Obviously the current global situation is having huge impacts on virtually every aspect of our society. While airlines were perhaps the first to be hit hard, this truly affects almost everyone in a negative way.
I’ve had a lot of readers ask what this means for both the current reality and future of travel blogging, so I figured I’d share my take in this post. For anyone who is interested I’ll share the current “state of the union” for OMAAT, what the current situation means for the overall landscape, and what it means for the future.
This is not at all intended to be a “woe is me” situation (tl;dr we’ll be fine), but rather just some insights into this world.
We have been preparing for this
The truth is that we’ve spent the past several years anticipating a significant downturn — no, not this situation specifically, but I started these businesses during a recession, and figured there would once again be rainy days.
We run a very, very, probably unnecessarily lean operation here at OMAAT. Even though this is the most widely read travel blog that’s independently owned (aka not VC-backed), you wouldn’t know it based on our team.
I do a vast majority of the writing (though I’m grateful for our contributors when they have time to write), Tiffany runs most of the back-end business aspects, Howie manages many of the projects we’re working on and coordinates with outside resources, and we have some great readers who also help us with some research and technical tasks on occasion. We might have more traffic annually than the world’s largest airport (pre-coronavirus), but we’re not staffed like it.
In many ways we perhaps haven’t taken advantage of the good times as much as we could have, but we’re also well positioned to weather the bad times. I think this largely comes down to this being a passion project/blog that just happens to be a business, rather than the other way around.
And heck, our entire team works remotely, and with at least Tiffany and me being introverts, we’ve been preparing our entire lives for self distancing. 😉
The impact on OMAAT, more concretely
In case you’re wondering, our overall OMAAT family makes money in a few ways, including through:
- Impression based ads, where we make a penny or so for the ads you see displayed around the site
- Affiliate marketing, including commissions on credit cards and some other travel products (all of which are disclosed when they offer a potential income pathway for us)
- Our award consulting business, PointsPros
What do I expect the actual impact to be on us?
- When it comes to impression based ads, our traffic has actually been way up the past week; despite that, the CPM (how much companies pay per ad) is way down, since no one likes to advertise during bad news, and our premium advertisers have all paused their campaigns
- When it comes to affiliate marketing, I expect there will probably be fewer people getting new credit cards or booking revenue travel, and that’s fine
- Hardest hit is PointsPros, since almost no one is planning travel or looking to use miles right now
We’ll of course be taking care of our people. We have cash reserves, unlike most businesses we get paid long after we’ve rendered a service (most of our agreements are NET60, plus a lag, so we’re getting paid this month for December), and we have a very small team for the work that we do.
We’re not cutting back staff, and quite to the contrary, we’re reaching out to people who have written for us in the past to see if they want to write at the moment (since some of them have full time jobs, but are currently not working), we’ll give our awesome team that usually works on awards other projects to work on, etc. It will be more complicated for us come late summer, but for now we’re okay.
So expect more of the same for OMAAT. We’ve been doing the same thing (for better or worse) for the past 13 years, and that will continue. I’m grateful to get up every day and be able to write about the industry I love so much. I’d rather I could be writing about positive news and developments, rather than the current situation, but…
I recognize we are lucky
Nomadic Matt shared his perspective in a Twitter thread, talking about the situation his business is in, and it’s an interesting read. He has a different niche, and it’s sad to see how this is impacting him — he’s seeing huge decreases in traffic, ad CPMs are down, travel e-books aren’t selling, affiliate links for tours and other travel services aren’t generating any leads, etc.
Just how bad is it in travel? Step into my office (a thread):
I started my website back in 2008. It was just me. I didn't have any overhead. I just needed to make enough to travel. Fast forward to 2020. I now have 4 full-time staff and our annual biz expenses are over $500k.
— Nomadic Matt (@nomadicmatt) March 13, 2020
I’d say it’s probably much of the same for many of the “travel influencers,” who seem to be the primary people making some amount of money in the travel adjacent space nowadays. I’m talking about the usually very attractive people posting pictures of very big breakfasts in five star hotel beds (or we can’t forget the breakfasts that float in pools!).
I imagine those people are impacted pretty negatively because a) they can’t travel and b) posting pictures from your dream destinations isn’t exactly “in” at the moment.
Influencers, it’s not exactly the ideal time to contact my hotel clients to see if you can collaborate. #justsaying
— Tiffany Dowd (@LuxeTiffany) March 17, 2020
Then I imagine this also has to be tough on some of the more corporate “lifestyle” sites with over 100 employees that rely on online ads to get their traffic. They have a lot more overhead and less ability to adapt, and I can imagine all those expenses on top of the economic uncertainty being very frightening and stressful for those employees.
Finding the right balance with content going forward
Presumably we’re all going to be self-isolating for a while, and the industry won’t recover for even longer. With that in mind, I certainly welcome feedback about what kind of content you guys would like to see, as I’m conflicted.
I of course plan to continue to cover the coronavirus situation as it impacts the travel industry unlike anything we’ve ever see.
But I’d like to cover other travel and miles and points topics for a few reasons:
- I think it’s a welcome distraction from the constant stream of bad news
- This is a great time to get your travel strategy in order for better times; for example, being at home I’ve spent some time helping my family optimize their credit card portfolio the past few days, making sure miles aren’t expiring, etc.
- I think we’re going to see a miles & points renaissance, where airline and hotel loyalty programs once again engage members and actually fight for business, which most programs haven’t done in a very long time
I want to keep finding the right mix of information and entertainment, and look forward to hearing what you guys want to read about.
I recognize this is a challenging time for everyone. In many ways I sort of appreciate that we can largely put aside differences, as the whole world is going through something together, but there’s no question that this is going to be much more difficult for some than others.
My thoughts are with those who have been laid off (either temporarily or permanently), or those who don’t have the same safety net, and I’m trying to turn those thoughts into actions while we are all so isolated.
If you’re in a position to help those in less fortunate situations, then this is a great time to do so, whether that comes in the form of donating to your local food bank or children’s group, prepaying a housekeeper, buying gift cards to your favorite restaurant, or whatever else can be done to ease the imminent cash crunch so many small businesses are facing.
I’m incredibly fortunate that I’ve been able to prepare for something like this (well, as much as anyone can prepare for something like this). We’ll take a hit like everyone else, but we’re here to stay. If anything, expect more, not less.
Thanks so much for reading OMAAT, we certainly wouldn’t be here without you!