The distinctions between press and bloggers have long broken down, but now TripAdvisor’s VirtualTourist, in the name of user-generated content and self-promotion, is trying to turn the contributors it values most into mouthpieces for a sponsor.

VirtualTourist, which offers travel guides and a traveler community, has teamed with Contiki Vacations to hand out VirtualTourist Blogger Press Passes to Contiki travelers who register for Virtual Tourist and post on the site about their travel adventures.

VirtualTourist says its goal is to give holders of the VT Blogger Press Pass access to media-only events and destinations so they can write posts on VirtualTourist.

Posts for VirtualTourist promotional materials

In addition to posting on VirtualTourist, the blogger-press members’ work may appear in VirtualTourist newsletters, press releases, and the company’s Facebook and Twitter accounts.

If you apply and are accepted, you may also receive fun “VirtualTourist gifts,” such as passport holders and luggage tags, although a code of ethics bars the blogger-press-pass holders from accepting freebies from outside companies or for using the pass to take writing assignments from anyone other than VirtualTourist, the company says.

VirtualTourist is currently running a pilot of the press pass program, and is asking people to apply for when the program opens up to more bloggers at a later date. Here are current blogger-press-pass members.

Frequent contributors become bloggers and press members

In essence, VirtualTourist is taking frequent contributors to its community, and instead of merely designating them as such, the company is turning them into members of the press for promotional and search engine optimization purposes.

The idea is to spur more frequent contributions and to give members access to a broader array of events, and then VirtualTourist can use their contributions in its promotional materials and in social media.

And, offering the blogger-press pass to Contiki Vacations travelers is a way to further promote the program and VirtualTourist.

Is a form letter bad form?

Frequent contributors who are accepted into the program, which is taking applications through the end of the year, get to write for VirtualTourist’s 8 million monthly unique visitors, and get “a form letter for reaching out and gaining admittance to places and events normally restricted to media,” VirtualTourist says.

It used to be that websites would hand out virtual badges to frequent contributors, but now  VirtualTourist is taking it a step further by handing out blogger-press passes. And, yes, holders of the press pass get a badge on their VirtualTourist pages, as well.

The VirtualTourist-Contiki Vacations program comes as travel companies are developing new ways to reach out to the blogging community and social media.

For example, Expedia has a couple dozen bloggers on the payroll, including Jeremy Branham, who blogs about college football games.

TripAdvisor, which spun off Expedia late last year, is taking a different tack with its VirtualTourist unit and blogger-press-pass program in promoting its frequent contributors as members of the press, and promoting itself in the process.