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Keith Jenkins of Velvet Escape is one of the most successful travel bloggers around. He’s traveling almost continuously on sponsored press trips, blogger trips and events. He’s a great writer and photographer. He’s got branding and merchandising nailed. He’s earning his living from traveling / blogging. He’s done dozens of guest posts, interviews, and articles. Not surprisingly, Velvet Escape has received numerous mentions, recognitions and awards.
In today’s insightful interview, we go behind the scenes of Velvet Escape to discuss Keith’s blog strategies and success, his deep involvement in the travel blogging community, and his tips for successful blogging.
Q1 : Keith you’re one of only two European travel bloggers I know! Do you know if there are many European travel bloggers doing the same thing in French, German, Swedish?
I’m very sure there are. I don’t know many of them though; just a few Spanish and French bloggers like @viajarcondiego and @UnMondeAilleurs.
Q2 : Do you publish Velvet Escape in other languages or primarily English? Do you have blogs in other languages?
Velvet Escape is published in English only. My photo blog, The Happy Explorer
, is in English too.
Q3 : You’re a really good writer, Keith, describing all your travel destinations in concise, vivid detail. Are you just a naturally talented writer, or did you tackle some writing courses?
Thank you! I’ve always enjoyed writing. I learned English at school in Malaysia and I did a short course in essay-writing when I was in school. I can’t remember when I started writing but I kept a diary as a child and teenager and I was always writing short stories. The longest bit of writing I’ve ever done was my Masters thesis. That was fun! ;-)
|Q4 : Before becoming a travel blogger, you had a successful career in the Corporate Banking world. Talk about different professions! You wrote a great little ebook called Travelations about how you made the transition to travel blogger. I’m still curious how you learned to create such a successful travel blog? Did you just figure it out, use your previous skills, learn from others?
To be honest, I’m still learning. When I first started blogging, I quickly discovered that it’s important to learn from others. I use Twitter as my education platform, following travel bloggers and bloggers in other sectors (IT, food/wine, social media, etc…) as well as small-business consultants, management and marketing professionals. I also became friends with fellow bloggers, exchanging information and tips (behind the scenes). I advise every blogger to have their own circle of what I call “Blogging Buddies”. That’s how the Global Bloggers Network was created: Janice (@solotraveler) and I started Skyping every week simply to brainstorm and help each other with technical issues. When others found out about our Skype calls, they asked if they could join. Not much later, the Global Bloggers Network was born! We’ve learned so much since and it’s great to see members collaborating with each other and sharing their knowledge with one another.
My Sales & Marketing experience gained during my banking days certainly helped. I invest a lot of time in the branding and marketing of the blog. I also learned the finer points of networking during my banking days, techniques I employ on blog trips, conferences and tweet-ups.
I guess I learn fast and I’m never afraid to try out new things. The travel blogging scene is growing so quickly in many different aspects so I think it’s important to stay in the loop.
Q5 : What main factors do you ascribe to the great success of Velvet Escape?
That’s a tough one to answer. In general, I think every blogger should strive to produce quality content (whether it’s text, photography and/or videos) in which the blogger’s personality shines through. If you do this consistently, your readers will easily be able to relate to your experiences and keep coming back for more. Consistency and personality are key. These elements should always be part of any blogger’s branding strategy.
Velvet Escape home page
|Velvet Escape home page
|Q6 : You seem to be deeply involved in the travel blogger community, helping to organize things like Global Bloggers Network, their new webinars and international group blog trips to mention a few. How did you start getting involved? What are your objectives and goals in this regard?
When I joined Twitter in 2009, I quickly started making friends with other travel bloggers. We helped each other by providing technical advice, content (guest posts), links and traffic. By doing this, we helped each other to grow very quickly, at least a lot quicker than if we were to do everything on our own. The Global Bloggers Network is an extension of these partnerships. Janice and I simply created a platform for travel bloggers to network and learn from another. We also arrange webinars so everyone (including ourselves) can learn about a variety of blogging and social media related topics. Our objective is to help everyone grow their blogs and nurture goodwill amongst bloggers. People sometimes tell me that I’m only helping to create competition for my blog. I don’t see it that way. This is the world of social media where the keyword is “share”. I wouldn’t be where I am today were it not for my friends and the travel blogger community in general. Moreover, the travel and blogging landscapes are so broad and diverse – I’m convinced that there’s room for everyone to do something unique.
