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Entrepreneurial Lifestyle, Managing a Business

Turning holidays into a business in 2023

That travel broadens the mind is hardly a new mantra. For as long as there has been the promise of something new at the edge of the horizon, there has been the idea of packing up for a while to find out what it is. So what if these days, true cultural enrichment has been mostly replaced by a mini-break at a Holiday Inn or a week partying in Ayia Napa? The instinct to leave our routines for a week or two and try something else is unchanged. 

But in 2023, with the global recession and the aftermath of COVID, it’s a very different industry than it was even five years ago. We spoke with two of our Powered by Namecheap winners, both in the travel sector, to find out what it’s like working in such an unpredictable industry in 2023.

Meet Sophie Tang from WanderGuide (USA), a bespoke travel guide company, and Ellis Derkx from Splashpacker (Spain), the creator of a specialist diving and travel blog.

Finding a niche in the travel industry

Sophie was a furniture designer and digital strategist, and Ellis was a scuba diver instructor. But both found a niche in the travel industry market they wanted to exploit, and it was enough to draw them to start their own websites. But what was it that sparked the embryo of their ideas?

“I wanted to create a business that reflected my belief that travel should be inclusive for everyone,” says Sophie from WanderGuide. 

Sophie Tang

“No matter what your interests are, how you want to travel (fast or at leisure), need special care or face physical limitations, whether you are traveling with kids or a pet, and so on. WanderGuide uses AI to suggest and optimize your trip planning.  Then we map your bespoke audio guides on an interactive map you can use to find your way around, while listening to tips, history, and interesting facts about the place. Our travel guides are tailor-made for your itineraries, wherever life takes you.”

This was a clear mission that Sophie had from day one.

For Ellis, her business niche was realized more gradually through personal experience. “My first job after uni was at a tour operator that specialized in scuba diving holidays,” she says.

Ellis Derkx underwater

“I soon realized that I wasn’t an office girl, and when they sent me to Egypt for a week, I knew I wanted to become a dive instructor. At that time, I traveled a lot solo, and being a female traveler, it was clear there was a need for someone to focus on dive travel and also solo female travel. But those are still pretty general markets. When I was backpacking in Thailand about 5 years ago, I saw so much destructive mass tourism — but at the same time, became aware of companies that focused on sustainable tourism.” 

It was this final element that gave her the niche she’d been looking for for her blog: countering the destructive nature of mass tourism.

But why the travel industry?

For Sophie, it was about the emotions the travel industry evokes from customers.

“People are happiest when they are on vacation, and planning for one is something everyone looks forward to. We want to inspire people from all walks of life and all ages. That’s why we work very hard to provide bespoke guides in over 200+ languages, and our website content can be listened to in multiple languages.”

For Ellis, it’s also the magic of the industry itself that draws her to work there despite other less-than-ideal elements: 

“I always have prioritized doing what I love over how much money I make — otherwise, I would never have worked as a diving instructor. I remember on one of my first days at college, one professor mentioned the travel industry is one of the lowest-paid industries, and that we still could change our choice of study if we were looking into getting rich one day! The travel industry always deals with low commissions and is fraught with uncertainty, like COVID-19, when the whole travel industry just closed down.”

For Sophie, it’s also the clarity of her vision that motivates her to stay in the travel industry — taking the weight off anyone lacking the time to manage their own travel plans. 

“I was very inspired by the philosophy behind slow travel and the thoughtfulness of inclusive travel for all ages, especially going the extra mile for travelers with accessibility and special needs. What do you do when you have a family member who cannot keep up with a tour group while out sightseeing? You’ll want to travel at your own pace! Our team sets out to enable anyone to plan an itinerary while catering to their specific requests. This might include providing support for wheelchair accessibility or even pet-friendly accommodation.”

More opportunities for revenue

Both of the businesses share something in common, and that’s monetizing more elements of the industry than they work indirectly. Ellis uses the blog as a way to keep her passion for diving alive, but it also has financial benefits:

“I earn commission by recommending accommodation and flights. Most money comes from one company offering tours and excursions. Google AdSense pays me a little bit of money for showing advertisements on my website.” 

She has also expanded into YouTube content related to her site to bolster income. “Finally, I’m an affiliate partner with an online retailer. Sometimes, I write posts with tips for packing lists and earn commission on those items.” As a blogger, she says these kinds of business relationships are the best way to earn money. 

Sophie’s site uses a flexible subscription model. She also uses a similar mechanism to Ellis, albeit in the opposite way.

 “We use an extensive network of local guides and tour operators for their insights and local knowledge and manage a commission tier that rewards approved contributors for their travel tips, recommendations, and guides. Anyone can become a contributor just by writing about their neighborhood or local trips.” 

