Ivan Henares of Ivan About Town fame has always been interested in travel, and the inclination to keep a record of his travels started early. At five years old, Mr. Henares was already chronicling his stay in Japan and Taiwan in a journal he has kept to this day.
The need to keep track of his different destinations was the main motivation behind his now-popular blog, set up in 2005. Busy with his MBA studies, Mr. Henares would update the blog just once every two months, or whenever he went away for a trip. “It was really just a way for me to update my friends about my travels,” he said in an e-mail.
It was only the following year, when he finished his academic duties and attended a blogging workshop, that Ivan About Town really took off—more free time meant more opportunities for travel.
Today, he is proud to report that he has been to all 80 provinces in the Philippines. “People who travel with me know how exhausting a travel companion I can be, because I want to see so many places in a very limited time period,” he said.
It’s not about ticking off destination after destination, however. As the vice president and trustee of the Heritage Conservation Society (HCS) tand the Philippine representative in the International Cultural Tourism Committee (ICTC) of the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), Mr. Henares staunchly supports the protection of the heritage that defines the identity of a place. “There is a strong emphasis on heritage and cultural tourism [on my blog],” he said. “Being a heritage conservation advocate, my blog has become an important medium to get our message across.”
Mr. Henares is also quick to dispel the popular misconception that travel bloggers get to go on trips on someone else’s pocket, or that they earn enough from blogging to cover all the expenses of their travels. “That’s not always the case,” he said. “Most of the time, I have to spend for my own trips, and I really save up for them.”
To generate revenue for his online home, Mr. Henares uses AdSense, an advertisement serving application run by Google and a staple for many bloggers. As a managed blogger of Nuffnang, an online blog advertising community, Mr. Henares also receives opportunities in the form of advertorials, familiarization tours, and sponsored posts. “But these are occasional, and most of my trips are still self-funded,” he maintained.
While he considers blogging a potentially profitable occupation, he said that he is not keen to make money the main focus of Ivan About Town. “SEO techniques are still alien to me. So the conclusion there is that it all boils down to good content, which leads to high traffic.”
It was his blog’s content that caught the attention of the Thailand Medical Tourism Blog Contest organizers earlier this year. “I was asked to submit my information, and luckily, I got picked [to be one of the finalists],” said Mr. Henares, who was sent to Chiang Mai in northern Thailand and went on to win the contest. “I gained more knowledge about Thailand and its medical tourism.”
Then, there was the recent visit of Tom Parker-Bowles, son of the Duchess of Cornwall Camilla Parker-Bowles. The former had come to Manila to get a taste of Filipino food for an article in Esquire UK. “He e-mailed me asking if I could take him around. It was a good thing I had nothing scheduled that particular day since I was preparing for a trip,” said Mr. Henares, adding that he left for Mexico the day after he accompanied Mr. Bowles on his Manila food tour.
Now that he can claim that he has seen the country, Mr. Henares is bent on producing content for the foreign places he has visited. Aside from Mexico, he has also been to Germany, Japan, Belgium, and the Netherlands, among many other countries.
“It’s not that I won’t be writing about the Philippines,” he said, adding that writing about international destinations could even help promote the Philippines, albeit indirectly, in the global sphere. “The truth is that the Philippines is not top of mind when foreign travelers search for vacation destinations, so travel posts about places other than the Philippines might do the trick.”
For now, perhaps the real payoff in blogging lies in the constant feedback that the blog gets from its loyal online audience—whether through the site itself, its Facebook page, or Mr. Henares’s Twitter account. “More than the traffic or unique site visits, it’s [the] recognition from readers, peers, and even the media [that I think makes my blog successful],” he said.- Anna Patricia G. Valerio
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