Tourism operators beware, just because someone has a blog and a digital camera doesn’t mean they’re a journo as one New Zealand tourism operator found out last week.

A Kiwi tourism operator experienced a near right royal shafting from an apparent pseudo journo last week on the Otago Peninsula near Dunedin on the South Island.

A supposed global media company called A+P Media contacted the luxurious Kaimata Retreat on the Otago Peninsula wanting to send one of their publicist/journalists to stay with a view to booking future accommodation for their high end clientelle.  The owner, Rachel Duell, Googled A+P Media and naturally got the global news network AP (Associated Press) as the first listing so she offered a one night media rate booking.

The alleged A+P Media contact, Julie Malcolm, informed Rachel on the day of arrival the name of the journalist.  This is where it all goes downhill.  Rather than Googling again, Rachel took it in good faith that the journalist was legit.  After all, she was with Associated Press, right?  First mistake.

It wasn’t until someone with said name arrived and allegedly started sprouting forth a load of name dropping waffle that Rachel and her husband Kyle Davidson became suspicious. So they Googled the journo’s name and low and behold discovered that she was wanted by the NZ fashion world who she had pupportedly scammed in the past. She was also the target of websites aimed at revealing her alleged fraudulent behaviour.

Rachel rang Julie Malcolm and surprise surprise, said journalist answered the phone. She quickly made up something about borrowing her boss’ phone and, according to Rachel the alleged lies continued.

Needless to say Rachel and Kyle asked her to pay up and leave.  She did, but not before a number of outraged emails were sent from ‘Julie Malcolm’ to Rachel and Kyle.  One must keep the fantasy alive after all.

Of course this is all reported from the tourism operator but the moral of the story is that Google is your friend. There are a lot of scheisters who think travel journalism is one big free holiday. Trust me, it’s not.

When a media contact approaches you if you can’t find their name on Google then don’t even think about granting them the five star penthouse, lift passes for two, case of wine, bag of beauty products or whatever else they’re requesting.

If they claim to be a freelancer with a commission then contact the magazine they’ve been commissioned from and ask the editor if they know them.  You could ask the ‘journo’ for a letter of commission but even these are easy to forge. Of course if they have a website with legitimate press clippings, you regularly see their byline or they come recommended from a Tourism Board then there’s no need to play McGyver.

Even if the journalist name comes from an editor who is sending them, Google them. Why?  Because you may find out something about the journalist that will help you. Perhaps you’ll see they write a lot about adventure so you can surprise them with a personalised trekking day, or maybe you’ll discover they write for other publications you have been trying to get into.

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The more you know about the journalist arriving at your property, the better prepared you are to give them a good time which will hopefully result in positive editorial.

Thankfully Rachel and Kyle are not out of pocket and were savvy enough to call the Police.  These guys are not stupid, I know, I’ve stayed at Kaimata as a journalist and found them professional, gracious and warm.  But even professionals can have a bad day.

What was even worse is that the journo apparently used a respected Australian travel journalist’s name and claimed to be Facebook friends with him when talking to Rachel.  He is a friend of mine on Facebook and I checked, he is not FB friends with the alleged journo. Rachel has since alerted him to the misuse of his name.

Fraudsters make my life as a freelance journalist difficult. I arrived at a New Zealand skiing lodge one year to find a half baked ‘Pro Skier’ at my dinner table telling anyone who would listen how he was shooting for major ski magazines in Australia.  I, however, was there with a number of commissions from ski magazines and newspapers in Australia.

I kept schtum and asked him who he was shooting for. He listed three magazines, and I said “so you must know [insert editors name], [insert editors name] and [insert editors name]”.  “No man, they must be in advertising dude, never heard of them” he replied through glassy eyes.

That’s when I dropped the clanger “Shame, because they’re the editors and I am writing for them”.  I then informed the ski lodge owner they had a fraudster amongst them and that they should cancel the two days of heli skiing he had scammed from them.

The more people that do this the less a tourism operator will trust a journalist.  The more tourism operators Google and research the journalists the less scammers will slip through the nets and we’ll all be happy.