Holiday rental giant HomeAway has quadrupled its PR budget in the UK for 2010 to help engineer an initiative to send two bloggers around the world for the rest of 2010.
The company has hired well known travel writer Lara Dunston and partner/photographer Terence Carter to spend their time staying in rented villas in 24 locations around the world, in return for blogging about their experiences.
HomeAway Holiday Rentals, the UK division of the global HomeAway brand, has paid for the couple's travel and accommodation for the duration of the project ("plus a fee") and given them free reign to write whatever they like about the properties the duo stay in.
The project, known as Gran Tourismo, follows similar efforts - see Best Job campaign - to spread a brand's message and products in off-kilter ways into corners of the web already teaming with travel content.
HomeAway admits the project could be a tricky one to manage if Dunston and Carter decide a particular property doesn't come up to scratch, especially as owners are paying to feature on its listings pages.
An official says:
"If Lara and Terence are pointing out things that are a problem [for a property] then in some ways it is down to the owner to improve it."
HomeAway insists the pair have complete editorial freedom during the trip - something it says is risky but is outweighed by its desire to push for honesty rather than "advertorial fluff".
Gran Tourismo is a major step for a company such as HomeAway - until now it has put almost all its online marketing and PR efforts into keyword buying and SEO.
The huge increase in PR spend in order to run the project signifies a wider move by travel firms to utilise social media and well known figures on the travel blogging circuit to help with a wider branding strategy.
Dunston and Carter, HomeAway says, have agreed to a minimum level of content on the Gran Tourismo sites during their jaunt around the world, including "keeping up interaction" on social networks.
The pair are also free to continue taking commissions from other travel publications, officials say.
The fail-safe for all parties: there is a get-out clause after one month if things do not work out.
NB: Good interview with Carter here.