19 - Marina Villatoro of the Travel Experta - How She Took Her Love of Travel and Turned It Into a B

While Marina was living in Costa Rica and traveling with her family, she decided it would be fun to blog about it.  It was when people were contacting her about their travels to Central America where she discovered a huge void in the travel industry: information about where to go with a family in Central America.  Marina took advantage of the situation and started her own business, helping families find more boutique hotels and packages for their entire family.

This led to an extremely niche business for Marina which has allowed her to make a living and travel to amazing places with VIP service for free.  Not a bad way to take your family to trips you would have taken anyway, all on someone else's dime.

Marina shares her story of how she got started, and how she built her business from just a blog to much more. 

How did you monetize this idea? Originally the business plan was going to be to work with the companies hotels and resorts, and then it would be based on commissions.  Her first area of concentration was really just in Costa Rica. 

However, once word of mouth allowed her to grow, she was able to expand to a more general area, and it became a bigger travel blog, which allowed more opportunity for advertising.

She can now travel and work with hotels, restaurants, etc, as an endorsement.  So it’s allowed her to travel to places and write about them, and then get the entire trip (that she would have taken anyway for free).

What was the first step you made after you saw the blog had the potential to be a business?  She first stated passing the customers who had questions for her to travel agents who charged fees and paid very little commission.  She decided she would then start calling the hotels to see how it could work, and allow her readers to just book directly through her.

What made her ahead of the rest was that she was also living in Costa Rica, unlike a lot of the other travel agencies who were booking.  So she experienced first hand the places she was booking and recommending to her clients.

What has been one of the biggest obstacles you've had to overcome?  Getting people to come to her because she didn’t have a lot of money to compete with the bigger agencies.  So she put in a lot of time and sweat equity into building her business and working that business aspect. 

What was a big marketing win for you?  The best way for her to do free marketing was forums.  She spent a ton of time answering people’s questions and giving advice for travel to certain areas.  Once they saw that she was giving useful advice, they contacted her.  Since those people were active forum users, then they would recommend her on the sites where she was giving advice.  It allowed her to build momentum and a bigger name.

Now a lot of her money is coming from advertising in addition to writing positions. 

Marina advises if you can get within a niche that you hone in on it versus trying to be too general, if you’re getting into the travel industry. 

If you’re starting a website, Marina says there are a thousand ways you could waste your time (i.e. hours on Facebook).  So really make sure you’re concentrating on the areas that are going to bring in your customers, and concentrate on those areas.  

What was a moment where you knew the entrepreneur roller coaster ride was where you were supposed to be?  It was last year when she took her family to Florida for two weeks.  Her entire trip (minus transportation) was covered.  And it wasn’t just covered, it was V.I.P. complimentary service, and just a complete luxurious, red carpet experience. 

What's one piece of advice you would give to someone standing on the edge?  Focus on a niche.  You can always go more general later on, but start on something razor-sharp.  She first concentrated on Central America, but then grew from there. 

What’s a tool you can’t live without?  Wordpress allows her to not be very software savvy, but still have her own platform for her website.  She also says that Google Keywords is her other must for her to figure out her SEO.  She has a great tip on working on being specific with your ad words.  She goes for the keywords that are 500-3000 views per month.  That way she’s not competing with the bigger websites for search results.  She recommends even looking for 1500 or less. 

More About Marina:  Marina Kuperman Villatoro is CEO of TravelExperta.com, a travel resource site to inspire families to travel with kids of all ages. She's been an expat 10+ years in Central America raising 2 boys in a multicultural, trilingual household. We travel all over the world. Needless to say, it’s never boring! So find out where you can eat, stay and play with your kids all around the world. 


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