.

Not so long ago Andy wrote a blog about why a successful officially organised blog trip to Tenerife was an unlikely concept. Three months down the line and there have been a few ‘blog trips’ to Tenerife. Some organised through official channels, others privately.

Was she right or did the organisers of Tenerife’s blog trips prove her wrong?

The Official Blog Trip #1
Not a full blown blog trip as it was very specialised and aimed at promoting the volcanic aspects of Tenerife. There wasn’t a lot of social media activity and interaction with anyone not involved with the actual trip was minimal. The worst aspects of the trip were related to some of the images that were generated. We’d just returned from the ultra successful Costa Brava blog trip where travel bloggers teased the world’s taste-buds with sexy photos from one of the best restaurants in the world, culinary creations from one of the best chefs on the planet and even pans filled with vibrantly coloured prawns in a fishermen’s hut. The quite unappetising images of Tenerife’s cuisine from this trip on the other hand must have given the impression that the islanders specialise in gruel plonked on a plate with as much care as I put food in the cat’s bowl (less…the cat has standards). If I was offered in prison what was on show, I’d cite the Geneva Convention.
Result: A terrible advert for Tenerife’s cuisine and very limited social media exposure – which was probably just as well.

The Official Blog Trip #2
Gary Arndt of the Everything Everywhere travel blog arrived on Tenerife recently. His visit was mentioned in the local press and by official channels on Twitter and Facebook. On the face of it, it could be viewed as evidence that Tenerife’s authorities were getting a handle on social media…except for one thing. I suspect that had they not been involved with Gary’s visit, Tenerife’s tourist board wouldn’t have had a clue that a well known travel blogger was visiting the island.
The reason for this assumption? At the time of Gary’s visit there were other travel bloggers on Tenerife who completely escaped the attention of Tenerife’s authorities despite their numerous tweets about the island. Worse, there was a very successful and highly respected travel writer on the island at exactly the same time who was completely ignored in social media channels by Tenerife’s tourism board.
Result: It spoke volumes about a total lack of awareness and understanding by Tenerife’s official bodies of social media and the travel writing & blogging world.

The Private Blog Trip #1
In the last 12 months various blog trip models have evolved. One of these is the travel company sponsored blog trip. A UK travel company employed what appeared to be a potentially inspirational approach – travel bloggers out there should cover their eyes at this point. They didn’t use a travel blogger, they used a family blogger. It’s a brilliant concept.
One of the criticisms levelled at some travel bloggers is that their audience isn’t necessarily the same as a mainstream travel company’s or a tourist board’s. But a family blogger’s audience is other families…and we all know that families take family holidays. This is a much more lucrative market than say backpackers.

But day one revealed a flaw in the concept. As a travel writer you become adept at researching places before you go, sussing out where all sorts of essential things are when you arrive. You view locations through many eyes, remembering that your audience has all sorts of varying tastes. You also make sure, where possible, you have the means to broadcast your experiences as you go along.
Day one revealed that the family blogger didn’t employ the same approach to travel, made a sweeping (and incorrect) generalisation based on limited experience and was unable to track down the most basic destination information. They were a good and well liked family blogger, but they didn’t possess the skills of a travel writer or travel blogger.
Result: Hardly any destination tweets during visit, so no real time feel of their experiences. And subsequent blogs were of limited use to other potential visitors as they focussed on too narrow a subject matter.

The Private Blog Trip #2
Sarah and Terry Lee of LiveShareTravel researched the location before they arrived and utilised local contacts with a thorough knowledge of the destination (i.e. us). They were totally prepared and had a strategy for what they wanted to do that would meet the needs of their market (businesses and visitors). Tweets, photos and blogs were posted regularly during their visit to generate interest and their posts were re-tweeted by other respected travel bloggers. They mixed mainstream with cultural, visited resorts, theme parks and places of historic interest and, as a result, promoted a highly attractive image of Tenerife using words, photos and video during and after their trip. Once again, interaction from official sources was absent during their visit to Tenerife.
Result: a successful blog trip that painted Tenerife as a very desirable destination for people with a variety of tastes.

During the same period there were various other travel bloggers and writers visiting Tenerife. In just about every case they were ignored by Tenerife’s official online representatives. Social media is a tool for two-way communication. Tenerife’s tourist authorities don’t seem to have grasped this and are still using it in a conventional and outdated manner as a means for sending information one-way (note: Costa Adeje are the exception to the rule on Tenerife and are actually using social media to interact with others). Cut & paste messages to Tenerife’s blogging community neither engages with them nor is evidence of interaction. Unless they change, any forays into the blog trip arena are doomed to failure.

Tenerife’s tourist board has plenty of tools and expertise at their disposal regarding social media and the online travel and tourism world. But until they begin to listen and learn, things will never progress.

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It’s been a long time since there’s been a chapter in The Whiskas Chronicles. In my naïve human way, I believed it was because we’d all matured a little. Whiskas was no longer getting medieval on my legs and subsequently I was no longer fighting him off with the hose. We believed we’d reached an unspoken pact, where peace reigned and we lived together in perfect harmony…like ebony and ivory.

