Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 3 April 2020

Being a travel influencer in the time of coronavirus: 'This is not the time to be talking about cheap flights or hotels'

How travel professionals have been affected by the pandemic – and why some are adamant they will continue to trot the globe

Travel writer and blogger Natasha Amar is urging people to postpone travel plans to contain the spread of Covid-19. Courtesy Natasha Amar
Travel writer and blogger Natasha Amar is urging people to postpone travel plans to contain the spread of Covid-19. Courtesy Natasha Amar

Attractions from Louvre Abu Dhabi to Florida’s Walt Disney World have shut their doors in the wake of Covid-19. Events such as Coachella, the Red Sea Film Festival and the London Marathon have been postponed as the virus spreads across the globe, with many countries restricting who can and cannot cross its borders.

But not everyone has been deterred from travelling during these trying times. As shown on social media, several of the travel industry’s most famous faces are continuing their blogging journeys across the world, such as Russian photographer Murad Osmann, who was this week in Morocco, and British social media star Louis Cole, who is in the US.

Travel influencers from the region, however, are more reticent to venture across borders as cases of Covid-19 continue to increase.

Thuymi Do, who cofounded online travel magazine Adventure Faktory with her partner Mitch Hyde, is in Singapore but her advice is for people to shelve their travel plans if possible.

“Some experts believe that right now is the best time to travel, but then that expert is probably swallowing their words right now because the situation is changing by the day,” Do says. “I thought the same thing … but now I’m like, ‘oh well, look at what the US is doing [with extending a travel ban to Europe] and the National Basketball Association is stopping their games – everything might get worse and worse.”

As of Thursday, the number of deaths caused by the pandemic is more than 8,800 and the total number of cases worldwide sits at about 218,000 with more than 84,000 recoveries.

The pandemic has, however, highlighted the importance of acquiring adequate travel insurance, says Do, who comes from Canada but splits her time between Dubai and Singapore. “People usually try to avoid it, but now they’re being more alert about it and being more aware and curious about what they’re actually covered for. With this happening, people are taking more precautions and that’s a good thing.”

Do has experienced a few group trips being called off due to coronavirus, with brands hoping for the market to recover in the second half of the year. ­“Obviously, some potential campaigns that we’ve been approached for have been delayed until later considering all the uncertainty about where the situation is going to be next week, even,” she says.

But, despite postponements, Do says she is confident her business is not under threat. “If you are still able to push out information that is interesting for your audience, you won’t be in trouble,” she says. “If some people’s main source of income is affiliate marketing, it’s 100 per cent going to affect them because fewer travellers are going to book flights and hotels, hence no kickbacks. But the travel blogging industry, I would say, it’s a 50/50 split between those being affected and those not being affected because they do have other income streams.”

The influencer who thinks it’s important to make a decision not to travel

For Natasha Amar, the Dubai travel writer and blogger behind thebohochica.com, the spread of coronavirus has forced her to rethink her plans. “I returned from a trip to Greenland a few days ago and have cancelled all further travel plans at the moment,” she says.

“I definitely think that at an uncertain time like this, when we are in a global health emergency where containment is turning out to be a challenge, each of us can do our part by making that decision not to travel.

“Even if our immunity is strong enough to fight it, should we contract it, there’s the risk that we might transmit it to someone who cannot fight it – such as the elderly. We might also carry it to a country where there are relatively few cases.”

While many industries face financial losses as more travel restrictions are imposed, Sherif Fayed, an American-Egyptian TV host and actor who lives in Dubai, says his work has not been particularly affected.

“Some brands have had to cancel shoots that I’ve had abroad, not necessarily because they wanted to but because the countries had some restrictions on how many people are coming in and where they’re coming from,” he says. “The virus has not had an impact on my work financially, maybe on one job where I had to cancel travelling to a certain country for a shoot, but I would say that we just rescheduled rather than cancelled it.”

Fayed, who founded travel company Pax Journeys, has been shooting in Jordan for the past two months, but says he hopes to get on the road in the near future. “I’m going to ... be making more plans,” he says. “I’m just not one to stay put, I always have the travel bug that’s just itching at me. As soon as I’m out of Jordan, I know I’m going to want to jump around and see as much as I can.”

While Amar has been financially affected by the pandemic, she says she believes it’s her duty as a travel blogger to promote a responsible message. “The virus has impacted my work financially, in terms of fewer assignments, and campaigns being cancelled for the next few months,” she says. “But this is bigger than our love and privilege of travel – it’s about not spreading the virus, whether at home or abroad, and not burdening the healthcare systems of the countries we live in or visit.”

Do agrees content creators have a duty to raise awareness of safety precautions for those still travelling, as well as to “help the travel industry to rise after this wave”.

“This situation will have an impact on the travel industry, period,” she says. “Fortunately it hasn’t impacted us as much as maybe others, as we have other income streams. We do have some colleagues who are fully dependent on content creation and affiliate marketing and they are feeling it at the moment as the whole travel industry is taking a huge hit.”

Amar says Covid-19 has reduced web traffic for many bloggers and content creators, but is hopeful of recovery. But she admits there are many variables that affect people.

“I don’t like to believe that the industry, as a whole, is under threat,” she says. “It is obviously facing a strong downturn – as are many other industries – and the likelihood of a travel-related business surviving this depends on a lot of factors: where they are located, where they operate and how diversified their content and audiences are.”

Fayed, who has 1.2 million Instagram followers and has worked with brands such as Puma, is optimistic the travel industry will bounce back. “Yes, a lot of places are restricting travel but the world is 195 countries, so I don’t think the coronavirus will stop people from travelling,” he says. “It’s a global scare right now, but like I said, I look at it as an opportunity. I might get cheaper flights, I might get cheaper hotels and as long as I’m staying away from the main areas where the threat is, then I think I’ll be perfectly fine. I do not think the industry is under threat whatsoever.”

However, he admits he might appear to be less phased by coronavirus as he previously battled swine flu. “It wasn’t a pleasant experience, I had a very high fever and I had to stay at home for a while but I went through that phase,” he says. “People thought the world was ending, but I caught it and got better, so I guess that’s one of the reasons why I’m not too scared.”

But fellow travel influencer Amar is keen to stress the downside of using reduced prices to potentially further spread coronavirus. “I definitely think that this is not the time to be talking about cheaper flight deals or hotel rates to encourage your audience to travel in the name of not giving in to mass panic, especially if you’re not a licensed medical professional yourself, and do not fully understand the risks,” she says. “This is the time to be thinking with empathy and consideration and not travelling for travel’s sake.”

Amar says she believes now is the time for her fellow travel writers to step back and reassess how content is of value to audiences, with diversification a key strategy to help content creators survive reduced readerships.

“Think about sharing the right information and messages to followers,” she says. “It’s also a good time to work on creating new content, that is ready to be shared when recovery comes.”

Updated: March 19, 2020 04:55 PM

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