I’ve had this work update post in mind for three months now. Life has been very, very busy, and 2017 was epic. The Dominican Republic has been my base now for three solid years. But this past year, I’ve enjoyed having a less-nomadic lifestyle, dealing more with messy closets than suitcases, writing from the same lovely apartment all year for the first time in ages (though, of course, I still traveled for work), and having a wonderful, supportive partner.
I’ve posted little here over the last year, but ironically, it was my most productive and successful year in travel media yet. I also dedicated plenty of time to nurturing my new, second blog on the Dominican Repulic, DRVisitor.com.
This year? Things are looking great as well.
I am truly grateful for the writing, photography, and long-term projects that have come my way in a variety of ways — from colleagues who continue to say my name when assignments pop up on the Caribbean, to continued editorial relationships, to the gigs that land in my inbox after an online search. Last but not least, my readers’ messages always keep me motivated.
Travel media is a challenging career because of the ever-changing landscape, but it’s also one where the more you dig your heels in and remain yourself, the more you will succeed. I still have many more dreams to achieve — including doing more video — but I am super excited to share this latest work updates with you all.
I. PARTNERSHIPS: CONTENT STRATEGY + EDITORIAL
1. Dominican Republic Ministry of Tourism: Content Strategy and Copywriting for GoDominicanRepublic.com
Without doubt, this has been one of my biggest wins in terms of partnerships with a Caribbean tourism board. Discussions began a year ago in February, and the project actually kicked off in full force in early summer. The Dominican Republic Tourism Ministry’s marketing team, through their public relations firm BvK, contracted me exclusively to rewrite and produce all of the new text for their #1 tourism website GoDominicanRepublic.com (that’s a link to the old site, see screenshot below), and edit the old. The website is being completely redesigned and launching this year.
I wrote approximately 95% of the upcoming site’s new content, and revised the old. From the background section — on Dominican dishes, geography, flora and fauna, baseball, and more — to the sights, activities, and introductions for every single major DR destination around the country, it’s all new and all my writing. I also delivered the travel tips section, described all the various adventures one can have around this large country, and edited the text on MICE destinations.
My team at the DR Tourism Ministry is fantastic, and we worked efficiently together.
If you’re thinking whoa, it’s a ton of work: it was. But I completed all the writing this past December, which took approximately six full months, including revision rounds from the DR and BvK. When the content is up and ready on the newly designed site, I’ll do one more read through before it is launched to the public. Currently, all of of the new text I wrote is being translated into multiple languages to upload to the various GoDomRep sites.
I’m really excited to see the final, and super proud that a major Caribbean tourism website that’s visited and consulted by millions of tourists on a daily basis will be reading my writing.
2. Belize Tourism Industry Association: Editor-in-Chief, Destination Belize Magazine 2018-2019
Last year, as you know, I worked as an editor and writer for Destination Belize Magazine, Belize’s #1 tourism publication, owned by the Belize Tourist Industry Association, and in partnership with the Belize Tourism Board. I was hired by the McNab design group to edit all of the articles that came in for the issue (but didn’t decide on the content). I also wrote all of the region introductions, and the theme article.
This year, the BTIA will be producing the 2018-2019 Destination Belize Magazine edition in-house, and they’ve contracted me as their Editor-in-Chief. Since February we’ve kicked off our editorial team meetings to shape the next edition’s content and launch the process for a fantastic, new Destination Belize issue releasing in the Fall. We even have a theme since last month, and I’m completely stoked about the overall topic for the magazine this year.
It’s exciting to take part in shaping the content for Belize’s most important tourism magazine, distributed all over the hotels in the country, at the airports, at major tourism trade shows all over the world, as well as in overseas Belizean Consulates. Stay tuned for updates on this project in the coming months. You can also join Destination Belize on Instagram and Facebook.
Collaborating with tourism brands and hashing out the best way to market their destinations has been truly fulfilling, and the kind of work I’d like to continue doing. I have fantastic, small-sized teams in both of my above projects, who are visionary leaders, open-minded to creativity, and respect my expertise as a destination expert and professional writer.
II. GUIDEBOOKS: MOON TRAVEL GUIDES + ROUGH GUIDES UK
I can finally share the news: there will be 2019 editions of Moon Dominican Republic and Moon Belize. This means I’ll have two books releasing at the same time next year — wish me luck.
1. Moon Dominican Republic 2019
Two years have passed since the release of my first edition of Moon Dominican Republic and three years since I wrote it from scratch. That year, traveling and reporting from all over the DR, was epic.
I’m thrilled that my publisher has lined up Moon DR to be updated, for a 2019 edition. There’s so much happening that’s new in the DR, as it continues to go off the charts of tourism in the Caribbean (when I was writing the book, the DR received four million visitors a year, the highest in the region, and now it receives six million – incredible).
2. Moon Belize 2019
That’s right! Yet another updated edition of Moon Belize is coming in 2019 — my fourth since 2012 — and I’ll be returning to Belize later this year to research it. In the meantime, my Moon Belize 2017 edition was published just four months ago.