For WanderGuide, the content adds value to their website and of course, the travel communities who access it. By having a wide encyclopedia of information about just about everywhere, people subscribe to their service for immersive audio guides and use the AI planner for bookings with them. These competitively priced bookings help their operations with returns of small commissions through affiliates.

Overcoming challenges

As we’ve already mentioned, when it comes to overcoming challenges, the travel sector isn’t short of examples. Barely a day goes by, particularly as we near the holiday season, where we don’t hear of flights being canceled or travel plans ruined because of severe weather events. 

But working in the industry, this is par for the course, and day-to-day challenges can be just as run-of-the-mill as for any other business. Sophie cites her biggest challenge day-to-day as “wearing too many hats and burnout — even forgetting what day it is.” This is hardly surprising when you look at the scale of what WanderGuide is already managing content-wise. The site is a growing database of travel guides, and curating it is an ongoing and lengthy process.

Meanwhile, Ellis worries about the rising costs, particularly in the area of flights. 

“When I was at college, low-cost carriers were only just starting in Europe. I remember paying €400 for a plane ticket that 5 years later cost €40 — due to the low-cost airlines. I wonder if it can stay like that.” 

While there are some worries about the current pilot shortage affecting passenger airlines, the outlook for most low-cost airlines looks good — for now, at least. But Ellis wonders if the loss of low-cost carriers might help the environmental impact of the tourism industry.

The future of our businesses

Not standing still is more important in the travel industry than many others. Businesses, particularly ones like WanderGuide, must continuously adapt to changing situations, tastes, or climates. When it comes to the future of their site, Sophie wants to “improve our TravelGPT model and website with more personalized audio guides, local insights, travel tips, events, and emergency response alerts.” She also wants to add image recognition to their TravelGPT app. Users can get translations for signage they don’t understand and even ask follow-up questions related to that image to get local insights.

In the long term, she wants to build a global loyalty program to reward contributors with travel perks and commissions for their tips and reviews so anyone can be a WanderGuide contributor and earn rewards with their love of travel.

Meanwhile, Ellis will continue a three-pronged attack: the website, YouTube, and a memoir she is writing that complements her work. 

“It covers not only the loss of my mother when I was 21, and my father when I was 29, but also the years in between when I worked very hard to make my dream come true of working as a diving instructor around the world. Although this book is not only for scuba divers and travelers, I do believe that a part of the target audience for this book overlaps with the website visitors, and vice versa. I hope to promote my book through the website too, but also to get people to my website after reading the book.”

As she points out, 

“In this way, it’s similar to my YouTube channel, which is targeted towards the same audience as the Splashpacker website. I plan to promote the book on there and share more lessons, like things I learned from those years working abroad, scuba diving, and chasing my dreams.”

Final advice

As usual, we turn to our interviewees to throw out advice they would give to others in their position. 

Sophie says: Choose a niche that you are very passionate about and keep learning every day. You really have to want to own a business and make it work.”

Meanwhile, Ellis has a great tip for others starting lifestyle blogs or other projects where how many followers you have is key: 

“Don’t get discouraged if you don’t have a big amount of social media followers — it’s not the only way. Most of my visitors find the website through Google search. Figuring out how SEO (search engine optimization) works and applying the techniques can get you lots of traffic to your website. Those are pretty universal laws — like using keywords, keeping a certain amount of word count, structuring your website in a way that search engines understand it, naming your images, including multimedia, etc. 

“There are a lot of websites and blog posts out there explaining exactly what to do in order to rank in Google (or other search engines). Just follow those rules and combine them with your unique content and writing style (avoid writing as a robot by focusing only on SEO), and it will work.”

SEO is indeed a great way to give your site the traffic it needs. You can find out more about how to get ahead with SEO using our course created by Namecheap’s own gurus, or try out RelateSEO to get some of the heavy lifting done for you. 

But she rounds off by bringing her story full circle — back to her blog, now Powered by Namecheap. 

“Having my own domain name and self-hosting my website rather than working with a free blogging platform was a great boost to SEO. So a big social media following helps, but it’s not necessarily the only way, and Splashpacker is proof of that.”

If you want to get Powered by Namecheap, you can submit an application in our latest initiative.

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James Long avatar

James Long

Jamie is a writer and composer based in London, England. He has been Creative Lab Copywriter for Namecheap since July 2017. Before that, he was a professional copywriter for Freeview, Eventim, and Emotech. When he’s not coming up with snappy taglines and irresistible call-to-actions, Jamie writes comedy and musical theatre. More articles written by James.

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