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Interview with Mark Hayward of MyTropicalEscape

Posted by Gil Travel on Oct 24, 2008 2:04:38 PM

 Mary Hayward

With us today is Mark Hayward, author of the popular travel blog, and owner of a bed and breakfast in Puerto Rico.  Thanks for joining us, Mark.

            1 - Tell us more about yourself.  How did you wind up on a small island off the coast of Puerto Rico?


My journey to Culebra and owning the Palmetto Guesthouse B&B was about ten years in the making. My wife and I always knew that we wanted to travel and try to avoid working in a corporate environment (not that there's anything wrong with that!).


In January of 1997 we went into the U.S. Peace Corps and headed off to Papua New Guinea for two years. Even back then we knew that we wanted to have a small business somewhere in the Caribbean but it took another ten years of hard work and using what I call “stepping stone†employment to help get us to our current destination.


In fact, after living in Papua New Guinea for two years, we then lived on Samoa the in South Pacific for five years and from there we headed to Tortola, British Virgin Islands in the Caribbean for an additional five years. While in Tortola we thought that we would stay there forever, but during our second year of living there the immigration policy changed to where you could not apply to be a resident unless you lived on island for TWENTY years. That seemed a bit crazy in that I would have to wait until I was sixty before I could actually be a legal resident.


After looking around the Caribbean a bit, Culebra seemed like a perfect fit. The island is part of Puerto Rico so it’s a U.S. territory. That means we do not  need special permission to be able to live here, we don’t need work permits, and if we like, we can run twenty businesses if we want. Oh yeah, and the beaches are amongst some of the best in the world.


2 - How has social media changed the way you look at the web?

Funny, before we bought our guesthouse I didn’t give social media a second thought, but when we took over the Palmetto it hadn’t really been run as a business for over two years. No marketing, no promotion, no real room sales, nothing and we suddenly had a huge mortgage.


Social media and the web put the power of marketing and reputation building in my hands. If we had purchased our property even ten years ago there is no way we would have survived. Social media has changed everything for the small business owner - - having a couple of blogs, posting video to YouTube, and maintaining photos at Flickr has allowed us, at almost no cost, to spread the word about who we are, what we are, and what we have to offer.


 Also, during our first year of operation we didn’t pay for one advertisement anywhere and we found ourselves being featured in both Islands Magazine and Conde Nast Traveler. None of our early success, or the magazine articles, would have happened without the use of social media.



3 - Has the popularity of international traveling changed recently? Anything notable or in the news that has seemed to make a drastic push either way?


I am not sure the popularity of international travel has changed at all recently. However, I think, how people travel, has most definitely changed. Everyone from luxury travelers to business people and backpackers now have more chances to learn about and their destination and interact with people who live in whatever country they might be going to.


As far as the news creating a dramatic push for travel in either direction, well, I think the news about the economy will have an impact on travel. There are certain segments of the market that will always travel but I think for families who might take a typical one-week vacation to the Caribbean those folks will most likely stay close to home. The good thing about Culebra is people from the U.S. don’t need a passport to travel here since we are a territory. Hopefully that will entice more travelers to think of us as a destination for their vacation.




4 - Your website seems to be popular and was mentioned in islands magazine, many social media connoisseurs want to know what the turning point for your blog was toward its popularity.


I have two websites that I update regularly, MyTropicalEscape and Culebrablog. I originally started MyTropicalEscape to keep friends and family informed of our travels and progress as we attempted to purchase the Palmetto Guesthouse. Over time it has morphed into a space where I write about what interests me and I also try to motivate people to take that “next step†in their life towards whatever it is they dream of doing, e.g. working from home, moving overseas, or traveling.


My other site, Culebrablog, was part of our marketing plan for the business. We have a very small niche of people who travel here and the top keyword is “Culebra.†I don’t really know anything about SEO but within about two weeks I was able to get to the front page of Google for that term.


The readership of MyTropicalEscape has stayed the same for quite some time so there really wasn’t a turning point for popularity. But, there definitely was a return on investment (ROI) turning point, which came about a year after I started both sites. In fact, both Island and Conde Nast magazines discovered, and subsequently wrote about us, via my websites.


5 - Train for Humanity seems to be one of your more prominent projects now, and is already growing with leaps and bounds on social media networks and abroad. How intrinsic to the success and the spreading of its news has social media made itself to you and your project?


We launched Train for Humanity on September 9, 2008 with nothing BUT social media so its intrinsic value is huge. Actually, social media is even stated in our mission, which is:


getting in shape + social media + blogging = social good


In fact, without social media Train for Humanity, whose goal is to utilize everyday athletes (i.e. non-professional athletes) who are in training for various endurance events to help raise awareness and funds for humanitarian crises, would not exist. All of the blogger co-founders live in various corners of the world and we were brought together via our shared passion for helping people, social media, and the Internet.

Topics: World Travel