Laura Michonski is the Former Site Director of NewYork.com and a nationally recognized expert on all aspects of travel. Prior to joining NewYork.com, she was Executive Digital Editor at Budget Travel and prior to that was the Editor-in-Chief for AOL Travel. She has also served as a travel consultant for InTrust Global Investments and editor for Sherman's Travel Media. Before becoming a journalist, she worked with the media on behalf of tourist organizations, such as the United States Tour Operators of America (USTOA) with Kundell Communications, and with Maison de la France, representing western France in the U.S. Laura is often called upon to speak about trends in the travel and publishing industries and makes regular appearances in the media via outlets such as NBC, CNN, ABC News, NPR, Peter Greenberg radio, and the BBC. She presented at the 2010 New York Times Travel Show on the Future of Travel Media and regularly volunteers her time as an expert on industry panels.
How did you get your start in the industry?
I went to Barnard College. During my time there I worked for a boutique travel PR firm called Kundell Communications and in the press department of the French government, representing Western France in the U.S. After college, I switched over to the editorial side and worked for a variety of travel publications including Budget Travel and AOL Travel. Today, I work in the travel industry at the city level, covering all things New York to help both visitors and locals get more out of my hometown. And I still travel a lot! In the past year, I've been to Istanbul, Miami, Orlando, Portland, Los Angeles, the countryside of Ireland, and dog-sledding in the Arctic Circle! In spite of my many adventures, no city has ever captured my heart quite like New York has.
What inspired you to enter into the travel industry? Is there one particular trip/moment that stands out?
I've known that travel would be a huge part of my life ever since I was five years old and my family took our first trip to Disney World. I fell in love with the experience of travel and I saved my allowance for a year after that to buy my own personal set of luggage (my parents thought I was crazy because travel was not something we did often as a family). Then I made a list of all of the places in the world I would travel as an adult. Many years later, I found the perfect niche working as an editor in the travel space! My most memorable trip was to Easter Island - the Explora Rapa Nui is a breathtaking resort that does an excellent job of introducing guests to the local culture and history. And, as a follow-up, I'm happy to say that I've ticked off many of the places on that list I created.
What is your role at Newyork.com and how do you use your expertise to help continue to grow the brand?
I am the Site Director and I oversee editorial, social media and distribution for NewYork.com. I work closely with other departments, such as marketing, product, and sales, to coordinate editorial coverage and programs that promote the brand and drive users to our product pages, where they can purchase the items they're reading about on our site. NewYork.com is a one-stop-shop for discovering, researching and booking awesome NYC experiences. Thanks to my travel background, I have a deep understanding of what kind of information visitors are looking for when they come to a new city. At the same time, everybody always wants the local perspective, and we bring that to the table, too. And my editorial background helps me to guide the team to shape the content in a unique and compelling way. I also have experience on the distribution side, which I apply to helping to grow our newsletter subscribers and to create new partnerships that drive traffic and increase brand awareness.
Describe your typical day - what does your work/life balance look like?
Work/life balance is important to me. Fortunately, I have a job that dovetails nicely into my passions so even when I'm working it doesn't feel like work (most of the time). I find that exercise is very important to keeping my energy levels up, so I work out in the gym at least three days a week--I shoot for mornings but when that doesn't happen I'll fit it in during the evening. I love to fence, so I do that at least once a week too. My office hours are 9am to 6pm, but I like to come in earlier when I can. I often end up working a bit on evenings and weekends, but I try to make sure that I'm also leaving plenty of time to explore the city, which is also essential to my job. Tonight, for example, after work I am heading to dinner and a Broadway show. In my spare time you'll often find me trying new restaurants, taking classes (I recently took a pie-making class), going to the museum, etc. I'm also newly engaged, so I find myself spending a lot of my spare time planning my wedding, which is, of course, taking place in New York City! So even my wedding, which is fun and personal, ends up being great fodder for my work!
What advice can you offer to women who are looking to follow a similar career path?
There is no such thing as a traditional career path in media these days, especially in digital media. That can feel scary when you're starting out because there is no clear roadmap, but ultimately I think it's good news because it means you have a lot more flexibility to forge your own, unique path.
