Sarah Fazendin turned a blog into a business. And, she’s confident others can do the same. The self-styled travel designer from Denver, CO, owns A Family Travel Blog. She launched the blog in 2015, and now operates as a travel agent with the same name.
It’s not Fazendin’s first foray into travel. Right out of college, she turned her marketing degree into a job with the Tourism Board of Kenya.
“It was directly after September 11th, which was a crazy time for travel. To work with a foreign government was so exciting. I met some amazing people working on the ground, including tour operators, guides and hoteliers,” says Fazendin.
After the tourism board stint, Fazendin spent several years running a representation portfolio of African safari camps, lodges and operators. She then got involved with a travel tech startup and spent a year as a freelance writer. She also married and had two children, now six and nine.
Travels with her young children inspired A Family Travel Blog.
“I gave advice about family travel. It was a hobby, really. Then, people started asking me about selling travel, which I didn’t do. About a year and a half ago, I thought, ‘why not?’” says Fazendin.
Six months ago, she joined Tafari Travel, a Virtuoso affiliate of Coastline Travel. The agency opened a storefront recently in the Denver neighborhood of Cherry Creek, a high-traffic pedestrian area lined with upscale shops and restaurants.
“We’re definitely the only agents opening a storefront agency in Denver right now. About ninety percent of my clients have never worked with an agent. It’s a super cool design, very bright, light with a mid-century modern feel, think retro Pan Am airlines. It’s a great space for hosting fun supplier events. We have a few other agents in the office right now and we’re growing. The plan is to have a nice range of agents in the office, all with their own niches and focus areas,” says Fazendin.
Her own focus, of course, is family travel. But, she doesn’t limit herself to one geographic area.
“In recent weeks I’ve booked Africa, Fiji and Greece. Though, most of my bookings are to Mexico, the Caribbean and Central America. Those are generally the first places people travel to with young kids, and get a bit more adventurous as the kids get older,” says Fazendin.
Her business strategy is two-fold.
She posts an article per week on the blog, with strong, enticing calls to action. Stories combine family experiences with sensible advice. Recent entries have described the waters off Curacao, the rivers of Costa Rica, and Pacific beaches of Nicaragua.
“My husband took a sabbatical recently and we spent a summer traveling. I share things I’ve learned along the way. Things like why pacing is so important on a family trip. The same goes with sleeping arrangements that give everyone enough space,” says Fazendin.
Originally, A Family Travel Blog incorporated affiliate marketing. Fazendin experimented a lot to see what worked. But, she ended up removing most of the affiliate links to create more effective content.
Now that she’s transitioned into the travel agent profession, she maintains the blog as diligently as ever.
“The blog is my number one source of qualified leads. The content I create always filters through to my newsletter. I want it to be specific enough to answer questions, like ‘What are the four best restaurants in this destination?’ It’s more important than ever to paint a picture for the reader. I can get ten great articles out of my trips,” says Fazendin.
Community engagement is another key to her success.
“As a mom, I’m super involved in schools, sports teams and the local business associations. I donate to the PTA in exchange for sending a letter out with students. I’m always thinking about marketing. It’s an area where most agents can do better,” says Fazendin.
When it comes to other social media, Fazendin is a big Instagram user. She does add a proviso.
“Instagram doesn’t drive traffic to my site, and it doesn’t generate leads. But, if someone is trying to verify that I’m legit, it tells my story. I have had clients tell me they spent all morning on my Instagram,” says Fazendin.
Pinterest, on the other hand, does drive a ton of traffic.
“I have one board for all of my content. For every blog, I create three or four unique pins. But the most important thing is that I belong to many group boards. I repin there, and everything gets shared exponentially,” says Fazendin.
Optimizing content for Google search is a full-time job for some. Fazendin isn’t fazed by it.
“If you have good, relevant content, you will always come up on the top of a Google search. I don’t do anything fishy or funny. I use basic general practices. I have the key word in the URL, the title and the first graph. My image descriptions have key words in them. Sometimes an image search can be just as important as a blog article. None of this is tricky or that advanced,” says Fazendin.
Most of her clients are busy moms or entrepreneurs with kids ranging from age six to teenagers.
“They’ve taken the time to find me. They’re web savvy. They know what they’re looking for and can make a quick decision. They have budgets that will give them the best experience. And they value the advice I can provide,” says Fazendin.
As for her own travels, she’s focusing on Central America and the Caribbean.
“I’m spending this year traveling there when I can. We spent the holidays in the Dominican Republic. I just returned from Curacao. In June, we’re taking the kids to Jamaica to cover the entire island. I’m thinking of organizing a trip to Guatemala in December. It’s a destination I don’t know, but am excited to know it,” says Fazendin.
She has very specific sales goals and tracks her progress carefully.
“My big goal is to generate inquiries that are consistently higher value. That way, I’m booking fewer people but the same amount of travel. At this point I’m not interested in having agents under me. Rather, I’m focused on super-high quality service and adding ideal clients to my book of business. I try to be strategic about the type of leads I go after,” says Fazendin.
She says other agents can follow in her footsteps.
“Even if you don’t have a blog, you can write on expert level. We’re experts, after all,” says Fazendin.
She’s also reached out to fellow bloggers, suggesting that they become agents.
“There’s a fun little family travel blogger network that I was pretty active in before I started selling. Now, I’m focused more on meeting new suppliers and educating myself about properties. But, there’s a big group of people with a passion for travel who would make a nice addition to this business,” says Fazendin.