The end of 2021 and the beginning of 2022 has been such a whirlwind that this business report is a month behind schedule. Apologies for that! I thought about skipping this one completely, but it’s not a habit I want to get into. While writing these reports takes time, it also helps me to reflect, stay focused and set goals. Wherever this blogging journey takes us, reporting on it regularly will give us a record of it and a story to tell. And, most of all, I enjoy doing it.
Rather than looking at the final quarter of 2021 alone, I will use this opportunity to reflect overall on what was a difficult year, but one that still brought a lot of promise and progress.
The effects of the pandemic on travel, and life in general, stretched much further into 2021 than anyone was envisaging at this time last year. We were entering our third lockdown in the UK, but the vaccine rollout was just getting under way, and there was reason to think that was the beginning of the end of it. Many thought that a sense of normality would return by the summer.
That wasn’t quite to be. But – dare I say it – there is now a much keener sense of optimism about what’s coming in 2022. Having taken some baby steps back into travelling, and with much more planned in the coming months, it really feels like the world is beginning to turn again in our beleaguered sector.
Will this prove to be another false dawn? Maybe. But I don’t think so.
These were some of the highlights, good and bad, from 2021:
- In November, we took our first trip overseas together since summer 2019, to Palma for Traverse 21
- Our second blog, Lincoln and beyond, was shortlisted for an award within a year of launching
- Travel affiliate conversions recovered slowly, from just nine in Q1 to 62 in Q4
- Affiliate blog posts on remote working gear performed well and helped us to stay afloat in the meantime
- A series of positive engagements at industry events has led to confirmed partnerships for 2022
- But, the new Omicron variant threw a new spanner in the works
I’ll also throw in a little spoiler that 2022 has gotten off to a brilliant start! More on that later, but first, let’s talk about the thing that has got us most excited in the last few weeks…
On the road again!
The wait for our first trip overseas together after the pandemic was a long one. But in November 2021, the moment finally came, as we boarded a plane to Palma, Mallorca, for Traverse 21.
It had been 29 months since our last flight out of the country, to Toulouse, France, in June 2019. Ouch!
It felt both bizarre and exhilarating to be travelling again. In the airport it was like I’d completely forgotten what to do. Lisa had gotten a bit of practice ahead of me though, as a month earlier she took a long-planned trip to Fuerteventura with her best friends.
We spent ten days in Mallorca and loved every moment. It was amazing to catch up with old blogging friends who we hadn’t seen for two years, meet new ones, and fill our minds with inspiration from the community.
It’s a community that has been through so much, but has shown remarkable resilience in the face of it. We were constantly blown away by the stories of how bloggers had found a way through the nightmare situation thanks to their imagination and resourcefulness.
We won flights to Hamburg!
The conference ended on a real high for us. On the last day, we attended a fantastic two-part session on brand-building and pitching by Kash Bhattacharya, who runs Budget Traveller.
It turned out to be one of the most popular sessions of the conference, drawing a packed-out room. Built into the session was a pitching competition, with some prizes up for grabs.
We decided to throw our hat into the ring, with little expectation of success. Amazingly, we emerged as one of the winners, scooping a two-night stay in Hamburg! So now we will be covering the city in our workations campaign in the first few months of 2022.
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More live events, meetings and fruitful conversations
A couple of weeks before the Mallorca trip, I went to the WTM London conference at the ExCel centre, which was being held as a live event for the first time since 2019.
With a significant travel blogger presence at the event, it felt a bit like a warmup for Mallorca. I went along to an evening side event that Traverse co-hosted with Czech Tourism, where it was announced that Traverse 2022 would be taking place in Brno. Lisa and I have already bought early bird tickets, so that’s another event to look forward to!
The atmosphere at the exhibition centre was a strange one. Large parts of the hall were empty, which in previous years would be buzzing with country stands, food shows and dancers in costumes. But there was still a positive energy and a mood of optimism among participants.
I had the chance to meet some friends in person for the first time. For example, it was great to meet Vanessa from Wanders Miles after having both been part of the Travel Bloggers Club Facebook community for several years.
Most importantly, my business meetings at WTM London went better than ever. Attending various virtual events earlier in the year really paid off, as I was able to have follow-up meetings with tourist boards having already established a relationship.
Not only was there a great response to our workations campaign, but I now have several supported trips and partnerships agreed for the first half of 2022. Lisbon, Malaga, Barcelona and Malta are all lined up, with further conversations ongoing with other destinations.
Omicron and end-of-year stagnation
Just when our website traffic and affiliate conversions were beginning to look up, coronavirus had other ideas, and a new variant put a halt to the travel industry’s recovery.
Omicron couldn’t have been timed worse for us. While we were in Mallorca, it was announced that the travel rules would be changing for entry into the UK. Just hours before our homebound flight, a new rule came into force that required to take expensive PCR tests within two days of arriving home.
The situation did not suppress the motivation we brought home from Mallorca, but it did set us back in terms of material progress. October had been our best month for website traffic since May. But new travel restrictions brought about an end-of year dip, as you can see below:
There was also a small dip in our volume of travel affiliate conversions, but the overall trend is still moving in the right direction:
And our booked affiliate commission plateaued at the end of the year, after a promising recovery in September and October:
(Adding the regular caveat here that the affiliate commission boost in the first half of 2022, in particular March–June, was due to sales of remote working equipment. That was only ever an interim strategy, and has now fallen off, to be replaced by regrowth of travel affiliate conversions.)
Spoiler: 2022 is off to a good start!
