Travel Agents

Travel agent becomes a travel writer after chance encounter in PNG

One thing we miss from international travel is the chance encounters on flights or in famil groups that take you to even more unexpected places.

Case in point is TravelManagers’ Maria Pandalai’s experience on her way to Papua New Guinea in 2019 that led to her to achieve a massive life goal: becoming a published travel writer.

“On the flight from Port Moresby to Rabaul, I was seated next to the travel journalist in the group, and in the course of the conversation, I mentioned that I was a keen writer and interested in trying my hand at travel writing,” Pandalai said.

“Fast forwarding to eight months later, she contacted me with an offer I couldn’t refuse – to assist me with achieving my dream to become a travel writer.

“It started with me enrolling in travel writing course run by a well-known and respected Sydney-based travel journalist.”

The timing couldn’t have been better: Pandalai’s business, like those of so many others, was stalled as a result of COVID.

She applied for and received a Government Adaption Grant, which she used to fund a marketing boost for her business as a personal travel manager (PTM) and, in turn, the start-up of her travel writing business, Travel Tales By Maria, which included enrolment in the travel writing course.

“The travel writing course was run by correspondence and covered all aspects of becoming a successful travel writer, including travel photography and how to pitch a story,” Pandalai said.

“We were also given the opportunity to have two of our travel stories critiqued, which proved very insightful when it came to writing subsequent content.”

Despite her love of writing, Pandalai’s real-world experience was limited although she had published a number of stories in a local magazine.

The course taught her about different story themes, the planning process prior to writing a story, how to write an effective opening and finishing, and how to market herself as a writer.

“Within a few weeks of completing the writing course, I responded to a callout from The New Zealand Herald,” she said.

“They were seeking writers to submit pitches for Kiwi summer holidays, and as I had travelled to New Zealand in January this year, I was able to pitch my idea: ‘Tips for successful multi-generational summer family holidays’.”

Lengthy title notwithstanding, Pandalai said the NZ Herald loved her concept and commissioned it as her very first travel story, which was published last week.

It was an exciting step forward for Pandalai, who has worked in the travel industry for almost 25 years, including the last 11 with TravelManagers.

During that time, she has seen many changes to the industry and the way its members work.

“When I started as a junior consultant at the age of 19, there was no internet, paper airline tickets, and we had to construct our own fares out of a manual!” she said.

Pandalai intends that her travel writing will complement her career as a PTM with TravelManagers, using her stories to generate interest and sales for her business, and vice versa.

“My plan is to draw inspiration from my travel experiences to publish Travel Tales by Maria. I can then refer clients who are considering visiting the destinations about which I have written to this content,” she said.

“Promoting and linking to these stories on social media will serve dual purposes: to generate interest and to demonstrate my expertise.”

Although 2020 has been a challenging year for the travel industry, Pandalai said she is hopeful that an increase in demand for domestic travel, combined with her fledgling travel writing career, will keep her busy until international border restrictions eventually ease some time next year.

“For the time being, I plan to pitch more stories based on the domestic trips I have lined up,” she said.

“In an ideal world, I would love to be able to combine travelling, selling travel and writing about my travels – that’s the ultimate goal!”


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