Future of Online Travel

What am doing here? Building the future of Travel – I hope

What am doing here? Building the future of Travel – I hope

Vago Damitio. What am I doing here?

Sefrou, Morocco

While it’s always wonderful to come back home and see my daughter, coming back to Sefrou is never really anything I want to do.  But, it’s my wife’s hometown and it’s where we live until we find out for certain whether she is approved to live in the United States or not.  It’s the house we have, the address we live at, and more importantly, the one listed on all the paperwork with the National Immigration Service and the Department of Homeland Security.  Man, I hate paperwork and ever since I decided to fall in love with a foreign national in an African Arab country – I’ve been buried in it.  Let’s hope that changes sometime in the future along with my default location.

In the meantime, I’ve jumped headfirst into a number of other projects that will eventually require lots of paperwork if everything goes according to plan. In fact, if I can say something positive about Sefrou it’s that I have plenty of time to work on this stuff when I’m here.  First of all, I should point you to check out my latest online adventure – ThingstodoinIstanbul.org – this is a location based travel site which now includes 14 major cities around the world. The idea is to create an easy and complete list of things to do and places to see in some of the top cities in the world. This project is very much in the beginning stages of development, but I’m certainly hopeful that under the umbrella of Vagobond Travel Media, LLC it will thrive and grow into something wonderful.

I’ve been working with a huge number of independent travel reps, PR firms, and travel companies to bring the best content possible to Vagobond.com. This in addition to working with our regular staff writers and some incredible new additions (Sarah Spigelman writing about food in New York City and the East Coast and Anthony Mathenia writing about offbeat family travel in middle America among others…) Plus, we’ve been really lucky to have some incredible guest writers lately from all over the world sharing amazing adventures and insider secrets from the Paris Jazz scene to the top UK places to visit if you are a British music fan. All of this, has hopefully added up to a better experience for you, our readers.

Future of Online TravelEven though I’ve gone to some trouble to point out and distance Vagobond from being listed as a ‘travel blog’ – it still ranks high in all the major listings of the top travel blogs on the web, which is both gratifying and funny.  As you know, I prefer to think of Vagobond as an online travel magazine and in the future, I hope to also make it a print travel magazine – though that is some time off.  In the meantime, I’ve also gone to some trouble to distance myself and our writers from the label ‘Travel Bloggers” – I have lots of friends who consider themselves travel bloggers, but to me, the term has always sounded cheap and unpleasant. Our writers are so much more than ‘blah blah blahgers” – Dave Stamboulis is an award winning travel book author, Linda Kissam is a respected food and wine authority, Katherine Rodeghier is a recipient of the Lowell Thomas Award (possibly the highest honor a travel journalist can achieve), Susan McKee is a respected scholar and historian who has written guidebooks and for National Geographic.  Brian Leibold is a – well – he’s a yodeling vagabond. Calling these writers ‘travel bloggers’ is like calling Walter Kronkite a talking head – it’s neither accurate nor respectful. These are travel journalists. They may work online, but they work. They are professionals.  While there has been some movement to create a professional travel bloggers association and associations through organizations like Travel Bloggers Unite and TBEX – the problem is that these organizations are still using that term ‘travel blogger’.  Is Dave Stamboulis, a guy who has won awards for photography, book awards, and more and who doesn’t blog – is he a travel blogger? Nope. He’s a journalist that publishes online professionally. I support all the efforts to create a more professional class of travel blogger, but it’s like calling it the amateur enthusiast travel writers club just by virtue of including the term travel blogger.

It may sound like splitting hairs about dotting i’s but when I looked around, I saw that I wasn’t the only one bothered by the term blogger. Just about everyone I know who is doing this kind of work professionally was not using the term travel blogger. They call themselves founder, travel writer, online travel editor, travel expert, all kinds of things to avoid that word that ultimately comes across as amateur – blogger.  Tell someone you are a travel journalist and no one asks how you earn money.  Tell them you are a travel blogger and they will ask – do you know why? Because bloggers are amateurs in most people’s eyes.

I have friends that are earning six figures doing this work. Yes, six figures as in more than $100,000 a year. Is that an amateur salary? Not in my thinking.

I looked around to see if there were any organizations that would fit the bill. As a food, wine, and travel writer  and editor – I’m very happy to be a member of the International Food, Wine, and Travel Writers Association,  but I felt like we needed something more focused on the online world with less focus on print.  I didn’t find it. So I created it.

The IAPOTJ – International Association of Professional Online Travel Journalists.  Obviously, an association needs more than one member so I asked around and soon found more than sixty professionals in this business that were interested in joining me to create this organization. At the moment, we are figuring out all the details through an online IAPOTJ group. It’s a big process, but the industry is taking notice and already we’ve managed to secure prestigious mentions, discounts to incredible travel writer events, and even to set up our first Online Travel Writers Residencies in both Turkey and Morocco. We’re in negotiations for residencies in Indonesia, Thailand, and Europe too.

And of course, time will tell. I think the future of online travel journalism is bright as the industry begins to notice that articles on the web never go away like print articles do and that online travel journalists have dedicated followings that pay attention and take action based on what they read.

As far as I can tell, this is the future of travel. With Google’s recent purchase of Frommer’s and Zagats – the travel industry is moving even more firmly online. You can expect Facebook, Microsoft, and Twitter to start doing more of the same. Frankly, with social media integration, I think blogs will soon be a thing of the past – but don’t get me wrong, travel websites will never go away.