Insights on Travel from Costa Rica Expeditions’ Founder Michael Kaye and his Expert Friends.

What kind of Travel Sales Copy Works Best?

I have strong opinions about how to write travel sales copy—so strong that years ago I wrote:


(Written for internal use to save time and keep my pulse rate down when editing copy.)

Rule #1: Avoid clichés like the plague

Cliché: An expression or idea that has become weak, tiresome, stale, trite and hackneyed, through much repetition.

What makes the use of clichés so irresistible is that everybody uses them. Most of us have a natural desire to fit in, so we cannot resist using them as well. One reason why clichés are as common as dirt is that even though we know we should not use them, we often do not recognize them. Read the complete article.

When a friend told me that a U.S. based operator had hired a high priced company to write their copy, I checked out their web site to see what high priced copy writing looked like.

Turns out the first paragraph I read broke all my rules.  That got me to wondering about my rules.  After all the purpose of the copy is to help prospective buyers choose the right trip for them and the persuade them to buy my trip as opposed to my competition’s.

My rules are much more a reflection of my taste than objective evidence that they are more effective than some other style of writing travel sales copy. So I decided to use this weeks post to ask all of you to give me frank feedback on which writing style you think is more effective.

First I’ll show you the original copy.  Then I’ll show you the same copy with my edits. Finally, I’ll explain my reasoning.

The original copy:

Come face to face with spider, howler and white-faced monkeys in Corcovado National Park, the crown jewel of Costa Rica, deemed “one of the most biologically intense places on earth” by National Geographic. Listen for the rumble of Arenal Volcano and watch at night as smoldering red boulders pour from her mouth.

The copy with my edits:

Search for spider, howler and white-faced monkeys in Corcovado National Park, deemed “one of the most biologically intense places on earth” by National Geographic. Listen for the rumble of Arenal Volcano. On a clear night you may see smoldering red boulders pour from its mouth.

My reasons for the edits:

I replaced, “Come face to face with, with, “Search for,” because there is a reasonable chance that visitors will not even see three species of monkeys in a short visit to Corcovado, and “come face to face” is hype.

I deleted, “the crown jewel of Costa Rica,” because it is a cliché and  a matter of opinion.

I replaced, “and watch at night as smoldering red boulders pour,” with, “On a clear night you may see smoldering red boulders pour,” because, according to our head guide, Carlos Gomez, visitors who spend 2 nights at Arenal see this between 40 and 50 percent of the time.

I replaced, “from her mouth,” with, “from its mouth.” because volcanoes are masculine in Spanish and sexless in English.

So, am my being too purist and picky or is this kind of thing worth worrying about?

Will you look at travel sales copy differently the next time you read some?

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Comments and Replies

  • At February 08, 2011
    11:00:49 am
    Mei Zhang said:

    Agree with your edits. Good rules to follow. Another thing you did unconsciously and brilliantly is that you used “active verbs”, to “search” is much better than “to come face to face”. Thank you for sharing.

    • At February 24, 2010
      7:26:49 pm
      catherine donnell said:

      “Perspective: Use it or lose it”
      The thing that drives me batty about travel copy is typographical errors, I worked for ten years for a famous high end company that consistently misspelled place names and never seemed to care… feeling is that if you don’t care about the details of the copy you are not going to care about the details of the trip. Which is why I have to bust you, dear Michael, on your use of “perspective” instead of “prospective” above; I am pretty sure you meant “prospective clients”. You are spot on with the gist however, except for the fact that I, being a woman, think of volcanoes (erupting without warning, spewing fire, dangerous) as women! I have officially subscribed to this website twice but have yet to receive an email notification–should I take this personally? I see the post on Facebook or Twitter. big besos, catherine

      • At February 23, 2010
        11:58:51 pm
        Patty said:

        I totally agree – writing promo copy is all about capturing the reader’s attention. Lively, intriguing, authentic descriptions are effective. Breathless hype is not. I used to tell publicists I worked with to cut out half the adjectives in their press releases and see the difference – more concise, muscular copy. Especially when the product is an experience or an idea, you are introducing the reader to it by initiating a conversation. Not telling them everything they will think or feel. Wish I had your rules written out when I was training my associates!

