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Web site travels off the

beaten path

BY NICK GRABBE
STAFF WRITER


Originally published in the Daily Hampshire Gazette on
February 23, 2004

SOUTH DEERFIELD - Type in the words ''alternative travel'' at Google.com and the first thing to come on your screen is Max Hartshorne's Web site.

GoNOMAD.com, which Hartshorne bought in 2002, now gets 100,000 visitors a month. He sees it as an online magazine for adventurous travelers rather than just a series of tourism links.

''Seventy-five percent of what people do for vacation we wouldn't write about, like Disney World, Las Vegas and Florida beaches,'' he said.

But people who want to learn about teaching English in Beijing, whitewater rafting in South America or staying overnight at Italian monasteries can get information at the Web site. One article called ''First You Shave Your Head'' is about pilgrimages to Korea's Buddhist monasteries.

Here's how GoNOMAD describes itself: ''Been there? Done that? So have we. That's why GoNOMAD researchers scout the ends of the earth in search of interesting, unusual and off-the-beaten-path destinations.''

The Web site has sections on women's travel, family excursions, lodgings and tours, and there's a market that sells books, music and handcrafts.

While many dot-coms have flamed out, Hartshorne has turned his Web site into a money-maker. He operates it out of his home in South Deerfield, supervises three interns, and employs only a part-time Webmaster.

He sells advertising on the tops of the pages to tour companies, airlines, and tourism boards. He also gets small cuts of the cost of any tickets that visitors buy at his site. Hartshorne even gets some money from Google.com for running ads, keyed to certain words, that the mammoth search engine creates.

The majority of the travel articles on the Web site are written by people who get no fee, but Hartshorne will pay a small fee for a few he really wants. And for some, such as a current story on East Timor, he gets paid by tour companies.

But he said these ''sponsored articles'' must focus on the destination and not the tour company to protect the integrity of the site. One about Russia detailed Aeroflot's surly service, bad food and dirty cabins, for instance.

''We are honest about what we write about,'' he said.

Hartshorne also has an email newsletter that goes to 10,000 people who've signed up for it on the Web site. The current edition includes a paid ad looking for people to teach English in Japan.

A fringe benefit of owning the Web site is travel in to write articles. Hartshorne has taken trips to Italy and Richmond in the last year, and this month he went on a free skiing trip in Montana. In April he's going to the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas, and he's planning a trip to Brazil.

''For me, this is heaven,'' he said. ''I get articles from all over, put them together, put them on the Web site. I travel often, and I make money.''

A two-day trade show in New York City last month gave him reason for optimism about GoNOMAD.com. He put up a 6-by-7-foot replica of the Web site and made a laptop available at his booth, and 22,000 people came to the show, he said.

He also cited a Google-page ranking of 6 out of 10, which he said measures the importance of GoNOMAD.com relative to other travel sites.

''If you approach something with real passion and dedication and think about it all the time, and work on it until 1 a.m., you're going to eventually succeed,'' he said. ''I'm already succeeding by traveling, editing and teaching people how to work with the Web. And I'm having a ball.''

Nick Grabbe can be reached at ngrabbe@gazettenet.com.

 

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