Bret Love, together with his partner, Mary Gabbett, started Green Global Travel after realizing that there was a place on the internet for his passions for ecotourism and nature/wildlife conservation. After his first few press trips, Bret began making Green Global Travel a reality–and he’s never looked back. In this interview, Bret talks to me about how he made his dream a reality, where he’s headed, and what he hopes to accomplish in the future. Make sure to check them out on Facebook and Twitter at @GreenGlobalTrvl. Enjoy!
How did you get started in the travel writing industry?
In the mid ‘90s I started working for INsite Magazine, an Atlanta-based publication. I started off as an unpaid freelance writer, worked my way up to unpaid Music Editor, and eventually got a paid staff job as Managing Editor. I oversaw all editorial for a 15-affiliate network, which covered everything from music, movies and books to sports and humor. I wasn’t making much money, but I knew I wanted to travel. In 1997 I managed to track down the Costa Rica Tourism Board and set up a press trip to Costa Rica. Of course I loved it, and in the following years I got trips to Alaska and South Africa, each one bigger than the last. I’ve been covering travel ever since, though I took a few years off from world travel in 2001, when my daughter was born.
What have been the “keys” to your success as a blogger?
I could write a book on that subject, but I’ll try to give you the basics. Most importantly, having an incredible partner– Mary Gabbett, who handles the business side of our business, oversees interns, shoots photos and videos, etc. Green Global Travel wouldn’t be nearly as successful with just one person running it. But the other key factors are hard work, patience, persistence, a clear brand identity and vision, and a passionate belief in our core mission statement. I think we have an advantage in that I’ve been writing, editing, and managing print publications for 17 years, so I know how to set deadlines, manage a staff of writers, write constantly and, hopefully, tell intriguing stories. Lastly, we’ve got a great team, from our Senior Editor DeMarco Williams and our staff of interns and writers, to our great friends in the blogging business who’ve shared our stories with their friends and fans. There are so many elements that come together to build a successful blog.
Bret, from what you say on your website, Green Global Travel wasn’t something you thought of overnight—you had a 10-year dream to start an ecotourism website before actually getting it off the ground! Where did this dream come from and how did you make this a reality for you?
Well, initially I didn’t know it would be a website: I thought perhaps it would be a book or a magazine. But I knew after those trips to Costa Rica, Alaska and South Africa that ecotourism and nature/wildlife conservation were passions of mine, and I knew I wanted to devote my life to it at some point. I just didn’t know how that would manifest itself. I’ve had a very successful career as a freelance writer, working for everyone from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution to Rolling Stone, but have never found an outlet that would pay me to tell the kind of stories I wanted to tell– stories about an Argentinean man trying to revive ancient Mayan pottery practices in Mexico, a 72-year-old shaman searching for apprentices in Peru, or an eco-resort working to save sea turtles in Dominica. So, when Mary got laid off during the economic downturn in 2010 and was trying to figure out what to do next, we talked about this dream and whether or not it could actually produce some income for us in the long-term. We spent nearly 18 months building it up before we even started trying to monetize it, supporting 3 people on my part-time freelance writer’s salary, but now we’re starting to make decent money and hope to continue to grow in the coming years.
Knowing what you do now, if you were starting from scratch today to become established as a travel writer, what steps would you take to ensure success?
I’d probably do the same thing I did, which is working another job while trying to break into travel writing. It’s an incredibly difficult field to get into, even for experienced writers, and un less you’re independently wealthy you’ve got to find another way to generate revenue while building up a name and portfolio for yourself. I don’t think there’s an easy way to get “in” as a travel writer. You just have to keep writing your ass off, refine your storytelling skills, travel as much as possible to gather as many great story ideas as you can, and keep plugging away at it. Honestly, these days you’re probably better off starting your own website and using that as your freelance portfolio. I’ve gotten far more travel writing gigs since launching Green Global Travel than I ever did before it existed. I think that’s because I have the freedom there to tell the stories I’m truly passionate about.
As someone who has a long list of clients to your name, let’s say you were giving a friend advice on how to start a career as a freelance writer. What advice would you have for this person regarding finding and getting clients and press trips?
My advice to young writers is not popular, but it’s what worked for me: Write for much less than you think you deserve for as long as it is economically feasible. I wrote for INsite for free for nearly 3 years before they paid me a penny, and even when I got a full-time job I was working 55 hours a week for $18,000 a year. But I didn’t worry about money: I loved what I did, and I loved the freedom of writing about whatever I wanted. Eventually, the money came and big-name clients started calling me out of the blue. Understand that you’re not likely to land a big-name client right off the bat, and start small until you establish a name and reputation. The more impressive sample clips you have, the more likely you are to get a bigger client’s attention. As for press trips, it’s all about showing the tour companies or DMOs the value in working with you. Because we run GGT and INsite, as well as freelancing for big-name airline and hotel magazines, we can give our press trip clients a lot of bang for their buck. I think diversification is key to being a successful writer, so I’m always looking for new clients and partnerships.
Where do you see your career going in the next three years? Five years? Ten years? How do you see new media impacting these projections?
I don’t want to jinx anything, so I’ll answer this with where I hope to see it going. I’d like my career to be less focused on freelance work and more rooted in what I’m truly passionate about, which is GGT. We think of GGT as more than a blog: In my eyes, it could grow to be an ecotourism-oriented version of Matador Network or Mother Nature Network. I see us as a younger, independently-operated version of National Geographic, and I’d like for our brand to earn that level of respect within the next decade, getting more into environmental conservation work and hopefully launching a charitable arm for projects we believe in. Blogging as a business is still such a new thing, and ecotourism still a burgeoning movement within the travel industry, so I’m not really sure anyone can predict how these arenas will evolve over the next 5-10 years. But I feel extremely proud of our brand, and where we are right now in the big picture, so I am incredibly positive about our growth prospects for the future!
Born and raised in Atlanta, Bret Love’s passion for travel began when he toured Italy with the Atlanta Boy Choir at the age of 11, performing for Pope John Paul II in the Vatican. But it was a 2-week safari in South Africa back in 2000 that ignited his interest in ecotourism, with a love of nature/wildlife conservation and global culture that led him to co-found web-based magazine Green Global Travel with his partner, Mary Gabbett. For the past 15 years Bret has also served as National Managing Editor for INsite magazine, overseeing a network of publications that cover entertainment and travel. In addition, Bret regularly covers travel as a freelance writer and photographer for major publications such as AirTran’s Go, American Airlines’ American Way, American Eagle’s Latitudes, Amtrak’s Arrive, Cayman Airways’ Skies, Destination Marriott, Fairmont magazine, Jezebel, Thai Airways’ Vision and many more.
Interview conducted in August, 2012 by Kristin Mock.