2018 Highlights: From Belize to Barbados, and Books to Magazines

Monte Cristi, Dominican Republic.

It hit me this morning that I’ve been on the road since March. And then, I left home – Santo Domingo, DR – for two months, starting in September to head to Austin for TravelCon.

From there I flew to Belize to begin working on Moon Belize 2019 updates. Mid-trip, I flew to Nassau, Bahamas, where I was invited to attend the State of the Industry Conference 2018. I returned to Belize, and flew back out a week later for the Barbados Tourism Media Awards and the annual Barbados Food & Rum Festival – my prize for winning two awards (or so I thought, read on below). And then, back to Belize a third time to continue my guidebook research.

Phew.

If I told you what I worked on before this series of trips even kicked off, well… you’d ask me how I’m still standing. I’m not sure how I did it all, but by the grace of God and a lot of organization, planning, hard work, and moral support, I did.

I’m grateful for this busy year – probably my most steady and productive in terms of assignments from long-term clients. And from cooking lessons to biking cities and river hiking, I had a great time on the road in my favorite regions, albeit with a grueling schedule.

Here’s a selection of my best work from the year. 

BARBADOS

Barbados was my most surprising and rewarding destination of the year. After a partly-sponsored trip in late March, which I extended solo, I left inspired by all the cultural and historical experiences I had in Bridgetown, fell for the secluded eastern coast of Bathsheba, biked along the rugged south coast, and explored Bajan food on foot.

Driving along the east coast towards Bathsheba – ©Lebawit Girma
My award-winning image – A couple walking down Bridgetown’s colorful Careenage, with the Slavery Memorial Plaque in focus.

Little did I know that the work I produced from that trip would result in winning not one, but three awards in the annual Barbados Tourism Media Awards from the Barbados Tourism Ministry:  Best Blog Article for my piece about Rediscovering Barbados on Two Wheels; Best Photo in conjunction with a feature article – accompanying my Lonely Planet feature “Getting Cultured in Bridgetown;” and Best of the Best of all submissions.

The award for Best Photo meant a lot to me, of course, as a travel photographer. I particularly loved the way the judges described why they selected it among the numerous entries: “There is so much life in this photo.” You can watch the whole thing below, including a message I recorded on the meaning of the winning image and why it meant a lot to me to win this particular photography award.

The icing came when I was called for a third “Standing O” Award for Best of the Best of all submissions.

Caught on camera when called for a third “Standing O” Award for Best of Best of all submissions. 

The other awesome part was my prize: a week in Barbados filled with all things food and culture for the 2018 Barbados Food and Drink Festival. We went from chef-created tastings paired with mixologist-designed cocktails to beach time, polo parties – with food and cocktails of course – and visits to organic farms, a testament to Barbados’ growing consciousness on health and food sovereignty. It was a blast, as you can see in the video I put together below.

 If you’ve never been to Food & Rum, I highly recommend attending next year. It’s the most fabulous and fun food event I’ve experienced in the Caribbean in a while. Besides, the Caribbean Tourism Organization *just* declared 2019 as the Year of Festivals. 

Dominican Republic

Destination content for Go Dominican Republic/BvK

I’m thrilled that my relationship with GoDominican Republic (the DR Ministry of Tourism) and BvK has continued. After working on the almost year-long project of rewriting the entire GoDomRep website last year, I was hired again this past summer to write brand new brochure content for the DR’s various destinations.

So far I’ve completed Santo Domingo and Samana brochures.  In addition to all new writing, I designed the content layout and provided a fresh take on what travelers would want to know and read in a destination brochure. I’m excited to be a part of revamping all the writing for the DR as it keeps topping the list of Caribbean destinations.  

The Guidebook

Time surely flies. It was time to update my Moon Dominican Republic guidebook, and after running my ground research from April to September, I finally submitted my manuscript mid-November.

The lush Cibao Valley remains one of my favorite areas of the DR.
Breathtaking Playa Esmeralda – on the North Coast – site of the upcoming new luxury Club Med.
Revisiting San Rafael river-beach swimming area – Barahona, southwest DR.

You can look out or a 2019 edition next Fall. Oh and I’m so chuffed by the latest reader review on Amazon, that I had to cut and past it here (ha).

I also enjoyed making short video clips – both on IG and YouTube – for my DR Visitor blog while traveling around the country again and updating the book, so that readers could follow along.

AUSTIN, TEXAS

I led a photo walk at the first-ever TravelCon2018, launched by Nomadic Matt. I’m excited to share that I’ve been invited back to TravelCon 2019 – to lead a photo walk, and to speak. I’m aiming to do more conference speaking and teaching in the future – something I’ve shied away from because I don’t love public speaking (yet once I get to it, I love it). My good friend and colleague Lola Akerstrom gave me a nudge by introducing me for TravelCon, and I realized that once I get into my subject matter, I love teaching it to others.

The 2019 edition of TravelCon will take place in Boston – a city I haven’t returned to in at least 10 years. If you’ve always wanted to learn or improve your photography with me in person, sign up before tickets sell out.

If you have ideas of what you’d want me to speak on or what you’d like to learn from me, aside from photography, let me know – shoot me a comment or a message.

BAHAMAS

Another favorite this year has been The Bahamas. I visited Nassau for the first time, host of the SOTIC 2018 conference, and loved discovering some of the out islands – particularly Eleuthera. Oh the magic of Eleuthera – I could imagine renting a home here, and writing a book.

