Ajay Jain, founder of Kunzum Travel Cafe is an entrepreneur and a story-teller. He has been travelling full time for a decade now and runs a successful travel blog at kunzum.com. Here’s him doling out some rather interesting insights and fruitful tips for anyone who aspires to build their personal brand on the blogosphere. By Team T+L
1) You’ve been travelling since 2007. You’re a travel writer, photographer, speaker, author of books, curator of trips and of course the founder of Kunzum Travel Cafe. How do you don so many hats?
I have a few more hats in the closet that I have donned in the past. These include careers in IT and sports management, working as a journalist (full time and columnist) for newspapers and magazines, and publishing my own youth newspaper. I also hold degrees in Mechanical Engineering, Management and Journalism (from the UK).
These varied qualifications and experiences have enabled me to pick skill sets to do whatever I do. Of course, it all comes with a lot of hard work, honing one’s creativity and a quest for perfection.
I have the DNA of an entrepreneur and don’t look at things uni-dimensionally. When I started travel blogging on kunzum.com, it was clear that it would not sustain on pure content and traffic. I needed to do more. Hence I got into exhibiting and selling my photography as wall art, writing and publishing books, setting up the Kunzum Travel Cafe as a publicity and distribution channel for my work, and engaging with brands for sponsorships and advertising. All this keeps me busy but comes with the perk of getting to travel the world in a way few get to.
2) Has social media changed the way you travel? Is there a strategy that you would like to share with the readers to leverage the medium?
I will admit that if it wasn’t so useful for my work, I would not be on social media. If you go on my channels, you will notice I don’t post anything personal there; for me, it is purely a business tool.
Has it changed the way I travel? Yes — it is a great tool for research. It is also a great way to connect with people who come up with ideas and tips for my journeys — some of the best inputs come from leisure travellers, not professional ones. Social media also enables me to reach out to and be known amongst tourism boards, travel brands and other prospective partners who can enable and sponsor what I do. While it is a long answer, I will share some tips for those wanting to leverage social media in this space:
* Content is King and Queen. Create authentic and engaging content. Be original, and focus on quality. Think of yourself as a storyteller.
* Build an audience organically over time — you will then get those genuinely interested in what you do.
* Your word and opinion are all-important. Don’t write highly of anything just because you have been paid for it. If you lose your credibility, there is nothing left to play for.
* Identify your audience. You can’t be everything to everyone. Develop your own niche — defined by regions, budgets and activities.
* You don’t have to be everywhere. Figure where your audience is — if it’s on Facebook, let that be your main channel.
3) Can you take us through the idea behind your #100GreatJourneys? What have been your favourites in India and abroad so far?
This is a project where I want to identify and write about, as the title says– great journeys. There is no ranking, nor a score. It can also not be an exhaustive list — there is no limit to awesome trips that one can undertake. This is a list I will compile of 100 that I will experience for myself and feel delighted with.
Tough to pick favourites though. In India, the complete Himalayan belt is one for sure. I have driven the entire expanse from Kashmir to the North-East including Nepal and Bhutan. I can confidently say there is no journey to match this on the planet. Where else will you cover high mountain peaks, wildlife, history, tribes, landscapes, religions, monuments, modern life and more in a single journey?
Internationally, I have loved my time in Africa particularly Uganda and Kenya. Even after 11 years of travelling full time, I feel the journey has barely started!
4) Do you indulge in slow travel? How do you manage to travel responsibly in India?
In a sense, I have always been a slow traveller. I am not the one to tick off a checklist in a given time span. When I write about destinations, I tell my readers that I will talk about what I managed to cover selectively there; I do not try to cover it all. What I look for are surprises. That is why I travel in my own car mostly, so I can set my own pace, and change course when I need to since I am not pre-booked on public transport.
I try to be a responsible traveller but this is also work-in-progress. There are limitations to what I can do, and I am still trying to grasp what RT fully encompasses. No one understands RT truly yet for that matter.
Some things that I do: I try to cover destinations and attractions that are largely ignored by tourism so the benefits can be broad-based. (In India, locations like Rajasthan, Agra, Jaipur and Agra get a disproportionate share of tourism dollars/rupees for example). I also draw attention to how we can preserve our natural, man-made and cultural heritage lest they get overrun by mass tourism. I make purchases from local artisans when I travel. I ensure I do not leave any of my garbage behind; I carry waste bags in my car.
5) You have more than a decade of travel experience on the blogosphere. Tips that you’d like to share with aspiring travellers and bloggers?
Another long answer but will try to make it concise:
* Focus on high quality, authentic, engaging and useful content.
* Improve your skills. If need be, take classes or get mentors for writing, photography and videography.
* Presentation matters — give a good look and feel to the blog.
* Have your own URL like kunzum.com with strong branding elements like a logo, and easy recall to the name.
* Use free and paid promotional tools like social media, ads, PR, mailers, and etc.
* Engagement is key. Respond to comments and queries timely.
* Focus on PR. Be on the speaking circuit, give media something to write about.
* Don’t put out paid content as your own opinion without full disclosure.
* Develop your own style — don’t follow trends for the sake of it.
* Have fun while you are at it.
6) You run two Kunzum Cafes in Delhi and Gurgaon. What’s been your idea/inspiration behind calling them travel cafes?
The original Kunzum Travel Cafe in Hauz Khas Village in New Delhi started as a gallery for my books and photography before I decided to add a social component to it. The idea was to create a space that would transport people to travel destinations even when they could not travel. We did this with a display of photography from my journeys, a library of travel magazines and books including my own, events like travel talks, a place where one could plan their trips with other guests and etc. Hence the branding ‘Travel Cafe’. We often refer to the spaces as the Face-to-Facebook of travel.
7) If you had to pick 3 places every traveller must visit in India – what would they be and why?
Tough, but here goes:
* Ladakh, Ladakh and Ladakh. But not by buying a low cost, mass tourism package that is sold by many travel companies.
* The North-East: One of the last virgin frontiers for travellers — it is raw, authentic and not touched by mass tourism. It has everything: wildlife, tribes, landscapes, culture and more.
* The wildlife parks of Madhya Pradesh — at par with the best in the world.
8) Do you think there’s competition in the niche that you’ve carved for yourself? If yes, what do you do to stay at the top of the game?
As a blogger and author, there is a lot of competition; one needs to stay on top of the game since the consumer has so much content to choose from. One can do so by creating brilliant content and being effective in marketing it. As Kunzum Travel Cafe, there is none. We ‘invented’ the idea in 2010 and no one has been able to clone it yet. There may be travel-themed cafes and spaces, but none like ours yet.
9) Last but not least, three tips on what you need to do to build your brand online?
I have written a book on personal branding titled ‘Super Brand You’ — there is so much to share. But quick tips:
* Fill out your profiles well on social media. Not just LinkedIn, but Facebook and Instagram too — you don’t know who is looking at you where.
* Conduct yourself online as you would offline. There should not be a differentiation – you are being seen and judged everywhere. Don’t put out photos, videos and other content that shows you in the wrong light.
* Talk about what you are good at online. Through blogs, social media and LinkedIn posts. Everyone need not have their own blog — there are platforms like Medium where you can create your own channels. If you are a jeweller, create posts on design, fabrication, materials and valuation — be seen as the expert.