In this post I interview Melvin Böcher, Founder and CEO of Traveldudes. Traveldudes is a travel blog curated by various contributors around the world. Melvin runs the site with several colleagues and has invested many years of work and tonnes of money in its success. The English version of Traveldudes started in January 2009 and has seen a huge user increase each month since then. Traveldudes is also the creator of the very popular Travel Talk on Twitter (#TTOT). Their hashtag reaches around 2 million users and creates around 25 million impressions every Tuesday. Last but not least, they have partnered with ITB Berlin, one of the largest travel shows in the world.
Real Insights By Melvin Böcher
Melvin has been kind to provide an insight into how he works and what’s made his website successful. Read the Q&A below.
What made you start out in travel blogging?
Printed guidebooks are limited in space, that’s why we created TravelDudes.org. It was one of the first online guidebooks by a community of travellers. It’s about sharing travel experiences and encouraging people to get out to see the world. Throughout my life I got the best tips from locals and other travellers and even if you have seen many parts of the world, there will always be travellers who have seen more. So we decided to ask travellers to contribute their stories and turned it into something awesome: sharing “your” experience with others and inspire them to go on their own.
What was your job before?
My life was always about travel – I was a travel agent for many years. That gave me the option to see the world quite a bit already before I started the blog.
What do you feel was the big “break” for you after which things started to set off?
I always thought there would be this big “break” and I was waiting for it for a while, but actually it’s a steady increase of success. It is all based on a lot of work, tackling many issues and living it with passion all the time. In the end I’m happy like that, as I think this big breakthrough also have a bigger risk with a big drop afterwards. There was only one big break and that was the moment when I quit my old job. I decided to travel for half a year through Australia & New Zealand and to start running Travel Dudes full time. That first decision was a bit tough, but everything else afterwards just played out very well.
After how many months/years did you start making any meaningful amounts of money?
What’s meaningful? Digital prices are extremely low compared to print. This makes it very tough to make the money for the actual value you provide. Still we do fine, but I’ve actually never measured our success with the money we make. Travel Dudes is not a selling platform for flights or accommodations and it will never have that priority. We see success in our growing community and the quality content we create and share. We reach 4 million people every month, which I think is awesome. The value of that in traditional media would be immense, in digital it’s not…yet.
Did you first make money from pay-per-click, google ads, yahoo bing or other affiliated ads?
No and I still don’t focus on these. I see those as ripping off people that run sites. They invest a lot of their time and money setting up these sites and they should get more for their efforts. Take the example of affiliate partnerships. As a “real world” travel agent you get 8-15% commission for selling holidays. In the “digital world” you suddenly get only 2.5 – 5%. Why? Because lots of people are fine with it and have probably no idea what could be possible.
Then you see big booking sites who have strategies to get your users, lead them elsewhere, so that you don’t even get the commission. They also get the right data and can contact them directly afterwards. So you have brought them a customer once for little money and lost the customer probably afterwards.
Same for advertising. If you take a full page ad in travel magazines with an edition of 100,000, this costs $60,000. You have no clue how many people really buy the magazine and see the ad. A similar ad online would cost $600 CPM (seen as the digital price), if the 100,000 readers would really see it, which I highly doubt. An online price for a skyscanner ad cost maybe $8-12 CPM. But in the end, 1,000 readers (views) stay 1,000 views, no matter where those are. So only websites with a huge amount of traffic can really make a good amount of money with these kind of monetization strategies. Yet, they still sell themselves extremely cheap as prices are still paid by 1,000 views, clicks or similar.
Do you have a fixed income now from travel blogging or does it fluctuate?
Running a business usually comes with a fluctuating of income, especially in the first few years. Savings help to go through the months with less income. I don’t pay myself a fixed income, though I could. But for me it’s more important to invest into my team and business. So around 85-90% goes back into the business, to make sure that Travel Dudes continues to play an important role in the next few years. This is more important to me than having an apartment in NYC. A site like Travel Dudes is a team success and not by one individual. I have a dream team and I’m happy to share the success together with them.
What’s your advice for new starters, in terms of how to make it work and pay?
Expect to work more than your friends and get less money. It can take several years until it pays back. What is important is to believe in yourself and keep focused on your goal. There will be many problems coming along and it’s part of the game to find a way through or around them to get get to your set goal. It will always come different than what you have had in mind at the beginning – just find your way. To run a professional blog is not about travelling the world and uploading a few articles here and there. This is about running a business and you have to think like an entrepreneur.
It’s damn tough to travel the world and run a business at the same time. Definitely not a holiday, though it’s important that it should look like one. Readers don’t want to see the business side, but the fun things. Still all the work and problems are definitely worth it and I love it.
Should people abandon their jobs for travelling, hoping to make money? Or should they first start out as a hobby, be persistent and then once it sets off think about upping everything else?
No, they definitely should not quit their jobs just like that. There are not that many professional travel bloggers our there. Most can’t make a proper income via their blogs and make their income elsewhere, writing for others, being social media managers or similar. That’s also all fab and is very similar to being a professional travel blogger. They still have their blogs, but it’s more their advertising platform and they make their money elsewhere.
However, I do recommend to quit your job and travel the world for fun – to see things. You can also start blogging, maybe even become successful in reach, but it’s something else when you suddenly have to make a full time income. When trying to run a business it should not be enough to have just a tiny income to get by – that wouldn’t work in the long run. With persistence this can lead into more, but don’t “hope” to make money.
If you are looking for “hope”, you better look for it elsewhere. It’s fine to start it as a hobby, but if you have that tiny little idea of maybe doing it full time some day, you should start treating it as a business right away.