Travel photography is probably one of the most misunderstood fields of commercial photography. For most photographers, the only requirement for shooting travel images is for them to be somewhere new, but the reality is quite different. The good news is, this mass misconception means there's great opportunity for the photographers who do get it right.
Travel photography is as commercial as it gets. Travel photography buyers desire images that actively sell the destination or the experience. They need the kind of photography that engage the reader and leave them needing to do it all themselves.
Usually, that means using images of people enjoying the destination or experience.
The difficulty they are facing is most photographers are only going to be shooting holiday snaps, rather than commercial travel images. Most photographers think about travel photography simply as images taken on their own travels, and little thought is given to the end use. They shoot whatever they see, as they see it, and focus on the physical features alone.
As a result they're simply documenting their travels, making an individual record, with very little thought of sharing and selling the experience itself.
Don't misunderstand me here: the physical record type shots can and do sell: the iconic landmarks, the famous vistas, the local wildlife, the buildings, bridges and skylines. There's a definite demand for each one of them, but when you start researching the market you will soon see that these only make up a small part of the images used. The great majority of images used in travel guides and brochures fall into the travel-lifestyle category: travellers experiencing the destination.
This supply-and-demand problem is compounded by the undeniable fact that everybody shoots the iconic shots, and they have been shooting them since cameras were invented. It is also fair to say that most travel photography publishers are also going to have their own in-house collection of the iconic shots they use most frequently. So if that is all you shoot, you are going to face massive competition for a tiny piece of the potential sales.
So when you start shooting travel stock images that focus on the visitor-experience, you are targeting a gap in the market with much lower competition and noticeably higher demand. If you can then create the types of images that engage the viewer and fire their imagination... making them want to experience it for themselves then you're shooting commercial travel photography.
The added bonus of concentrating on the visitor experience is that as soon as people are included, photo-buyers are going to want current images... ie images showing contemporary hairstyles & fashions. So these are the shots that are always in demand and can't always be found in the in-house collection.
The destination could be a 2000 year old landmark that's been photographed a million times, but the people viewing it will need to be contemporary, so there will always be a genuine demand for fresh new images of the feature.
Most of this is straightforward common-sense, once you take a Client-centric approach and plan & shoot for your end-user instead of yourself. Research your destinations, identify the landmarks and icons, but take a little more time to completely understand the total experience of the destination and make it your goal to capture & convey that.
The good news is, most photographers won't do any of this, so any time you do it, you'll be stepping out from the crowd. And when you create the kind of travel images that the audience wants to immerse themselves in to experience it all firsthand, then you'll be shooting the sort of travel images that sells themselves.