Keith with fellow travel bloggers in Valencia on a blog trip
|Keith with fellow travel bloggers in Valencia on a blog trip
Q7 : You’ve joined several international group blog trips around the globe. What are they? Who organizes them? How often are they held? How can we find out about them?
Yes, I’ve been on quite a few blog trips, both on my own and in groups. These are trips that are typically organised by tourism boards and/or PR agencies. Blog trips differ from press trips in that the marketing is done ‘real-time’, thereby utilising the blogger’s online reach (e.g. Twitter and facebook presence) to spread the word about the destination. The blog posts that ensue are also an integral part of blog trips. It’s therefore important for travel bloggers to grow their online presence and authority through as many channels as possible: your blog, Twitter, facebook, YouTube, etc… Get this right and the invitations will pour in.
I’ve been on several high-profile blog trips, ones which have attracted millions of online impressions and national press coverage. These are excellent opportunities for the destination to promote itself but also for the bloggers to step into the limelight and introduce themselves to a broader audience. As word spreads through the travel industry about the value that blog trips can provide, more trips will be planned, creating more opportunities for travel bloggers to travel for free and to raise their profiles.
My advice is to work on establishing an authoritative online presence and the tourism boards/PR agencies will find you. Oh, and don’t forget to include a contact form on your blog!
Keith with Janice Waugh of Solo Traveler
|Keith with Janice Waugh of Solo Traveler
Q8 : You seem to have great friendships with Canadian travel blogger Janice Waugh of Solo Traveler and Evelyn Hannon of Journey Woman. It’s always great to find like-minded friends. How/when did you guys strike up your friendships? What’s your common ground? Do you have any joint projects going on?
Janice and Evelyn are like family to me. We met via Twitter some time in 2009 and we clicked very quickly. I think the common ground we share is the great respect we have for one another. Evelyn is one of the great pioneers of travel for women and an enormous inspiration to many, including myself. Janice and I started our blogs at about the same time so we had a lot to chat about (we still do!). Janice and I co-founded the Global Bloggers Network and Evelyn and I co-operate on the occasional marketing campaign. Aside from that, we always support each other any way we can.
Q9 : You have some really unique features on Velvet Escape that I haven’t seen elsewhere on travel blogs including your cool international map with pinpoints linked to your stories and Velvet Escape ‘designer’ merchandise like T-shirts and photo magnets. What’s the idea behind the unique merchandise?
Yay, glad you like the world map on the Velvet World page. I created it to make it easier for my readers to search for relevant posts.
My Velvet Escape shop is an integral part of my branding/marketing strategy. The idea behind it is to bring the Velvet Escape brand from the online world into a household; transforming the brand into something tangible. The fridge magnets and the mugs are the best-sellers and I’m very pleased about that. The reason is quite obvious: how many times a day do you drink a cup of tea/coffee and how often do you open your fridge door?
|Velvet Escape’s magnet selection
Q10 :What’s next for Velvet Escape? Do you have some more products up your sleeve? A travel book or two?
A travel book? Hmmm… that’s a great idea! ;-) To be honest, I’ve been toying with the idea for more than a year and I have several ideas. All I need to do is find a publisher!
I have various plans for Velvet Escape in the pipeline. A redesign and improved positioning of the blog are at the top of the list. Several branding initiatives are also in the works. Lots to do, lots of travel and lots of fun….
Tamariu on Spain's Costa Brava
|Tamariu on Spain’s Costa Brava
Q11 : What are your travel plans for the rest of 2011 ?
I’m sitting on a small ship in Thomas Bay in southeastern Alaska as I write this. This trip ends in a few days. I’ll then spend a few days in Vancouver before returning home. I’ll be visiting Costa Brava, Spain, in July. Then head to Innsbruck, Austria, for the Travel Bloggers Unite conference in August where Janice and I will be speaking. Trips to Spain and/or France are being lined up for early-September, then Alberta & British Columbia in the second half of September. Other trips to Spain, Malaysia and the U.K. before the year-end are in the pipeline. Phew! Wish me luck! ;-)
I do wish you luck! Sounds like a fun exciting year for you, Keith! Thank you very much for sharing this inside scoop on your blog, blog community activities, and advice. I don’t think I need to tell you to continue enjoying your travels and adventures! Meet you out on the road some day. cheers, Lash
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(* all photos from Velvet Escape, with permission *)