St Albans blog trip: the post-match analysis

The group experience a typical Sunday evening meal

The group experience a typical Sunday evening meal

As a hectic week draws to a close I thought it worth reflecting on the recent St Albans blog trip. For those who missed my previous post on the subject, I invited five of Europe’s finest travel bloggers to stay in my home town of St Albans before and during World Travel Market. The event was made possible by the many local suppliers who were very willing to offer their services to the group. So what is the verdict from the trip?

Relaxing in the cold - Whipsnade Tree Cathedral

Relaxing in the cold - Whipsnade Tree Cathedral

Certainly everyone involved seemed to enjoy their time in St Albans, and between us we have given the city’s profile a boost within the travel blogging community. The #blogstalbans hashtag has been used over 220 times on Twitter by around 40 different people. The reach of these tweets runs into the hundreds of thousands. There are several blog posts already written and many Facebook pictures shared from the weekend. Hopefully some of this publicity will rub off on the businesses that offered us their support. Some, such as The Waffle House and St Albans Car and Van Rental were very kind to offer their services (a waffle lunch and a van respectively) in good faith that the group would in turn provide them with links and mentions.

Ben and Anna (and little helpers) from Tourdust serve up some top notch mulled wine

Ben and Anna (and little helpers) from Tourdust serve up some top notch mulled wine

Others actually helped in the trip itinerary itself. Anna from Tourdust met us in the Hertfordshire countryside and led the group on a two hour hike through deserted paths and over windy peaks. The autumn colours were perfect on a mainly sunny morning. And there was even a surprise in store for us as during a brief stroll after lunch through the Whipsnade Tree Cathedral we met Anna’s husband Ben who was waiting for the group with warm mulled wine. It was really good of Ben and Anna to choose to spend their Sunday with our group and get to know them while showing them their little corner of Hertfordshire.

Autumn colours on our Sunday hike at Ashridge

Autumn colours on our Sunday hike at Ashridge

Meanwhile Gail from The Black Lion Inn joined the group in all of our activities and also took the opportunity to get to know the bloggers who were staying in her hotel and gain an insight into the strange world of travel blogging. She also organised an excellent local guide to show us around the historical sites of St Albans.

This was certainly not a traditional press trip. I had deliberately set out to have a ‘typical’ weekend: I cooked a meal for the gang at my home on the Saturday night, and just as I normally do at home I hadn’t thought about what we would all do for our Sunday evening meal. The resulting quick call to Domino’s to order a couple of their large offerings saved the day; the lack of professional PR input was clear.

A quick dinner at the Japan Centre in Piccadilly before another tweetup

A quick dinner at the Japan Centre in Piccadilly before another tweetup

On the other hand, the chance to show a group of bloggers (friends) around my current home town and a part of the world that I’m quite fond of was one that I was glad to take up. We got to experience the products and services of many of the small unsung businesses in St Albans, most of whom would never get noticed on a professionally organised press trip. These businesses were happy to take a leap of faith and see what benefits the resulting exposure might bring them.

smallcarBIGCITY deliver the bloggers to WTM

smallcarBIGCITY deliver the bloggers to WTM

Is there an opportunity for others to run such trips? (This is the point where I ruin my chance of going on future lavish press trips, but here goes anyway). Speaking personally I would prefer to have a more down-to-earth ‘local’ experience when visiting a city, and would probably find more to write about than if I was staying in 5 star accommodation and eating in Michelin star restaurants. Of course the high life is very pleasant. But I have found it easier to write with sincerity about an experience if it’s one that I would actually choose to do myself. There is perhaps an opportunity for organisers (whoever they are) to offer a more humble style of blog trip that accurately reflects the experiences that the bloggers who are attending would normally write about.

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10 Responses to “St Albans blog trip: the post-match analysis”

  1. Great write-up and a well-organised weekend. It sounds like all involved had a good time and it must have been good to show more than just London to our European friends. (Nothing wrong with London, though!)

    November 13, 2010 at 12:41 pm Reply
  2. Thanks Laura. I also got to learn much about St Albans that I didn’t know about! It was great to meet up with you along the way as well (sorry about the Mini Cooper ride!)

    November 13, 2010 at 1:30 pm Reply
  3. What a great idea. Looks like it was nice and relaxed and fun. You’re inspired me to think about doing an Edinburgh one. If anyone fancies that let me know. I don’t have much room to put people up but you never know, reckon we could maybe swing some comped accom and maybe even travel from London? By train of course! Anyone interested (inc all of you guys) please drop me a tweet:

    November 14, 2010 at 5:34 am Reply
  4. Thank you again for having invited me at this lovely blog trip, and more thanks to all the wonderful people and local business who offered us a great time.

    It was my first blog trip and the huge excitement in anticipation of this new experience has been fully confirmed. I loved the ‘living like locals’ approach.

    St Albans is indeed awesome and well worth more than a possible quick daily excursion from London. It has a charm that can be best savored slowly…

    Once again, I’d like to express my gratitude to all the local business which offered us memorable moments.

    November 14, 2010 at 8:01 am Reply
  5. Nice idea Jools. Edinburgh is a top city – lots to see, and also maybe the highest concentration of travel folks outside of London. Am sure you’ll get some willing industry partners for accomm., travel etc.

    November 14, 2010 at 10:21 am Reply
  6. “But I have found it easier to write with sincerity about an experience if it’s one that I would actually choose to do myself. ”

    Well said, Andy. You have just voiced the major reason why the majority of TV Travel Programmes, Newspapers and magazines are of little interest to me. “Judith, stayed at the Posh Hotel, Lugash with flights by Skyhigh Airlines. A week costs from £5000 per person, based on two sharing.”

    November 14, 2010 at 6:14 pm Reply
  7. Thanks John. It’s something that PRs would do well to consider when planning blog trips. Look at what people write about. If their blog is about finding $10 accomm and $1 meals in Thailand, then what’s the relevance of sending them to a $500 spa hotel?

    November 14, 2010 at 6:46 pm Reply
  8. Well said Andy! First of all, a big thank you to you for organising this blog trip. I had a fantastic time – I’ll certainly never forget that lamb pesto waffle at the Waffle House and the stunning mosaics at the Museum. :-) Oh… and the ultra-cool whizz through London in the Mini Coopers!
    Another huge thank you goes to Gail of the Black Lion Inn for being the most gracious hostess. And another thank you to you and Sam for hosting us in your home.

    Keith :-)

    November 15, 2010 at 10:58 am Reply
  9. Abi #

    Arriving (un)fashionably late to the blog post…

    Thank you again for arranging this, Andy (and for naming me as one of Europe’s finest bloggers! It’s enough to bring a warm cheer to this frosty, cold day:) )

    As for luxury vs budget options…I still think there’s room for both. I’ve had some amazing high-end experiences and also some bland ones. Likewise, lower cost options can sometimes be relaxed and informative or cold and unpleasant. For me, I travel to experience the world, so that includes both types of travel. You’re right to say that there’s virtually no point in organising a press/blog trip for budget writers if you only show them 5 star hotels – and vice versa.

    For me, though, I write about places rich in culture or adventure, regardless of price tag. In which case, I’m going to struggle to write about a family-oriented chain beach resort…

    St Albans was neither luxury nor budget – but it was fascinating, friendly and fun! In other words, perfect for me and my blog.

    I guess the main point is to research your blogger before you invite them!

    December 6, 2010 at 2:25 pm Reply


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