As a speaker for the 2016 NEPA BlogCon, Sally Black will bring her passion for travel to the forefront by sharing tips on how to leverage your blog or business audience into a special group travel event.
• Learn how to travel the world for FREE, while earning thousands of dollars for yourself, your company, organization or charity.
• Why dozens, maybe even hundreds of people you already know are waiting to join you on the adventure of a lifetime (that often becomes an annual event).
• Create your own life-changing special events on land or at sea, with the priceless camaraderie of people who share the same dreams and goals. You’ll learn how YOU can do all this risk free, stress-free and at no cost.
Launching one of the first Online Travel Agencies, Vacationkids.com in 2000, she is considered an expert in Family Travel. To celebrate 15 years in a business that many said would never fly, she published her first book “Fearless Family Vacations – How to Make Everyone Happy Without Losing Your Mind”. As her business grew, and her clients grew up, the need for specialized events and group travel also grew. Sally launched VIP Group Travel Events in 2014 to create one of a kind group travel experiences for her clients.
Sally believes vacations are more than just mere time away from the daily grind. They are exciting learning adventures waiting to be experienced by you and those you travel with. I was excited for the opportunity to explore and ask her a few questions. Enjoy.
Sally Black, VacationKids.com
1) Before launching your online travel business in 2000, what did you enjoy doing? Have you always been a traveler or hold a love for exploring and adventure? What made you decide to create an online travel business?
For many years, I practiced as a pediatric Registered Nurse. I loved helping children and their families. Sadly, during a tumultuous divorce, I never received the renewal of my nursing license. Even though I had over 10 years of clinical experience, I would have been required to return to school for a year and re-take my nursing boards all over again. I could not afford either the time or costs.
With three young children to support, I answered a help wanted ad back in 1994 for an “online marketing” company. Back then hardly anyone knew what the “world wide web” was. I landed the job simply because I knew now to email! As luck would have it, I worked for one of the very first online travel companies that created the very first booking engine for airline tickets and parlayed my position into Marketing director and produce development. The company went from 5 people in a barn with no indoor plumbing to being sold 6 years later for $51 million dollars. It was a fascinating and exhausting job that demanded a great deal of international travel.
By the time the dot com bubble burst I yearned to spend more time with my new husband and children. Necessity was really the mother of my inventing Vacationkids. It was the perfect blend of my Pediatric background and travel experience. Creating one of the first, online, home based travel companies afforded me time with the people I love most in this world while allowing me the opportunity to build a business around my passion which is travel.
2) I’m sure over the years in business you have experienced many changes with online approaches to marketing your business. What do you feel are some of the advantages in this ever growing, yet changing, online terrain?
Niche markets and specialization go hand in hand with online business. Kunkletown PA would never be able to support a family travel agency or group travel special event business. Thanks to online marketing, I have connected with wonderful and loyal clients all over the planet. To me, that is the most exciting thing about waking up and going to work every day.
On the flip side, online marketing has become far more complicated. Back in the day all you needed was a website and leads came pouring in. Now that website needs to be desktop, table and mobile friendly. In addition, consumers have fractured and splintered into every nook and cranny of social media. Businesses and bloggers need to adapt, evolve or die.
3) When I hear the word, vacation, I just begin to dream; so I have to ask, since I love exploring myself and feel there is such a grand world out there to have fun in. If someone could only go on one Major Vacation in their lifetime, where are some places they should definitely put on their list to choose from?
It saddens me to think that anyone could only go on one major vacation in their lifetime. Travel educates, enlightens and builds understanding between people – something our world needs desperately. My mission is to help teach people how to make travel a priority in their life by making it easy and affordable.
Trips and travel can be themed around ANY interest or passion a person has. Each and every destination holds its own secrets and surprises, that’s really the joy of discovery when it comes to travel. It’s about personal discovery. That’s why my “must see” list will be different from yours or anyone else.
Personally, the Scottish Hishlands is my “happy place”. The underwater world of Fiji is probably one of the most extraordinary spots that I’ve explored and my favorite spot for a quick getaway is Mexico.
4) You just got back from an amazing trip yourself. Would you like to share a little about this and the new tips for travelers you might have realized by doing so? It is always smart to learn from those who are venturing forth and then listening to that advice. Do you then offer these to your readers on your site, and feel content from experience is useful?
Experience is ALWAYS in best teacher in my opinion. I just returned from a 12 day Mediterranean cruise from Venice to Barcelona with a group of Real Estate Investors. A cruise is one of THE best ways to explore a great deal of geography in a short period of time. This is because the ship “travels” while you are sleeping making it easy and convenient. There is no packing/unpacking and waiting in airports or train stations.
A cruise is also a great way to blend business with pleasure. Our Real Estate investors spent three days at sea in intensive training seminars while their families had fun on board the ship. The networking continued after class in the hot tub and at dinner. The rest of the time they spent having fun exploring ports of call with their loved ones – making their vacation a tax write off. Balancing business with fun is key to any successful group travel event.
During the cruise I did live videos from each of our ports of call which I posted to all of my clients and followers on social media. I use all of my own trips to build out yearly content for my editorial calendars. By planning ahead and building content topics on the go it helps me to collect a video and image bank so that I can re-purpose my content in different formats. I personally used this trip as a way to gain insight, contacts and marketing materials that I will use for future group travel clients.
5) What inspired you to write your book, Fearless Family Vacations: Make Everyone Happy Without Losing your Mind? Had you always thought of writing a book or did you see a need for it and had to write it? And do you plan on writing other books in the future? Do you feel they help gain credibility for the expansion of a website?
Since Vacationkids began, not a day has passed that I’ve picked up the phone and listened to a frantic parent on the other end say…”Our family desperately needs a vacation but I’ve been going nutz searching online and can’t get my family to agree on anything”. I’d share some of my client stories with friends who would chuckle at these anecdotes and say “OMG…you should write a book”. That was where the book idea came from. In addition, I saw it as a tool to help reach and teach more families in the art of travel.
In addition, there is a HUGE disconnect in the travel industry. Look at any family travel add out there and you will see what I call the “white bikini family”…mom, dad and 2 kids skipping down a beach in matching white bathing suits. In reality, my clients are more like the cast of the TV show “Modern Family”. The book has afforded me the opportunity to speak at many important industry events like the NY Times Travel Show, The Family Travel Association and CruiseWorld. Being able to address industry leaders is helping to change product offerings, rules and marketing for family travel. This has sincerely helped build credibility and traffic to our website.
Initially the thought of writing an entire book felt like standing at the bottom of a mountain knowing I needed to be on the other side. I then realized that many of the points I wanted to make in the book I had already written about in my blog. I created a basic book outline and began by “copy & pasting” blog posts into the outline. Much of the book wrote itself that way. I simply “filled in the blanks” in between blog posts!
I’m currently working on my second book in the same way which will focus on group travel and special events. This is an entirely different specialty that I’ve been studying over the past five years. It’s a completely different skill set from being a travel agent. Meanwhile, an editor friend has asked to read several of my trade journals which are home to my crazy, sarcastic, “you can’t make this sh*& up travel stories. Who knows, some of those stories may make it into print soon too.
–Thank you Sally. Such an encouraging and uplifting story you have. Your love for both travel and helping others with following their dreams shines through. Awesome! I appreciate you sharing how having different interests can be integrated into a growing and profitable business. Definitely Congrats on your success in doing something you love! Can’t wait to hear you speak at NEPA BlogCon 2016! It’s going to be an exciting day!