BLOGSCANNING by Robert Janelle


Dual passion for travel and tech fuel success for pioneer blogger
From SCAN's Print Edition

Summer months bring warmer weather and for many a slower work pace giving them the perfect opportunity to travel and, of course, to blog about travelling.
And if there's anyone who understands travel blogging, it's Luc Levesque, founder of TravelPod, a platform designed specifically for travel blogging. Run by a team in the Byward Market, TravelPod has the usual features of a hosted blogging platform like Wordpress or Google's Blogger but also includes some travel writing specific functionality. Examples include being able to put a pin in a virtual map to quickly show where a post is being written from and where else the writer has been. The site can then show the writer which other travel bloggers are in the same area and provides the ability to send messages to each other.
What is most interesting about TravelPod, however, is how the site came to be. In 1997, before the word “blog” had even been coined, Mr. Levesque was fresh out of college and working for an Internet service provider. With some vacation time, he took off to Europe and decided to create a web site to provide easy updates to friends and family about his travels.

To make this easier, he wrote a Perl script that would simplify adding chronological posts to a web site and automatically Email those who were interested to let them know an update was posted.

Eventually, Mr. Levesque decided to open the site up to the public, allowing anyone to create what he referred to as a “travel log” at the time.

The site initially gained users slowly through word-of-mouth, but there were three milestones that pushed the site’s popularity and turned it from a hobby into a full-fledged business.

The first was the proliferation of Internet cafes, making it possible to update a blog on the go. Second was the digital camera becoming affordable for consumers, allowing anyone to put pictures of their travels on a computer instantly.

Finally, there was Google's acquisition of the Blogger platform in 2003 which brought mainstream media attention to the business of blogs, giving TravelPod plenty of exposure in the process. “It's gotten easier to explain it now that everyone knows what a blog is,” says Mr. Levesque.

Of course, the increase in the popularity of blogging led to more competition but Mr. Levesque says the company stays ahead by focussing on its niche. While other blogging platforms try to be all things to all people, TravelPod has stayed focused on building a community around travel.

Plus a few incentives don't hurt. Along with having the blog posting process optimized for travellers, deals have been worked out to get some users to qualify for discounts on hotels and car rentals. “We're picking a vertical and going deep,” says Mr. Levesque.

The continued growth of TravelPod led to it being acquired last year by TripAdvisor (a subsidiary of Expedia) for an undisclosed amount, leading to a redesign. While Mr. Levesque won't reveal the total number of users on TravelPod, the site gets between 35,000-45,000 new blog posts per week and that number is expected to grow.
After 11 years, in a post acquisition-phase and enjoying continuous growth (Mr. Levesque is currently looking for a bigger office and more developers) TravelPod is far beyond the start-up stage. So I asked Mr. Levesque how he keeps up the energy and enthusiasm.

“I'm passionate about technology and passionate about travel,” he says. “This is a dream job.”

Bob Janelle is a freelance journalist who has plied his trade at the Citizen and Kingston’s Whig-Standard. A bilingual grad of Algonquin’s J-School, where he won awards for both writing and photography, he is a self-confessed video game addict.

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