3. Rough Guide to Jamaica 2018
Last year, at the last minute, Rough Guides approached me to co-author and update their edition of Rough Guide to Jamaica, releasing in August 2018. I hopped over to Jamaica right on the tail-end of the JAPEX annual tourism trade conference (hosted by JTB).
I made my way around my regions: Hanover, Negril and surrounding areas, Bluefields and Belmont, Whitehouse, Mandeville, Treasure Beach, Kingston, and its surroundings. Even after over 10 years of exploring Jamaica, I discovered fascinating activities and places to stay, particularly a whole wave of locally-owned and run guesthouses on AirBnB (which Rough Guides includes).
With every update, it gets easier, but also more fun as I unearth stories along the way.
(*On another note, another major guidebook publisher and competitor to Moon Guides approached me last year to take over their Belize edition — but I had to turn it down because of Moon Belize. That was fine with me as I love my team at Moon, and the book has become “mine”).
III. PUBLICATIONS: ARTICLES + PHOTOGRAPHY
I have had travel articles published this year, including one for trade. My wish is to take the plunge and publish about other topics affecting the Caribbean, while I continue the travel writing. We’ll see how that goes! So far, in 2018, I have:
1. CNN Travel
I currently have two features published in CNN Travel, including one with a photo essay:
- Playa Rincon in the Dominican Republic — A Year of the World’s Best Beaches (January 2018)
- Eco-adventures on the Samana Peninsula (March 2018)
2. AFAR Guides
I wrote and edited six digital country guides for AFAR, a long-time client. Most are currently updated and published on the main website, while the Belize one was done for Chase (a sponsored editorial project). When you author the AFAR-sponsored guides, you become AFAR’s destination expert for those places.
I’ve always had the Jamaica Guide, but it’s nice to add the following beautiful islands to my AFAR belt:
- AFAR Guide to Curacao
- AFAR Guide to Guadeloupe Islands
- AFAR Guide to Saint Lucia
- AFAR Guide to Anguilla (published prior to the 2017 hurricanes)
I am thrilled to have been invited as a travel photography expert to TravelCon, the newest and most promising travel media career conference yet. Created by top blogger Nomadic Matt, Travelcon will be held in Austin from September 20-22, 2018. Aside from presentations, there will be expert-led hands-on sessions where those who want to improve their travel media careers will be able to break off and train, learn, and network along the way in small groups.
My part: I’ll be leading a photo walk. Join me!
If you’ve wanted to improve your photography, travel writing, or blogging, learn about working with brands, or receive exert tips on how to increase your income in travel media’s disciplines, and mingle with the best in the business (the speaker list is impressive) — this conference is a great opportunity. Hurry and register ASAP for the conference before space runs out (as I’ve been told it will soon, even by April). The maximum number of attendees is 600.
Apart from the work side, I’m thrilled that I’ll be catching up with long-time friends and colleagues in the business, as well as meeting other experts in my field.
V. OTHER PROJECTS
As you know, I created and launched a new blog focusing on authentic, cultural and adventure travel around the Dominican Republic: DRVisitor.com. It’s been doing great! I will be sharing my guidebook writer journey as go all around the DR again for the Moon DR 2019 update. Join on Youtube, where I’ve been posting videos, or on Instagram and the blog.
Looking ahead, I am planning for a long overdue, major website overhaul of this blog, Sunshine + Stilettos — starting the last quarter of 2018. Ironically, that would coincide with the blog’s 10th year anniversary. I want a site that reflects all my work over the years, and clearly showcases my niche in cultural, adventure, and sustainable travel experiences in the Caribbean that I’ve shared with readers for 10 years now.
VI. MEDIA INTERVIEWS + PROFILES
1. Publishers Weekly Magazine: Meet A Guidebook Author
Thrilled to have been interviewed as a Moon Guides author among a selection of five authors for various publishers, in a major feature on the future of travel guidebooks. You can read the print interview here, or read it online.
2. Griots Republic Magazine: Moon Belize — An Interview with Author Lebawit Lily Girma
Griots Republic is a content-packed online magazine geared towards urban Black travelers. Read the in-depth interview here. And be sure to explore the entire issue which is dedicated to Belize.
3. Jamaica Observer: Cocktails with Lebawit Lily Girma
Just a few months ago, while in Jamaica working on Rough Guide updates, I had the opportunity to be interviewed in the Jamaica Observer, and it was such a thrill to see this feature in print in the Sunday paper! A humbling moment. Read the interview here.
VII. UPCOMING TRIPS
It’s going to be a year of heavy travel. But first: I’ll be heading to Barbados on assignment in April! I am super pumped to re-discover all things Bajan, as I visited there just over 10 years ago for a brief long weekend. Follow along my Barbados adventure on Instagram and Facebook, where I’ll be sharing and posting daily.
That’s it for now, folks.
As always, thanks for joining me for the ride. And to all who celebrate Easter across the Caribbean and beyond, enjoy your week.