The founder of Travel Junkie Diary (TJD), Michelle Karam, set out to develop her now-successful venture years ago in the format of a blog. That blog soon gathered a strong and loyal following, and Karam’s digital footprint grew and grew... and grew. The Dubai-based entrepreneur is now one of the region’s biggest influencers and the brands come knocking regularly (and with gusto). “Being in the corporate world of travel and events since I was 16 and stepping out of it after 16 years, I found it challenging to get back into it after a two-year gap. I’ve always tried starting something on my own and so after a lot of planning, executing and convincing family, I decided to start small. Not being a writer myself, I thought the best ways for people to enjoy the blog would be from contributing writers and stories (diaries) from other people. Soon enough, I would then turn the blog into a trusted site and create a namefor myself where people could turn to for any travel inspiration and businesses would look at the brand as a social media push and assistance."
It's clear from visiting TJD's social media channels that a great deal of Karam's influence comes from her engaging (and charming) online identity. Users are not only interested in the posts about far-flung destinations and opulent hospitality outlets, they are actually interested in Karam herself. Can everyone launch a profitable business using the cult of personality? Karam says that firmly-planted feet are needed, and so is a willingness to actually talk back to portal users. "For one, you will need to know that although it seems like the world revolves around you... it doesn't. A person needs to have the passion and curiosity for people. Someone to look up to is a huge responsibility to take on."
"You need to stay humble, grounded and honest. Most of all, if you are trying to be someone you are not, you will fail. Don't ever try to follow trends; you won't stand out. Plus, it will be so difficult to go on if you are not yourself. Replying back to people, readers, followers, is the main thing. So many of those social influencers don't take the time to respond back; those may seem to get far but the quality of people is not what businesses are looking for." Karam does keep a clear separation between her personal life and public persona and has been called "mysterious" by some of her followers: "I have heard people say that, but I believe it's only protecting myself, my reputation and my family."
Big brands have noticed TJD's loyal following and virality, and her positive (and clean) digital footprint. Some of Karam's most recent strategic alliances include flydubai, ATS Travel, and tons of mainstay hospitality brands in the luxury hotel segment. Her collaboration with flydubai was part of making a few of her followers' dreams a reality: a fully comped vacation in the location of Karam's choice under the Travel with TJD banner. "I approached flydubai not so long ago with a business proposal. Travel with TJD was in the works for two years, building followers and viewership. flydubai instantly loved the idea of giving back to readers. In a world where everyone seems to only take, we tend to forget that we also need to give back and help others or push others to build memoriesand travel more. Travel with TJD is a miniseries of travelers flying with strangers, and the journey of them becoming friends and experiencing new things. They will always remember that moment where they all fell in love with the idea of their new friendship and destination."
TRAVEL JUNKIE DIARY'S TOP THREE TRAVEL TRENDS
OFF THE BEATEN PATH "Families are more adventurous in their travels. Taking their kids to South East Asia, backpacking, hiking and being more raw into their travels."
PARING DOWN "Flying light. I'm not sure if it's only because I fly light that I began to notice this, but flying light is definitely a trend now. I call it flying smart!"
GOING DIGITAL "Technology is changing the way we travel. We can now book and pick anything and everything via our smartphones. Room service, hotel bookings (even pick your own room), hotel check-in online, unlocking rooms with smartphones, uploading newspapers online in your room with a scan code, and you can even find your luggage using GPS if it gets lost using Bluesmart!"