This quote from our interview today pretty much sums up La Carmina’s travel writing mantra: “It goes without saying: making successful web content is very different from writing for the travel section of a print newspaper.” A social media expert, blogger, and video producer, La Carmina has carved out a niche for herself in both social media and young women blogging circles. I talked to La Carmina about defining herself as a Japanese street expert as well as a fashionista. Check out her travel and fashion blog, La Carmina.
La Carmina, how did you get your start in the travel industry? What’s your story?
My La Carmina blog launched on a whim in September 2007, originally focused on Japanese street style. Since I was posting almost daily, and people kept asking me for Tokyo travel tips, I expanded my content to other areas of Asia pop culture like cat cafes and Goth nightclubs. In 2009, Random House published my Crazy, Wacky Theme Restaurants book — a guide to Japan’s bizarre theme restaurants. I also started writing for CNN-Go, and was increasingly assigned travel articles. I was never interested in long-winded travelogues, but loved this new format of sharing photos, social media updates, and personal stories. Production companies also began asking me to work with them as a consultant, arranger, and on-camera host for TV episodes. Today, I present TV shows on different networks, and travel constantly with my professional filmmakers; we capture videos, photos and stories about underground culture worldwide. I’m motivated to cover subcultures in a positive way, and hopefully increase understanding about them.
What does it mean to be a “young female travel blogger,” as you call yourself on your website?
Many of my readers are young females like me (age teens to 30s), and since my blog is a personal chronicle of my travels, the content is naturally geared towards their interests. Popular posts include visiting Steampunk designers in Harajuku, celebrating Day of the Dead in Mexico, and baking panda-shaped bread in Hong Kong. My readers are also social media and app fanatics; I interact with them on Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, and other networks. Hopefully, my readers can relate to my adventures and feel inspired to see more of the world with their own eyes.
What would you say your niche is? How can identifying a niche help you in this industry?
From the broadest perspective, my travel coverage focuses on hip and emerging fashion, culture, lifestyle and art worldwide. However, I’m especially known for my Gothic style and subculture coverage, such as “bagelhead” body modifications in Tokyo. The benefit of specializing is that while not everyone will “get” your point of view, the people who do are extremely loyal and passionate about what you do. For example, my reports on Wave Gotik Treffen (world’s largest Goth festival) went viral — something that wouldn’t happen if I wrote a typical “best cafes in Leipzig” article. When you stand out, travel companies and tourism boards can sense this buzz, and will want to tap into it.
How does your travel writing influence your travel videos, and vice versa?
My work is strongly personal, visual and social — there are lots of high-quality photos, often with me and friends in them, complemented by social network interaction. Both my video narration and writings are short and to the point. I let images tell the story. It goes without saying: making successful web content is very different from writing for the travel section of a print newspaper.
If someone wanted to get on their first press trip with a tourism bureau, what advice would you give this person? Why?
Network with other travel bloggers. Sometimes, they’ll hear of an opportunity that fits your niche, and recommend you for the position. Also, start small and close to home. If you’re based in LA, for example, you can reach out to Napa or Phoenix for individual press trips that fit your niche. Try to get a referral to the tourism board’s contact person, and give links, statistics and concrete examples to clearly show your work and influence. It’s harder to obtain international flights and fully covered trips, but if you’re already going to be somewhere, the board will usually help with local tours and attractions. This is a great first step because if the board likes your coverage, then you can reconnect with them for bigger projects. Keep building up your portfolio and putting out quality content, and the opportunities will gradually increase. Finally, don’t limit yourself to tourism bureaus. My trip partnerships have included car and apartment rental companies, trains, and accessories brands.
How is your income stream distributed? How do you see this changing in the next 5 years with technology?
My income stream is probably quite different from other travel bloggers because of the fashion and TV elements. Like many fashion bloggers, I do showcase or design collaborations to get the word out on brands, by wearing and featuring them. I also do paid appearances and speeches, including at NY fashion week. A large portion comes from the TV work I do (arranging, hosting and local producing, mainly for travel programs) — and these opportunities arose because of my blog. My company, La Carmina & The Pirates (http://www.lacarmina.com/pirates/) also consults on various projects, including personalized tours in Japan. Then there is the monetized blogging, journalism work and writing books (I’ve had three published, through Penguin Books and Random House). Much of my expenses are covered, which I fully disclose. It’s hard to predict how things will change in five years, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a new app or service that allows people to start personality-based business and work for themselves. YouTube, Tumblr, Pinterest and eBay have launched many careers, and I’m excited to see what the future holds.
La Carmina runs a colorful travel, lifestyle & fashion blog – http://www.lacarmina.com/blog – with a passionate young following. She’s known for her stories about Japanese pop culture, such as extreme body modifications, cute bentos, Harajuku street style, and bizarre theme cafes. La Carmina is a travel journalist, author of 3 books (with Penguin and Random House), and hosts travel TV episodes for Discovery, National Geographic, CNN, Food Network, Travel Channel and more. She also runs a TV production company specializing in Japan.
Interview conducted in July, 2013 by Kristin Mock.