Wrong. The cat had just raised his game. He had another range of tricks up his fluffy sleeve that he’d kept hidden from us.

I should have known better (this is turning into a blog full of dodgy song lyrics). This is the master criminal who actually played possum during a storm to avoid being thrown out into the dark night; got into a bathroom cupboard and somehow managed to close the cupboard door behind him and hid from us by standing still underneath the duvet hanging over the side of the bed (given away only by the curve of his belly causing a ‘bump’ in the cover).

During these hot nights his MO is that once he’s eaten his dinner he trots out of the back door to cool down somewhere outside – or so I was led to believe. I’ve watched him do this on loads of occasions and seen him leave the premises by way of the gently wafting curtain between the bedroom and the back terrace. What I only discovered last week was that he was implementing one of his cunning plans.

As usual I’d watched him leave but this time I had to go outside a few minutes after he’d gone. But there was no sign of the cat. As I came back through the bedroom and into the living room something caught my eye. The damn cat was sitting motionless, as though playing statues, on Andy’s pillow watching me intently to see if I’d spotted him. He was abruptly despatched from his throne with a shout and a helping hand on his furry backside.. God knows how long this has been going on, Andy has been suffering with an allergic bout of sneezing for weeks. We thought summer, but cat hair on the pillow was clearly the culprit.

I’ve tracked him since and discovered that as soon as he exits the house he does a U turn and comes straight back in again via the other side of the curtain which is out of my line of sight. Obviously with us thinking he was safely outside, he’s been free to jump up on the bed and curl up on Andy’s pillow for most of the rest of the night…or until one of us made a move. Since being found out he still makes attempt after attempt to get back to what has become a favourite spot so now we have to shut the doors from the bedroom to the garden, closing off our source of air conditioning in the summer.

You cannot trust this cat for a moment, he has schemes galore in his arsenal and I had simply forgotten this or, more likely, been lulled into a false sense of security. Who knows what else goes on in that Machiavellian head.

Maybe whilst the chimps have been taking over the planet in the cinemas, the cats have been plotting and hatching plans like Billy-o. By the end of the decade we’ll all be their slaves, feeding them mice as they recline on the sofas we once lounged about on…mark my words.

‘I normally don’t like Italian food.’ The line jumped from the page and slapped me around the ‘lightly seasoned’ chops.

I just don’t get people who make trawler-net statements about a country’s cuisine. How can anyone say I don’t like Italian, Thai, Greek, Indian (add the country of your choice here) food? Any country’s cuisine is far too diverse to write it off with a line like that (some pedant will no doubt come up with a place where everything consists of  things made out of a yak). What it suggests to me is that the person making the statement is a) possibly a fussy eater and b) certainly not a foodie. A person who doesn’t like a country’s cuisine has more than likely not sampled very much of it. Maybe they ate one dish as a child that they didn’t enjoy.

It’s amazing how many of our culinary likes and dislikes stretch back to a childhood experience…or how many people don’t like food that their parents didn’t like. Try this test out. Think about something you don’t enjoy eating and then ask yourself why (brussel sprouts are exempt from this test for obvious reasons). Then try it out with friends. Nearly all of mine can trace personal culinary quirks back to childhood and family.

What particularly surprised me in this case was that the statement was made in a restaurant review in a local paper. Whether it’s a local rag or respected broadsheet I expect the food critic to be a wee bit open minded when it comes to dining. I don’t expect ‘I don’t normally like Italian food.’ Everybody likes Italian food; what is there not to like? If a restaurant reviewer doesn’t like Italian food, what else don’t they like? With that line their credibility as a reviewer flew right out of the window.

Similarly, a couple of weeks ago I followed some tweets from a travel writer complaining about the food in a Spanish hotel. Complaining is too mellow a word, they were slating the food to the high heavens and above. When I read on I saw that the travel writer was vegetarian.

Being vegetarian in Spain isn’t always easy (understatement). When we moved to Tenerife we didn’t eat meat but we did eat fish, so not too much of a problem. However, we have a number of friends who are full blown, card carrying veggies so know exactly how difficult it is to find restaurants where the choice isn’t confined to tortilla, tortilla or tortilla. In Spain even vegetable sandwiches sometimes have ham, so Iberia can be a testing destination for vegetarians.

Subsequently when the writer ranted about the appalling quality of the food, I empathised…but it did raise a question. Surely she could only pass judgement on the food when it came to the choice and quality of what was available for vegetarians? There was no way she could pass judgement on how good the meat or fish dishes were in the hotel she was slating. As a critique of that place it was subjective in the extreme. Many who saw her complaints may understandably write the hotel off as having crap food. But would that be fair? In this case we simply don’t know.

And that begged the question can, or should, a writer who is vegetarian write a review or even a guidebook listing that recommends, or not, restaurants unless it’s clear that what they are writing relates solely to a vegetarian perspective?

When Andy and I started writing about restaurants we made the decision to start eating meat again because we felt we couldn’t honestly review a restaurant otherwise.

Which takes me back to the reviewer who didn’t normally like Italian food. As a travel writer, restaurant reviewer, whatever, shouldn’t the author be willing to try just about anything that’s on the menu…if not how valid or useful is their review?