Matt Harding of 'Where the hell is Matt?' fame

By Michelle Baran
Matt HardingThe U.S. Tour Operators Association has partnered with YouTube sensation Matt Harding -- known for his traveling videos "Where the hell is Matt?" -- and will together create short videos featuring USTOA members that will play before his most recent video. Harding spoke with Senior Editor Michelle Baran during the USTOA conference about his viral fame and bringing the world together through travel.

Q: How did the "Where the hell is Matt" YouTube phenomenon start?

A:
Nine years ago, I quit my job working as a video game designer and spent six months on a backpacking trip across Asia. A couple months into that trip, I was in Vietnam and my friend said, "Why don't you go stand in the corner and do that stupid dance?" And he filmed it for me.

And I thought, well, this is a cool way to keep a memento of each place I go on my trip. I put it up on my website, somebody took it and posted it to YouTube. I found it on YouTube and it had over 600,000 views at that point, and it just snowballed.

And around that time, 2005, a company called Cadbury-Adams contacted me. They [wanted a viral video for a new gum, Stride]. So I spent six months traveling for them in 39 countries on all seven continents to make a video in 2006. But it was still just me dancing by myself in front of Machu Picchu, the Great Wall of China, Easter Island.

On that trip, I went to Rwanda. And there aren't really landmarks in Rwanda that you'd want to dance in front of. And so I just danced with a bunch of kids there.

I felt like I'd only just figured out what I should have been doing. So, I went back to [Cadbury-Adams] and said, "Guess what; I did it wrong. You need to send me around the world again, and this time I'll get people to dance with me everywhere I go."

And that led to the 2008 video.

Q: Were you overwhelmed with the success of the 2008 video, which has had more than 40 million YouTube views?

A:
Overwhelmed. So, I kind of coasted on that for a couple of years. Settled down, bought a house, started a family. And then I finally picked up to make this new video. The focus this time for me was what I felt like I'd left unsaid with the last video [for which] I actually had a list in my contract from the sponsor of places that I couldn't include. I couldn't go to North Korea, I couldn't go to Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan.

So I really focused in this video on including those places. And making the message about, look, we don't need to be afraid of each other. Travel is about being open to new experiences, letting the places change you and interacting with the people in the places that you go to. So each place that I went to for the 2012 video, I either learned a dance or [taught] a dance to the people I was with.

Q: What's next?

A:
Changing diapers. I'm a stay-at-home dad. No, the true answer is, I'm doing this USTOA project.

Q: I can only imagine the number of people who approach you for opportunities like this, so why did you decide to partner with USTOA?

A:
The USTOA partnership is perfect. I don't have to bend or contort my message or what I'm doing, because it's all about the joy of travel, exploring new places, meeting people in these places. That's what USTOA is.

Q: What do you hope is the overall takeaway from everything you've done?

A:
I hope that the videos inspire people to travel. Failing that, if people don't want to even get out of their chairs, that's fine. I just want to get across that we don't need to be afraid of each other. I have never been anywhere where I haven't been welcomed as a traveler.

Follow Michelle Baran on Twitter @mbtravelweekly. 
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