View from the Glass Window Bridge – Eleuthera, Bahamas

BELIZE

I spent a chunk of my time thisyear working on two Belize projects:

* Moon Belize updates and on-the-ground research in preparation for the 2019 edition, and

* Destination Belize Magazine, the Belize Tourism Industry Association’s and Belize’s #1 tourism magazine, for which I was contracted as Editor in chief.

 

The 20th edition of Destination Belize was published in October 2018. As its editor in chief, I worked directly with the BTIA and our core editorial team on this project which kept us busy for seven months. It’s an honor to have had such an important role in producing Belize’s sole and most important tourism magazine.

Our theme for this edition: Roots and Rhythms.  

On the previous edition of Destination Belize, I was senior editor and wrote three articles, plus all the destination descriptions – but I didn’t have control over the direction or shaping of the content as I was brought in by the publisher later in the process.

This current edition was similar in terms of the writing assignments, but the editing responsibility was much greater: I was brought in from the beginning of the project and was in charge of helping shape the content from scratch, aside from also editing every single contribution, and writing the destination introductions. The editorial leadership role was a great learning experience.

Here’s a snippet of my speech at the launch – broadcast on the local News Five channel.  The event was held at the Radisson Hotel in Belize City. I addressed tourism representatives, members of the Belize press, BTIA board members and destination members. I wish I had the full clip to show you the more “energized” parts of my talk, but until I receive the full file, here it goes:   

The magazine is chock full of articles from some of Belize’s top experts in environment,culture and heritage, and history and archaeology, among other topics. It’s informative, educational, and colorful.

 

We’ve had great feedback so far on the 20th edition. One person said that “this feels like Belize!” – which described our goal perfectly.

When you’re in Belize, be sure to browse through a copy – you’ll find copies in your hotel room, at trade shows overseas, and at Belize’s consulates and embassies, among other places.

Aside from serving as Chief Editor, I’m proud of the theme article (pictured above) that I wrote – located at the front of the magazine (pp. 8-9).  

The guidebook: #MoonDR2019

The year 2018 started with my publisher, Moon Travel Guides (Hachette Book Group) renewing my contracts to update and write the 2019 editions of Moon Belize and Moon Dominican Republic. Yes, two guidebooks in one year. 

Santa Cruz Village – Toledo District, Belize

Re-visiting all of Belize’s districts went super well – and with Belize trending as a destination, there’s tons of development underway. Some of it is good – for instance, the improved infrastructure in national parks – while some of it isn’t, such as the rapid building of expat homes, resorts, and caye developments at the expense of mangroves, flats fishing, and corals. Tourism is such a double edged sword.

Birding is steadily rising in popularity in Belize. – Crooked Tree Lagoon, Belize District
Spending time in Crooked Tree Village was a highlight. More details to come.

In the end, I loved the areas that reminded me of the Belize I first visited eight years ago. The 2019 edition of Moon Belize will be available in Fall 2019.  

JAMAICA

I didn’t travel to Jamaica this year, having recently returned in December 2017. But Rough Guide to Jamaica was published in August 2018. I co-authored and updated the guide (the West/Negril, Treasure Beach/South and Kingston chapters, plus Resources and front of book sections).  I have not actually seen the print copy yet because I haven’t yet received copies from the publisher. But it’s available for purchase on Amazon.

NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK

It’s always the perfect reason to hop to NY in the summer: the CTO’s Caribbean Week and Caribbean Media Marketplace. I was also a finalist in the 2018 CTO Media Awards, nominated for a “Virtual VisitorAward” for my feature article and photo essay on Curacao in CNN Travel, “13 fun things to do in Curacao right now.” I didn’t ultimately win the award, but I’m grateful to have been selected as a finalist among the hundreds of annual entries the organization receives.

And hey, I enjoyed a fabulous award dinner (for the first time, the ceremony was held in the evening) plus I got to mingle and network at the 2018 Caribbean Week Media Marketplace.  

MEDIA INTERVIEWS

I’ve had the pleasure of being featured in additional interviews this year, including Publishers Weekly – answering questions about travel writing, about guidebooks, about my life and diverse background as a travel journalist, and about my destinations. I have another interview coming up – I’ll share it once published.

A YEAR IN REVIEW

Last but not least, I’m thrilled that I finally applied to become a member of the SATW. I was admitted within two weeks’ time and look forward to being active in 2019.

Thanks for coming along for the ride. I hope I’ve inspired you again to explore the Caribbean differently, beyond the beach and into the culture and nature it offers.

Wishing you all a fantastic holiday season. See you in the New Year, si Dios quiere. 

I leave you with this video recap of my year of Caribbean travels (soundtrack by Kes – “Hello.”)

Reinventing the Caribbean: Updates and Reflections on the State of The Industry Conference (SOTIC2018)

The view from my room at the Atlantis on Paradise Island, Nassau, host of the Caribbean’s 2018 SOTIC conference.

“It’s a time to reinvent ourselves.”

These words stuck with me at the close of SOTIC 2018. They came from St. Lucia’s Minister of Tourism, Hon. Dominic Fedee. The newly elected chair of the Caribbean Tourism Organization was addressing a room full of media on the last day of the annual State of the Industry conference.

His words neatly summarized a recurring theme throughout the sessions at SOTIC on the current state of tourism in the Caribbean.

The Caribbean: a region famously marketed as a paradisiacal escape of blues, friendly people, and all inclusive resorts. Perhaps because of this image and brand, it’s a region where visitors still have difficulty distinguishing one island country or territory from the other. This was painfully obvious last year, when the twin category

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