I was invited to participate in an online travel panel recently, where I was expected to offer my opinions about trends in tourism, particularly as they relate to Mexico. The other panelists represented various sectors of the travel industry, including travel agents, hotel developers, and and tour operators.
Unsurprisingly, the questions asked referenced narco-violence in Mexico and our general impressions of the country. Many of the respondents used adjectives like “dangerous,” “corrupt,” and “poverty-ridden” to describe Mexico. They were quick to offer recommendations about how Americans’ perceptions of Mexico could be improved: The government has to show that it’s ruthlessly rooting out corruption. That it has an iron-fisted, no-nonsense policy when it comes to drug cartels. There was no indication that the respondents knew much about what the Mexican government actually is doing (and what it has done) to address any of these issues.
Many of the participants acknowledged that they’d only ever been to Cancun or Los Cabos, both of which are coastal resort areas.
Reading their responses, I was genuinely curious about how they formed their impressions of a country that they’d admittedly seen very little of, and so I asked one of the participants exactly that. MTV and the [US] news, he answered.
Perhaps I’m a little sensitive when it comes to Mexico-bashing. I lived there for two years and would live there still had our residency visas been renewed. I don’t deny Mexico has problems… just like any other country. But I was –and remain–constantly fascinated by innovative government strategies that address issues as diverse as urban livability and environmental sustainability to abortion and same-sex marriages. But creative interventions and successes don’t get much airplay in American news.
That’s where bloggers–travel bloggers, especially–could come in handy. One of the most exciting things travel bloggers can offer people is an on-the-ground account of what life is like in places that those people may not be able or likely to visit. Travel blogging can contest stereotypes and entice a reader to reconsider the possibility of visiting a particular place, especially a place that the reader previously perceived as dangerous.
But how do these two groups connect? For people whose lives are ostensibly focused on travel, the participants on this panel seemed pretty disconnected from the travel blogosphere. I imagined the travel agents sitting in their offices, advising clients to skip Mexico City–too dangerous–in favor of Cancun or Los Cabos. Yet if they’d read Grantourismo, or Daniel Hernandez’s Intersections, or David Lida’s blog, or Jim Johnson’s blog, they’d likely have a much more nuanced perception of Mexico City, in particular, and Mexico in general.
And yet… as I think about the travel blogging community, it often seems like a closed circle. Travel bloggers are interacting heavily with one another, promoting each other’s posts on Twitter, StumbleUpon, and Digg, and liking each other on Facebook. They’re participating in get-togethers like TBEX and chatting with each other online during weekly events like #TNI [“Travelers’ Night In” on Twitter]. They’re commenting on one another’s posts (often in the hopes that the other person will turn around and comment on their post).
There’s nothing wrong with any of that, so if you’re a travel blogger reading this, don’t get your hackles up. The close-knit community of travel bloggers is remarkable in many ways. But I also think it’s a bit of a closed circle… not an intentionally closed circle, but a closed circle nonetheless. If a travel blogger’s goal is–as so many bloggers say it is–to inspire people to travel for the first time, to help virgin travelers pop the travel cherry, and to give them the tools to do so, then why aren’t more of them reaching outside of the circle to draw those folks in?
I’m curious to know what you think. Do you agree that travel blogging is a (mostly) closed circle? How can travel bloggers reach new readers and engage with them as meaningfully as they do with one another? Will the closed circle eventually produce diminished returns for travel bloggers?