IgoUgo.com isn't your typical travel site, so it doesn't welcome typical pitches. It's a destination for travelers who want to share their experiences honestly, so pitches must do the same.
Every worldwide wanderer knows that the trip itself is only half the fun of traveling; the other half is talking about it afterward. But how often do our personal, passionate tales inspire like-minded travelers to follow in our footsteps? Often enough that there's a website dedicated to candid, first-person reviews on international attractions. With reviews streaming in from destinations as mundane as Branson, MO to places as far flung as Kuantan, Malaysia, IgoUgo.com allows its members to present their unique, heartfelt experiences to fellow travelers.
"Everyone in the travel industry believes that word of mouth is the most powerful and positive way to get messages out," says president and cofounder Jim Donnelly. "Official reports are not what really drives travel. What really drives travel is your friends sitting across from you saying, 'I was there and I did that.' IgoUgo provides millions of surrogate friends that you get to know and can tap into their information."
The three-year-old site, which, along with partner sites, gets between 3 million and 5 million hits a month, has only recently begun harnessing PR as an effective way of broadening its reach. The company has been proactively approaching PR people in an attempt to get more pitches and to spread the word about IgoUgo's unique slant on travel. The editors have seen an enormous influx in pitches, and are eager to see more. They have a list of over 100 destinations they want to see reviewed, and they're attempting to build customized reports on topics as diverse as skiing and gay and lesbian travel.
"Our community is a venue for expression," says senior editor Arabella Bowen. "The trend in media is that everything from reality TV shows to personal reviews on Amazon.com is showing that true experience is the most valuable recommendation. We offer real people's views and real people's experiences, and our content stays on our site for a long time, so publicists are guaranteed to have people read it."
Launched in June 2000, IgoUgo.com and IgoUgo-powered sites, such as the Rough Guides Community and the RCI Community, have grown to attract more than 250,000 members worldwide. With more than 100 new journals submitted every day, the privately owned company attracts members of all ages, ethnicities, and backgrounds. The editors say that the average user is a 44-year-old professional woman who is married with children. She travels five times as much as the typical American, and makes more money than most.
Membership on IgoUgo requires the completion of a profile that requires personal information. Every journal submission is reviewed, edited, and ranked by the editorial team, and then filtered into extensive travel reports.
This doesn't translate into PR as usual. In pitches, which should be sent by e-mail to Bowen, PR people must be willing to yield in how their clients' stories are told.
"The true part of our site is that we want the real deal from real travelers," says Donnelly. "And we will not write about something unless someone has actually gone there and written about it without being paid. That's tricky for publicists because they often have a very particular, specific story that they want to communicate. To the extent that the story is consistent with the reality on the ground, publicists should be content with sending someone to evaluate and then write a journal to support the commercial phase."
Christian Woller, manager of special projects for the Danish Tourist Board, has worked with IgoUgo fairly extensively, and has had various guides review his respective destinations. Woller believes IgoUgo's angle to be an effective tool for providing readers with sincere opinions, and he says the editorial team is highly receptive.
"In tourism, we'll say a lot of stuff about the best of the best, but IgoUgo presents the chance for an honest opinion, and people really value that," says Woller. "Publicists need to be clear about the honest opinions that will come out and, if they can handle that, this is something they'll want to do."
"We truly want to expose our members to the best travel experiences," says Donnelly. "So if we have people proactively pitching us on new products, properties, and packages, then we'll be at the forefront of educating our community about what's available. And that is what's most important to us."
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Senior editor Leslie Shen
Senior editor Arabella Bowen
Associate editor Megan Parsells
Editorial assistant Brian Spencer
Editorial intern Erika Dunham