The American girl who is the future of New Zealand tourism

SELFIE TIME: Liz Carlson in Moeraki.
Liz Carlson

SELFIE TIME: Liz Carlson in Moeraki.

Liz Carlson has the occupation that is high on most people's "dream job" lists - travel blogger.

She has the dream story to go with it. The 26-year-old quit her office job in Washington DC two years ago to travel the world and document her journeys on her blog, Young Adventuress, which she started in 2010 while living in Spain, where she was teaching English. 

A passion for Lord of the Rings inspired a move to New Zealand. Now based 14,660km away in Wanaka, Central Otago, Carlson is recognised as one of the top travel bloggers in the world.

It all sounds impossibly glamorous. August was spent horse-riding in Mongolia and being pampered in Bali. Come November, it was scuba diving in Thailand and safari-ing in Sri Lanka.

But it's not all azure skies and golden beaches, Carlson assures - it really is a full-time job.

"I've actually stopped telling people what I do now... I just say I'm in 'publishing'.

WHEN IN ROME: Learning to make pizza.
Liz Carlson

WHEN IN ROME: Learning to make pizza.

"I got sick of people saying, 'you're so lucky', like it all fell in my lap."

What people don't understand, she says, is that when she heads off overseas, she gets no more than four hours sleep, spending her days on whirlwind tours and her nights trapped in a hotel room, keeping up with her writing commitments.

"You're publishing before you go with a post announcing you're going, then you're publishing during the trip, uploading your photos and scheduling your posts, along with all the everyday stuff like answering your emails and social media.

"It's just insane. In the past, it would have been a team of people, going out doing a shoot. It's just you now."

She doesn't want to sound like she's complaining - it's just the reality. And it pays off. She estimates she earns between $3000 and $10,000 a month, including the obvious travel perks.

WHAT A VIEW: Liz Carlson in Wanaka.
Liz Carlson

WHAT A VIEW: Liz Carlson in Wanaka.

Her blog has more than 5000 subscribers and gets around 150,000 monthly visitors, and her Instagram account has more than 38,000 followers.

Travel blogging has become serious business, and the tourism industry is paying attention.

Read more: Taxpayer dollars sell NZ to the world

Snap-happy bloggers are future for tourism

In 2013-14, bloggers and Instagrammers were among the 292 media parties brought to New Zealand under Tourism New Zealand's $1.9 million International Media Programme.

The advertising value generated by all this coverage is estimated at $194 million - more than Tourism New Zealand's entire budget.

That figure includes the traditional print and broadcast media coverage, but it's the digital influencers like Carlson who are increasingly being recognised as the future of tourism.

"I think it's at the point you can't ignore it anymore," Carlson says.

"One of my photos from Hobbiton was shared on the official Instagram account last year, in conjunction with the second Hobbit movie being premiered.

"It got 600,000 likes and 5000 comments from people being like, 'oh my God, this place exists, I have to go there'.

"That number - can you even compare it to something in print?"

TOLKIEN FAN: Liz Carlson in Hobbiton.
Liz Carlson

TOLKIEN FAN: Liz Carlson in Hobbiton.

She has been working hard to become the top travel blogger in the country and says her site is one of the first that comes up when people Google, "moving to New Zealand".

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A post she wrote about Kiwi slang became so popular it crashed her website, and every couple of weeks, she finds herself getting recognised by followers.

"The other day I was flying to Milford Sound and there were two girls from Brazil on the six-seater plane who said they were in Wanaka because of me," she says. "It was really cool."

That sense of familiarity and interaction with readers represents a shift from traditional travel writing and tourism campaigns where readers "literally read a magazine article once and never pick it up again", she says.

"Why would you pay $12 for National Geographic when you can Google it for free?

"Or, instead of hiring someone to plan a trip you can just email me, and be like, 'hey Liz, what's your favourite spot in New Zealand, I'm coming in a week'. It's changed so much."

While the digital community in New Zealand is growing, Carlson is still one of the few internationally-recognised travel bloggers based here, which is disappointing, she says.

"I feel like New Zealand is the most photogenic country I've ever been in. I don't understand how there aren't more people on Instagram doing this kind of stuff.

"In Wanaka I look out my window and see a glacier, and I'm like, 'are you kidding me?'"

As an American woman writing about her adopted country, it's ironic that some of her most devoted followers are homesick Kiwi expats.

"I get so much response from them, saying 'you make me miss New Zealand so much, I can't wait to come back and see my own country'.

"I think sometimes it takes an outsider to be able to make those observations."

 - Stuff

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