Web Site Offers a New Alternative for Intrepid Travelers
Inside, though, is a gateway to the rest of the world.
The building is the new home of GoNomad.com, an online travel resource for ëalternative travelers those in search of a thrill, an education, or a one-of-a-kind experience while traveling.
GoNomad.coms owner, Max Hartshorne, calls the site "a comprehensive resource center," designed to provide alternative travelers with both inspiration and information to plan virtually any trip.
The most prevalent aspect of the site is its editorial content essentially a Web-based magazine, GoNomad features hundreds of articles describing unique trips that stray from the more common Disneyland, Vegas, or cruise ship vacations.
"Our readers dont want to read about lounging on the beach," he said. "They want to learn how to hand roll couscous in Morocco. They want to take a cooking class in Croatia, or go on an archeological dig in Jordan. Its a very interesting niche of people."
And it was a niche that Hartshorne wanted very much to call attention to. He bought GoNomad.com from its founder, Lauryn Axelrod of Vermont, a travel writer and documentary filmmaker, in February, 2002. He already had some editorial and travel industry experience, having served as managing editor for Transitions Abroad Magazine, based in Amherst, for some time, but wanted to take the idea of alternative travel to a new level.
He also wanted to capitalize on the Internet market, and provide an extensive travel ëWeb-zine that would do more than just entertain readers.
"Working in the editorial world is my real love," said Hartshorne, who has also worked in sales for Bolducs Clothing in Agawam, among other ventures. "I love working with writers and photographers and Im also an extensive traveler. I knew I wanted to continue the work I had been doing at Transitions Abroad, but I knew utilizing the Internet was the way to go.
"If you look at all media as a triangle, at the end of the day the Internet is at the top," he said, creating a point with his hands and extending his forefinger for emphasis. "I think the best way to create a travel resource like this is to do it on the Web. Everything is right there the inspiration and also all the links you need to plan a trip from start to finish."
Charting a Course
But early 2002 was a risky time to take over an Internet-based business that centered on alternative travel.
Less than five months after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, travel and tourism was at an all-time low, and niche markets like ecotourism, work and study abroad programs, and cultural immersion tours all examples of alternative travel were suffering even more so.
"It was a big risk," Hartshorne said. "But the site was already up and running, and had a following. I decided it was a risk I wanted to take."
The venture has paid off for Hartshorne; since assuming control of the site, he has added several features meant to increase both traffic to the site and the convenience with which visitors can plan their own adventures.
GoNomad includes travel guides, links to travel-based companies such as travel agents, airlines, tour companies, and volunteer organizations, and key information for alternative travelers, ranging from unique places to stay to the latest recommended immunizations, and how to find a bathroom quick in any country.
Hartshorne said the travel stories are meant to serve as both motivation and guidance for would-be travelers, and the added links are the tools GoNomad visitors can use to plan any trip they can envision be it a weekend jaunt to Brooklyn, or a trek through Iran, taking daily meals with what else? nomads.
He updates the site regularly to reflect the most often viewed articles and resources, and said those updates are proof of the diversity of the site as well as of its core users. Alternative travelers dont always equal ëextreme travelers, he noted, but the common thread that links GoNomads typical visitor is they travel to enrich their lives, rather than take a break from it.
On any given day, GoNomad could feature a motorcycle tour of Bulgaria or the top 10 ëbare beaches worldwide. It could also extol the benefits of teaching English in Paris, Tokyo, Spain, or Ghana, or of volunteering in the Himalayas.
But the site also offers details on an historical weekend in Richmond, Va., and of an English garden tour.
"All of the articles and resources arent meant to be about one persons trip," Hartshorne explained. "They are meant to be about the readers potential trip. It should give people an idea of where to visit, where to stay, or where to eat, and also provide a general feel of the flavor of a place."
Hartshorne has also developed partnerships with a number of businesses, online and otherwise, to augment the services GoNomad offers and to capitalize on the ever-changing virtual marketplace. For one, Hartshorne has joined forces with airportparkingreservations.com, based in Suffield, Conn., allowing GoNomad visitors to secure a parking spot at one of several airports globally at a fixed rate.
"We are getting thousands of inquiries on that," he said. "In urban areas, its not easy to find a parking spot. Travelers are really latching on to this and taking advantage of great deals."
Hartshorne also offers free listings for hotels, bed and breakfasts, travel agents, work/study programs, and other businesses, as well as ëpremium listings for a fee, and, like thousands of other content-heavy websites, has joined Googles Ad Sense program, which places contextually relevant ads next to the stories on the Web site.
"This provides a pay-per-click revenue stream," Hartshorne explained. "The ads are extremely targeted, so a feature story on say, Brazil, will have ads for Rio hotels, airfare to Brazil and tours in the Amazon."
Hartshorne also benefits from the sale of travel insurance and travel books and other items in the ëGoNomad Marketplace, and this year, he will continue to add to the site, delving into the business of selling airline tickets his own private-label line of low priced European and Asian flights in addition to the railpasses, vacations, cruises, domestic and international ticket and hotel sales already offered.
To further increase revenues while remaining true to GoNomads original flavor, Hartshorne is creating a ëpod cast service audio versions of travel articles in MP3 format, which visitors can download and listen to in their homes or, he hopes, on the airplane that will deliver them to their chosen destination.
"Our revenue stream is varied," he said of the many business ventures in the works. "But we dont stray from our mission. Were not about cruise ships, were not about Vegas, and were not New York, Paris, and London. Were about participatory, learning travel. We will continue to grow and offer different services in order to keep that aspect of the site strong."
And as the business grows, so does its notoriety. GoNomad has been featured in a number of publications, including the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, and Hartshorne has served as a guest expert on travel and the state of the tourism industry for several media outlets including CNN, on which he appeared twice recently in the wake of the Asian tsunami that hit Indonesia, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, India, and the once-booming vacation spot of Phu Ket, Thailand.
Having kick-started his business after the tourism industry, and in many ways the U.S. as a whole, suffered its most devastating blow in September, 2001, Hartshorne is indeed an expert on the fragility of the travel and tourism industry.
"The most important thing people needed to know after 9/11 was that America was still open for business," he said. "The same holds true for South Asia following the tsunami. People are donating millions of dollars to relief efforts, and I gladly donated as well. But the best way we, as Americans, as travelers, can help the countries that were hit by the tsunami is to go there.
"Many people equate those entire countries with the damage caused by the tsunami, but thats not accurate," he continued. "There are some great, inland areas that are just fine, and accepting tourists. Spending our dollars there will help the entire economy."
He added that GoNomad travelers are the ideal group to lead the way.
"These people want to see the whole world, not select parts," he said. "They want to go to South Asia, or to the Middle East. They want to learn about new cultures. That act of people connecting with people is what is needed most."
Hartshorne is hard at work monitoring those connections from his South Deerfield office each day… constantly welcoming new visitors to the rest of the world.