Social Media Portal interview with Neil Waller from My Destination
Profiled interview with Neil Waller, co-founder and CEO of travel website My DestinationSocial Media Portal (SMP): What is your name and what do you do there at My Destination?Neil Waller (NW)
: My name is Neil Waller and I’m the co-founder
and CEO. I wear a number of hats, but my main role on a day-to-day basis is to be in touch with current franchisees and making sure the team is running as smoothly as possible.SMP: What did you do before starting My Destination?NW
: I was studying at the University of Bath and had completed two 6-month internships at Private Equity houses. It was enough to push me to start my own business. SMP: Why the name ‘My Destination’ how did you come up from it?NW
: Marbellainfo was the name of our first site and so when expanding to the Algarve it made sense for us to look for a similar name but someone already had Algarveinfo.com so we became theAlgarveinfo.com. We then had Dubaiinfo.ae, capetowninfo.co.za so we were able to snap up the local domains. We couldn’t have come up with just one domain at this stage like My Destination as it would of looked silly having only 4 or 5 sites in there and our franchisees found that having the destination name i.e. Marbella in the name of their site helped sell to local businesses.
Eventually as this problem of domains not being available became more apparent we discovered that my…destination name…info.com domains were available for every destination around the world so that is what we grew to be mylondoninfo.com, mymaltainfo.com etc. Eventually we reached a size where we bought mydestinationinfo.com and built a hub site with some content that pointed to our franchised sites around the world. However all of our franchisees still marketed themselves as mylondoninfo.com and sat on the URL www.mylondoninfo.com.
Finally, for SEO and brand reasons everyone jumped to become mydestinationinfo.com. In 2011 after years of people not remembering the rather long mydestinationinfo.com and possibly after watching them shave the ‘The’ of TheFacebook in the movie we dropped the info to become My Destination, but only after some long negotiations to buy this domain! So as you can see it was a long process to get to the brand name we have and many hard URL migrations etc., where we suffered large drops in traffic, but somehow we survived and came out with a brand name and logo that we love.SMP: Tell us about My Destination (for those that don’t know), what is it and what does the company do?NW
: We are a series of nearly 90 online travel guides that are operated by local people so the content is up to date, comprehensive and rich with multimedia. SMP: How many countries / regions does the company operate and how big is the team?NW
: We are in 46 countries, 88 destinations (to date) and have over 200 people working on the site every day. Our team across our two offices in London and Spain consist of around 35 people. SMP: Who are your target audience and why?NW
: Different destinations target a different audience, but we offer great travel content so our target audience are those that want to explore the world, which is an awful lot of us.SMP: How is My Destination funded?NW
: We have had a number of fund raising rounds, which we have done internally so nearly 40 of our franchisees are not just franchisees but also shareholders in the business.
SMP: How did you initially attract users the My Destination website and site and how do you do it now?NW
: Of course a lot of it is done online, so we focus a lot on doing everything we can to be SEO friendly, to build our social media following and to do fun and amazing competitions like our Biggest Baddest Bucket List competition
. SMP: What are the low moments of what you have been doing so far?
: The dips we received in traffic from URL changes has severely hampered growth. Each time we knew they were coming but did not think they would last as long as they did. Traffic is obviously key to getting advertisers on board the site so this hurt us quite badly. The good news going forward is that we never have to do it again!
SMP: What are the high moments of what you have been doing so far?NW
: I would say launching our brand new site (design-wise) that you see now. That was a lot of work doing a design change of that size and it was great to see it built. SMP: What do you see as your biggest challenges and opportunities (digital, social and otherwise)?
: Our biggest challenge is also our biggest opportunity and that is to build a community and members area on the site that people will use and not just once, but continue to use.
That is what we will be working on this year but if we can get it right we like to think we will be combining our great content with the features of TripAdvisor to create one of the best sites for travel planning.SMP: What’s the next big step for social media / networks and what impact may this have upon My Destination and what you do?NW
: Google+ seems to be the big one that isn’t going anywhere and as it is linked to Google it is probably best if businesses pay attention to it. More on this below.
SMP: What is the most challenging part of building upon the brands presence in digital environments (including social media)?NW
: You are competing for everyone’s attention in the social media space against every other brand in every other industry and to do that you have to have things to shout about which is what we try and do. SMP: What’s going to be the most interesting aspect regarding social media / technology for the next 12 to 18-months?
: I don’t think it is any secret that everything is going mobile so we will have to put focus on re-launching our app so people can access information without the roaming charges. SMP: What are your top five predictions for social media for the next 12 to 18-months and sort of impact could this have for My Destination?NW replies with
1. It’s all about the visual
The growth of highly visual platforms such as Instgra.am, Pinterest and Vine is highlighting the nod towards consumers wanting increasingly visual and easily digestible content.