If travel is your passion, like it is mine, I recommend getting involved in the industry in any way that you can. Of course, it helps if you can travel but lots of people travel, so that won't necessarily set you apart from the competition. Instead, think about what you can do to get involved in the industry - look for industry events and meetups and start attending, make sure your internships are travel-related, and so on. I also recommend being very vocal about your goals and your interests and asking as many people for advice as you can - the more you learn about different facets of your industry, the better educated you'll be about what skills you need to succeed.
When it comes to digital media, the good news is that you don't need to wait for someone to hire you to get started - create your own website, your own blog, your own YouTube channel and just start posting! It doesn't have to be perfect--you can learn and refine over time--but it shows that you're a go-getter and helps you start to build a web presence while simultaneously learning skills that you can apply in a full-time position. And then take internships and learn as much as you can while you keep your eyes open for full-time opportunities.
Above all, the best piece of advice I can give is to be humble. No matter how much you know, you'll never know it all and the more you open yourself up to learning, the more you open yourself up to opportunities.
How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
The older I get, the more I understand that none of us succeed alone. To that end, I've been lucky enough to have some amazing mentors along my journey. Early on in my career I did many informational interviews that helped me understand the industry I was trying to break into and what skills I needed to be successful. To this day, I'm incredibly grateful to the men and women who opened their doors to me and shared their knowledge and advice. Some of those conversations were one-offs that provided single insight, and others turned into lasting relationships. I'm lucky to have mentors across industries too - sometimes you need industry-specific advice, but sometimes it's really helpful to get a completely different perspective, too.
In return, I really enjoy mentoring others. I don't have all of the answers by any means, but I enjoy being a sounding board and using my experience to help someone else think through a challenge they're facing, whether it's looking to break into an industry or navigate a difficult situation at work.
Ultimately, I think mentorship goes back to being humble - if you're open to advice and willing to ask for it, you'll receive far more than you think you will. And if you're constantly striving to learn, to better yourself and those around you, I think that leads to happiness, both personally and professionally.
Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
I feel lucky to live at a point in history when I am surrounded by incredible examples of female leadership. For example, I admire Sheryl Sandberg because she's not afraid to be vulnerable and speak her mind and is equally willing to share her successes and failures so that other women may learn from them. I also admire my mother, who chose to change career paths and go from being a preschool teacher to embracing educational arts and starting a publishing company when she was 33. Now, decades later, she has been in Rolling Stone, USA Today and her team won the Mom's Choice Award in 2013 for their Christmas book and theme song, Rockrhydin. She taught me the importance of being brave and taking smart risks - the kind of risks that pay off in the form of a rewarding career. And then, I would have to say that I admire many of the women I have worked for and alongside throughout my career. Of course it's inspiring to see someone leading a company as an executive, but it's just as inspiring to have a confident female leader heading your business unit - it proves that female leadership comes in many forms and at many different levels within an organization.
What do you want to personally and professionally accomplish in the next year?
Each year I set out with the same goal - to serve my audience and my company in the best and most interesting way I can - and in a bigger, better way than I did the previous year. I can't reveal everything that I have planned for the coming year, but I promise that it will be engaging, creative and will help people have even more fun in New York!
What are some of your top go-to spots in NYC that you would recommend to a friend/family member visiting?
One of the cruises that goes by the Statue of Liberty - you don't have to go to the top of the Statue but you have to see it at least once and you won't get a better view than the one you'll get from the water. And then, of course, you have to see a Broadway show. Wicked is a great bet for all ages; Kinky Boots is another favorite of mine, but there are always new and amazing shows opening on Broadway. And you must take ample advantage of the incredibly culinary talent here. A food tour can be a good introduction to the scene if you've never been to NYC. I happen to be obsessed with Blue Hill, L'Artusi and Momofuku Noodle Bar. Lucali in Carroll Gardens is also an excellent budget choice - and it's BYOB. As far as I'm concerned, Egg in Williamsburg makes one of the best brunches in the city. I also always recommend that visitors take time to visit one of our incredible food markets - Eataly is a good one, so is the new Gansevoort Market and Smorgasburg in Brooklyn.