EVENT REPORT – SWET Travel Writing Meet-up

By Rob Goss

The new travel writing group within SWET is up and running. Seventeen people came together on July 19 for the first meeting on a hot and humid night in Tokyo, some traveling from as far as Niigata and Kobe to the Book House Cafe, Jinbocho, Tokyo. We had a mix of writers, photographers, translators, interpreter-guides, and two tourism ambassadors for Izumo in Shimane prefecture.

The plan for the meeting was to spend the first half looking at what constitutes travel writing and then spend the second half on a pitching workshop. It didn’t unfold that way, but it was certainly none the worse for it. The meeting started off with quick self-introductions, before we broke into groups to discuss the first topic, "What is travel writing?" and then came together to discuss our conclusions. During the last 15 minutes of the meeting, we briefly covered pitching publications and looked at samples. Much of the meeting, however, strayed into discussing our own travel writing-related issues and mingling (especially during the break). I’m pleased to report that there were very lively discussions, with many people speaking up. Some of the topics and thoughts that came up were:

  1. Travel writing has become more widespread and (in many outlets) amateurish since anybody these days can write and publish online. Some participants also said they saw travel writing moving toward shorter forms because of the Internet.
  2. Who is publishing good writing and paying well for travel writing?
  3. The challenges of taking care of the business/sales end of travel writing.
  4. The ethics of travel writing, such as how to approach sponsored articles and retaining the right to write honest reviews.
  5. Desire to network with travel writers to get a grasp of industry standards, especially regarding pay rates.
  6. Related to the previous point, several people mentioned the low pay rate for travel writing in Japan. As a post-meeting addition to this, I’d say there really isn’t a standard when it comes to pay. It is, however, important for writers to understand the overall landscape, so they can make good decisions for themselves about who to work with and what contracts to accept (at various stages of a career). There are multiple tiers in the industry, with some publications in Japan, for example, paying as low as ¥5,000 for a 500-word article, while many publications outside Japan sit in the $0.50/word to $1.5/word range. English-language publications in Japan can be good to work with for many reasons, but they aren’t representative of the whole and make up a small portion of the industry even when writing about Japan.

Together, we also brainstormed potential topics for future meetings and the direction of the group, including:

Potential topics for future meetings

  1. Travel blogging
  2. Travel photography
  3. The business of writing—marketing oneself (pitches, websites, social media usage, etc.), dealing with publications, understanding contracts and copyright, writers’ rights, fees, etc.
  4. Dealing with tourism agencies—getting on press trips, digging up local tourism contacts, asking for assistance while avoiding being unduly influenced, etc.
  5. Ethical travel writing
  6. Language usage and the pitfalls (and uses) of travel writing clichés.

Direction of the group

  1. Whether or not to charge a fee for non-members to attend meetings (it has since been decided to charge ¥1,000 to non-members to encourage membership in SWET and to support expenses for use of the venue).
  2. Networking events with local publications.
  3. The production (over time) of a set of guidelines for writers in Japan that details such things as how to pitch articles, where to go to learn about copyright laws, matters of writing style, how to bill your clients, and so on.
  4. Incorporating mingling time at future meetings.
  5. Outreach to Japanese tourism professionals/authorities on how to better present or promote Japan to inbound tourists.
  6. Holding meetings outside Tokyo, such as Kansai and even Fukuoka.

After the event Phil Ono and Jeremy Whipple set up a Google group/mailing list for the new travel writing group. It will be a place where organizers can keep people updated on future events and where anyone signed-up can present issues for discussion or ask questions about the business or craft of travel writing. If you would like to sign up, please go to:


Finally, we thank SWET’s Steering Committee for being so supportive of the new group and everyone who came on the 19th and made it such an enjoyable evening.

(July 28, 2018)