By Layan Damanhouri
Blogs on beauty, fashion, and food quickly emerged attracting up to millions of followers; however, not many have taken up travel blogging in the Arab World, particularly in the GCC region.
For YouTubers, it can be challenging, according to 23-year-old vlogger Anas Iskander, one of the rare full-time travel bloggers in the region.
“In Saudi Arabia, Youtubers have a hard time getting revenue from their channels because advertisers prefer to spend their budget on traditional media outlets even if it’s less airtime and lesser views. The average income of a Youtuber is low compared to other countries like the United States, for example, who pay 9 times more than a YouTuber here.”
The average income for a Youtuber in Saudi Arabia is SR 1,500 per one million views.
Iskander’s fun and affable character invites viewers to his journeys to countries all over the world in short witty videos. His channel reached over 13 million views where 80% of his fans are from Saudi Arabia followed by the GCC countries.
“I try to change the perception of the Khaleeji traveler who is used to going to five-star hotels and whose interests mainly involve shopping and restaurants,” he said in an interview with Saudi Gazette. “I show them how to have fun and experience a foreign culture on a low budget.”
Iskander’s videos explores experiential travel where he tries ethnic food in unfamiliar places, tries wild activities, and stays in hostels.
“I think it’s the simplicity in the videos that people like,” he said.
The Internet changed the way people learned about and shopped for travel, says CEO of Xpat.Media, Matt Gibson, an award-winning travel photographer, writer, and blogger.
“People no longer have to rely on travel agents and traditional media as much as they had in the past,” says Gibson who heads the Professional Travel Bloggers Association. “The result was a decline in demand for travel advertising in traditional travel media, and a decline in clients for travel agents.”
It’s possible to be a blogger who earns money solely from sponsorships and website-based revenue, but “not many people achieve that”, he adds. “Blogging is more often a method for marketing a product or service that one wants to sell. Many travel bloggers also work as tour guides, consultants, or professional photographers, and use their blog to generate business.”
The people who only do travel in the region are very few, according to Australian travel blogger Shane Dallas who is based in Dubai. Travel bloggers usually have another full-time job to support themselves, he says. “The challenge is convincing brands because they assume people don’t do travel only but that lifestyle bloggers cover different things.”
Dallas, who goes by the name The Travel Camel, predicts video to be the next challenge. “When it becomes high quality, includes virtual reality and 360 video, bloggers have to come up with new ways to keep up.”
Social media changed the way a generation viewed their content. “They want content that’s snappier, easier, and shorter to read,” he says.
Travel blogging offers better insight to a country that is different from the news. He says, “I don’t always believe what’s in the media. Sometimes TV only shows what’s happening in one street, giving a bad impression of a country.”
American food travel blogger, who goes by the name Maroc Mama, says blogging on Instagram made her American audience see a different side of Morocco, where she currently resides. “A lot of people have misconceptions about the region whether it’s about the political situation or women. I enjoy to show them a different side of things and introduce them to the people I meet. They see that they are regular people who do the same things as everyone else.”
Blogging gives an idea to people on where to go and what’s not being advertised, she adds. “It also helps them avoid tourist traps.”
25 percent of her audience is on Instagram. “It depends on the age,” she says. “A lot of older people ages 40 and above are more likely to visit the website. Younger consumers are more impulsive and when they see photos on Instagram, they immediately book it. For them, it shows the personality of someone and they build trust with the account’s owner.”
Asked about how bloggers influence their followers, Gibson says: “In general, a blogger will only influence part of their audience.”
Unlike those who visit once in a while, the ones who continue to chat with the blogger on social media will feel a connection to the blogger. “It is these people who the blogger truly influences,” he says.
Advice from travel bloggers:
Be transparent and honest in your reviews
Don’t advertise for something if it’s not right or you didn’t try. It will ruin your credibility
Think of innovative ways to present your content
Keep up with the latest trends in video, live streaming, photography, and blog posts. People like to read short-form and entertaining content
Expect travel not to go smoothly.
Be prepared that not everything will be perfect in the hotel, flight or program. Traveling is a learning experience