We’re video content creators already and our content will continue to be rich. It’s not just about the blurb anymore, as our travel pages allow the reader to experience the restaurant, attraction or service themselves. For example, the ‘Tikitano Restaurant in Marbella’ information page, has now evolved into a listing including a full photo album, virtual tour of the restaurant and a video showing you around…you can even watch an interview with the chef!
2. Google+ grows
Not only is this highly visual platform evolving, with more and more people becoming active each day, it’s also the brainchild of global giant Google, so if you want to increase your inbound marketing efforts, Google+ is the place to be.
We have worked hard to curate an extensive and solid network of travel bloggers and writers around the world. With the advent of rel=author, we benefit from our vast number of quality contributors across the travel and social sphere.
3. Social or bust
Every company is a media company; some just refuse to face up to the reality of this notion. Every brand is now operating within the public forum – exposed to praise and scrutiny - social, professional and otherwise.
We pride ourselves on being a little bit personal and want to be the real-time local travel information source you can rely on… and we’re already doing it. We have a growing, dedicated social team as well as a large network of 200+ local experts who aim to be on hand as much as possible. We also have some community plans in the pipeline… watch this space.
4. What Likes?
Metrics that used to be important will become increasingly redundant, whilst real engagement metrics and impact measurement take precedence. Facebook ‘Likes’, for example, will decrease in their importance, as any socially savvy business realises that it’s about so much more about engagement and return on interest, over numbers.
Direct and indirect chatter shows us that the sentiment surrounding our growing brand is important. Increasing quality, social citations and achieving links across the web are some of our focal points for the coming year.
5. Multi-platform content
The way brands plan and deliver content for consumption is evolving at a rapid rate. Why try to market a piece of content that isn’t tablet ready? The emphasis now is on how we can produce content that is both ‘snackable’ and multi-platform ready.
Our recently launched mobile site is easy to use and allows both locals and travellers to access the information they need as quickly as possible. SMP: What are your top five social media tips for travellers?NW replies with:
1. There’s an App for that: There’s an abundance of smartphone applications available to make your life easier on the move. We highly recommend the Sleepy Traveller App, so you’ll never miss that all-important bus stop again (other similar apps are available)!
2. Get into FourSquare: There are so many deals and treats to be had on this location-based social media network. You can also gain a little satisfaction by becoming the ‘Mayor’ of a particular place if you visit it the most! Your backpacker friends will be jealous…
3. Connect with travel bloggers: Twitter provides the perfect platform to connect with experienced travellers in unknown territories, they’ll be genuinely helpful and you could even get someone to show you around… all you need do is ask!
4. Save your dollars: Coupon sites like Groupon and LivingSocial are there to save you money. Why would you pay more when you can cash in on a deal just around the corner?
5. Check the reviews: Not sure whether or not to take a chance on that dodgy looking restaurant? Probably best to see what others think first and there are plenty of online communities and forums where you can get a first-hand recommendation to help you make the right choice.SMP: Best way to contact you and My Destination?NW replies with
Now some questions for funSMP: What did you have for breakfast / lunch?NW
: I’m overseas at the moment, so it was one of those great hotel buffet breakfasts!SMP: What’s the last good thing that you did for someone?NW
: Not sure of the last good thing… but we are running a contest to send someone on a 6-month adventure around the world called the Biggest, Baddest, Bucket List… so for whomever is chosen it’s a pretty good thing!!SMP: If you weren’t running or working on My Destination what would you be doing?NW
: I would love to be a Formula One driver… whether I could be is perhaps another matter!!!SMP: What is your favourite destination and why?NW
: Cape Town; it’s just a beautiful city with Table Mountain at its backdrop. We stayed in Camps Bay when first setting up our site there and used to walk up Lions Head in the evening, it really is stunning and not to mention the wine regions of Franschhoek and Stellenbosch where the food and wine are out of this world. A firm favourite is the lunch buffet at Boschendal winery. SMP: When and where did you go on your last holiday?NW
: Last holiday was to Barbados. I only tend to have one holiday a year so I look forward to it massively and do it properly.SMP: What’s the first thing you do when you get into the office of a morning?NW
: I actually tend to work the first part of my day from home, it allows me to just focus on responding to emails and getting important calls out the way so I can then do meetings for the rest of the day. So typically the first thing I do when I get to the office is go out to lunch with my co-founder James.
SMP: If you had a superpower what would it be and why?NW
: While I love flying, I never get bored of a window seat on a plane… the superpower of just being able to teleport to somewhere would come in very handy for my job. Plus how amazing would it be to just be able to go anywhere in the world with the click of your fingers.
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