I won’t give too much away, but as this report is later than usual, I am in a position to be more upbeat than I was at the end of December. That’s because January has given us the perfect start to the year!
Website traffic is on course to be higher than in any month in 2021, and booked travel affiliate commission is higher than any month since before the pandemic.
This is hugely encouraging, and a sign that confidence is returning to travel in the new year.
Our workations campaign is finally moving
It was a major frustration throughout most of 2021 that we had built a framework for our workations campaign, but were constantly delayed in getting it off the ground because of the ongoing uncertainty.
Trips arranged with tourist boards kept getting postponed, and discussions moved back. But in the final quarter of the year, we finally managed to get the wheels turning.
We used the opportunity of our Mallorca trip to visit local coworking spaces and create a guide to taking a workation in Palma. Closer to home, we spent a workation week in Cornwall in October over our wedding anniversary and other family events, and subsequently published a workation guide to Cornwall.
This gives us a basis of content upon which to build targeted affiliate campaigns throughout 2022, and with those upcoming trips lined up after WTM, we are building momentum nicely.
The search for balance continues
In our last business report I wrote that we had begun the search for a virtual assistant to support us with Facebook marketing. After placing some adverts and joining some VA Facebook groups, when the end of the year arrived we still hadn’t yet found the right person to bring on board.
We are also considering finding some support to keep old blog posts updated. As I continue to do ten days of consultancy work a month for a client, the challenge of staying on top of two blogs grows.
Keeping old content updated will be crucial to growing our traffic in 2022. I’m working an unsustainable amount of hours to stay on top of everything, while other areas are being neglected. For example, our email subscription list is growing fast, but I haven’t had chance to review and update our funnels, and optimise our email journeys for affiliate conversions.
The festive period came and went without us taking any time for ourselves, and having spent quite a bit of it driving. It’s always a pleasure to see family and friends, and that’s what we love about that time of year. But the conveyor belt has led us straight into the new year without much of a breather.
So, establishing a sustainable balance is a priority for the new year. I haven’t forgotten the lessons we learned on our travel career break about how important it is to have time away from work for things you enjoy, and to look after yourself. Ultimately, that’s the entire reason we’re doing this.
Income and expenditure
Despite the stagnation towards the end of 2022, the income picture hasn’t been bad in the circumstances. Our Mediavine income has grown slowly, with November our best month to date, and $764.42 in total from the quarter.
As we only made it onto Mediavine in February 2020, we don’t have direct experience of what is possible in a pandemic-free world. But I had a conversation with a blogger at Traverse who was making $2,000 a month from it before the pandemic, and only $200 a month since. So that gives me some perspective on what can be achieved when some normality returns to travel!
In total, we brought in $2520.94 over the quarter, and we have now had a steady monthly baseline of a minimum $800 for a sustained period.
With the promise of the travel sector recovering strongly in 2022, we can aim to multiply this baseline at least fourfold by the end of the year.
Meanwhile, our second blog has begun to make affiliate conversions too, albeit a small trickle, and its website traffic is growing steadily. If we can get that onto Mediavine this year, the baseline will grow higher still.
The last quarter of 2021 was the most expensive period of the year, thanks to the flurry of events. Here’s how our expenditure shaped up:
- Regular monthly costs:
- Photoshop monthly subscriptions: £29.94
- ConvertKit monthly subscriptions: £109.43
- Non-sterling transaction fees: £3
- G Suite subscription: £13.80
- Phone bills: £96
- Travel and events:
- WTM London expenses: £149.59
- Cornwall content trip expenses: £44.47
- Flight bookings (Malaga and Lisbon): £156.42
- Tickets for Traverse 22 in Brno: £257.76
- Facebook post boost: £30
- TOTAL: £890.41 / $1,195.62
In addition to this, we also spent £57.28 / $76.92 over the three months on our second blog.
With the prospect of hiring a VA and taking on some trip costs, outgoings are set to go up in the new year as we reinvest. But we should reach a positive equilibrium by the time my consultancy contract ends in September.
Goals for 2022
From a blogging perspective, we will remember 2021 as a year of staying afloat while rebuilding for a different world. It was also a difficult year of balancing blogging time with freelancing and consultancy work to supplement our income.
Lockdowns and restrictions continued well into the year, much longer than we had anticipated. We also had the Airbnb saga, which saw the travel blogging community dealt a massive blow when the platform’s affiliate programme was closed out of the blue.
A year ago we were full of optimism. While we have made tangible progress since then, the recovery hasn’t happened at the kind of paced we had hoped for. I don’t quite know why, but this year feels different.
So, we are setting some ambitious goals for 2022. Here’s what we want to achieve this year:
- Reach 70,000 monthly pageviews for Career Gappers, which would be double our pre-pandemic levels
- Quadruple our monthly income from Career Gappers to a baseline of at least $3,200 per month
- Get our second blog, Lincoln and Beyond, onto Mediavine
- Build our email subscriber list to at least 3,000
The first quarter of the year will be focused on laying the tracks for this, and establishing a sustainable work–life balance with effective systems in place for maintaining both blogs.
These are the blogging priorities for January to March:
- Bring a VA on board, at the very least on a trial basis, to help us grow a community on Facebook
- Get on top of old post updates, with an effective ongoing system in place
- Build out new email funnels for Lisbon, Mallorca and Cornwall
Motivation is riding high, and we have a lot of work to do. But at the same time, we know that the pandemic is far from over, and there may still be bumps around the corner.
If you’ve read this far, thank you for coming on this journey with us. Blogging continues to be an adventure and a challenge, and we’re absolutely still here for it.
See you again next time!