THE term blogging is now so ubiquitous you’d never want to ask what it actually means for fear of sounding like a Luddite.
 
Short for ‘web logging’, the activity usually involves a single person writing regular online diary entries, or a ‘blog’. Of course, there’s nothing new about keeping a journal, but this is one that other web users can read and respond to.

The first blogs appeared over 10 years ago in the form of online journals from journalists and techies publishing their thoughts on the latest geeky conspiracy theory or software development.

By 2003, the activity was being touted as citizen journalism – the most famous dispatches coming from Salam Pax. The so-called Baghdad Blogger built up a global following with his bulletins from the frontline during the second Iraq war.

Today, blogs can be found on just about every subject imaginable – blog tracking website Technorati.com keeps tabs on more than 47 million blogs worldwide.

Some of the most popular are travel-related, such as Travelrants.com, which Leeds-based Darren Cronian said he set up “to pass on my travel experiences to people who, like me, were interested in travel.”
 
According to US blogger Jonny Jet, his blog Jonnyjet.com evolved from an e-mail he used to send friends with tips about travelling in different countries. His recommendations for other US travel blogs include: Hobotraveler.com and Thetravelinsider.info.

Pia Taylor, the main contributor to Backpackers.com, a blog aimed at young independent travellers, said she hopes the blog will be sustained by readers posting their own contributions.

So why have travel blogs caught the imagination?

At web design agency, Wheel, senior information architect Francois Jordaan said travel is an ideal subject to base a blog on. It’s a sexy and glamorous subject that people are keen to learn more about and new travel experiences generate fresh content.

It’s also a way for bloggers to let people know where they have been and what they have been up to – essentially bragging about their latest holiday.

“It’s also a godsend for people researching a destination,” said Jordaan. “They can find a place in a brochure then get the real lowdown from a travel blog.”

So far, only a few travel companies have set up blogs to drive visitors to their websites.
 
One is Thomson, which launched its blog in January. With entries offering a combination of destination guides, product information, jokes and trivia – the blog appears on Thomson.co.uk and is as much a marketing tool for the company as a genuine blog.

To be successful, said Jordaan, blogs need to be “genuinely readable and have real personality”, and it is precisely for these reasons that smaller, independent travel companies may be able to steal a march on the big boys.

Malvern-based travel agency Select World Travel has been running a blog at Selectworld.travel since October 2005. It has won several awards and contains updates on passport and security regulations, as well as destination reviews from agents returning from fams and holidays.

Agency director Lee Harrison says the blog has increased online sales by 80% – existing clients spend more time on the website, while new clients find the site via links from other blogs and Google.

“People come to the site because the blog is engaging but it has become an effective sales tool for us,” he said. 


Q&A – Kevin May

Travel Weekly’s sister publication Travolution has established a popular blog, Travolution.blogspot.com, which launched in January.

We spoke to Travolution editor and the blog’s main contributor, Kevin May.

Travolution editor and blogger Kevin MayQ.What makes a good travel blog?

A. Most importantly, the quality of the writing has to be good. The content also has to be timely and newsworthy. When it comes to blogging about destinations, the writing should really inspire and also give good advice about travelling there.

Q.Who is the Travolution blog aimed at?

A. The same profile as the magazine – technologists, tour operators and agents, marketing and search engine optimisation companies and web designers.

Q.Are you the sole contributor?

A. We update the blog at least daily, and I write most of the entries. But rather than leave the blog solely to my wild rantings, we have recruited a team of star bloggers – experts from the industry, who file a contribution once a month.

Q.Do you know how many people read it?

A. The way most blogs judge their popularity is by looking at their rankings on sites like Technorati, which track blogs and their usage. At the moment, we are rated about 60,000th on Technorati, which is in the top 1% of the 47 million blogs listed.

Q.Where do you get ideas for your blog entries?

A. I visit sites such as Vibes.com and Technorati.com to see what other people are blogging on and whether I can contribute to the debate. Then there are mainstream news sources and leads and information I pick up from talking to people in the industry.

Blogging is a new form of journalism and as there aren’t any rules, to a certain extent we are making it up as we go along. For example, a while back we were at the Institute of Travel and Tourism conference in Oman. We blogged live for three or four days, and were able to post entries and upload images from our mobile phones within 10 minutes of an event occurring.

Travel Weekly is searching for bloggers. Interested? Email kevin.may@rbi.co.uk.