        • At February 23, 2010
          9:51:36 am
          Emily Le Moing said:

          I’m a writer and editor who has made several wonderful trips with Costa Rica Expeditions, and I just wanted to say that I completely agree with your edits of the copy on Arenal. The people who’d want to travel with CRE to Arenal would be more likely to be turned off by hype than attracted to Arenal because of it, and it’s certainly a good idea to avoid making promises that the volcano isn’t necessarily going to keep.

          • At February 22, 2010
            11:06:49 pm
            Diane Scarritt said:

            I certainly understand the reasons for your editing, but must say that I do not select trips based on the sales copy. I am used to the flowery descriptions, usually literal translations from Spanish, and take it all with a grain of salt. I have come face to face with all of Costa Rica’s monkeys, and had a troop of squirrel monkeys traveling across my open air lodging at Tiskita Lodge every afternoon. I have had minimal success Arenal (lots of rumbling and steam, mainly) in spite of multiple trips there. Seeing natural phenomena is so much a matter of seasonal timing and good luck. Corcovado and Monteverde are magic places I will never tire of visiting.

            • At February 22, 2010
              8:03:27 pm
              jennifer Fletcher said:

              No,Michael, you’re not too picky at all : the first version immediately aroused my suspicions & gave off a distinct scent of insincerity.
              The language is florid & suspect, like those menus in certain restaurants that talk of dishes “succulently prepared just for you in an out-of-this-world sauce & nestling on a bed of perfectly steamed aromatic rice…..”. Makes you want to run a mile !
              Your version is in good taste .What you’re offering doesn’t need overstatement.Your company ,your lodges & Costa Rica stand on their own merit .
              By the way, we did come face to face with a white -faced monkey that was on the roof of the boat when we went on a tour of a mango swamp.He was not at all pleased when my husband tapped the roof from underneath .The monkey postured menacingly & glared at us murderously.It was impressive primate behaviour. We immediately backed down

              • At February 22, 2010
                7:54:01 pm
                Kathie Sutherland said:

                Your post is much more honest and honorable, designed to give a tourist a true picture of what to expect. Their post is marketing, designed to entice a person into buying the product. Unfortunately, for someone who is making a decision about whether or not to go on a trip, their “sell” job may be more effective. For those of us who have had experiences with your trips, we can appreciate that you promise little and deliver a lot.

                • At February 22, 2010
                  6:35:23 pm
                  Cheryl Shnider said:

                  I’m with you as well. My issue is honesty. The cliches are less irksome to me. I dislike misleading wording with a passion. If the wording says I’m going to see monkeys or lava flow, I expect to. Thanks for asking for our opinions.

                  • At February 22, 2010
                    4:44:30 pm
                    Shannon Borrego said:

                    Very interesting, Michael! I, too, prefer your copy to the original. The wording of the original seemed awkward to me. Yours was “tighter” somehow or maybe it was just grammatically correct. I agree with Janet that something doesn’t feel right about the boulders pouring from the mouth of the volcano. It brings to mind projectile vomiting rather than an exciting display of nature. That said, I think that when one is contemplating a trip somewhere, the sales copy that is most appealing includes a bit of seductive wording. Is that manipulative? Probably. However, as a potential client for a particular destination I do like to imagine the setting of the location, complete with evocative imagery which allows me to daydream a little bit. I don’t think promises should be made that are likely to result in disappointment, but a few over-the-top adjectives sprinkled here and there don’t bother me.

                    • At February 22, 2010
                      10:42:49 am
                      Janet Band said:


                      I much prefer the edited copy. I want travel copy to be evocative, not overbearing. Labored imagery and cliche detracts. I want the copy to take me 98% of the way–I want to find that last 2% through my journeys.

                      “Search for” is preferable to “come face to face with” as it implies an active getaway.

                      “Crown jewel” trite and overworked.

                      Arenal: still don’t really like the boulders pouring from its mouth. While I don’t love it, I prefer the first version as the last phrase in the edited version seems like an afterthought. Also, an overworked image.

                      Thanks for letting us into the process. I admire what you have done with CRE and am happy for this insiders’ view.

                      Janet Band