Is COVID-19 the End of Travel Blogging?
Image credit – @imjustagirl16
This time last week I had a very lively Zoom call with a travel client. I won’t reveal their identity, but I will say the obvious – times are hard.
Thankfully, they’re a positive bunch and there is a palpable optimism among the team. In fact, the resounding message from the call was, “our clients are keen to start working with us as soon as they can”.
This long-term view is something we should all be embracing, in spite of ongoing media negativity. No one knows this better than the travel blogging community. I spoke to 13 travel bloggers about the impact of COVID, and their plans for the future.
What is the long-term impact of COVID on travel?
How long is a piece of string? If we’re to make our judgement based on Google Trends alone, it’s a pretty bleak outlook.
Compare these UK and worldwide searches on travel. You can almost feel the enthusiasm going into the new decade as everybody seeks to book trips in January.
Then bam. March. COVID. Just like our Speedos, we’re staying at home.
What about travel bloggers?
It’s not quite as obvious a hit for the topic ‘travel blog’, but you can still spot the downward trend. Over the past year, travel blogging in the UK has seen some pretty sporadic peaks and troughs, but we’re at a notable low now. Across the world, it’s plummeted from January onward.
Ouch. So, how are travel bloggers handling this? Based on answers from 13 writers, more than 30 per cent of whom have been doing this for seven years plus, here’s what’s next.
How hard has COVID-19 hit your blog?
Almost half of the respondents – 46.2 per cent – said their blog engagement had decreased since COVID-19. Hearteningly, 23.1 per cent stayed the same, and even more encouraging, 30.8 per cent actually saw an increase in engagement.
“My blog has dropped in traffic by 70 per cent, while social engagement is also down. I feel this is because people don’t want to read about travelling while they’re stuck at home,” says Tom Bourlet, author of Spaghetti Traveller.
Solo budget travel blogger Brit is feeling the sting too, with blog traffic down by two thirds since the outbreak.
What content is on the up?
It’s not all doom and gloom, though. Many respondents noticed an increase in views and engagement on content outside of travel.
- Fiona has seen an increase in travel planning and self-care posts
- Gastronomy is a big winner for gluten-free food and travel blogger Jen
- Haydy has noticed more enquiries into local businesses and staycations.
Then, of course, there are the big winners. Ashley, for example, says: “I’ve noticed higher engagement – people seem to be on their phones more and sending more messages. I’ve had lots more messages asking for advice on planning trips.”
Meanwhile, Chloe (who prefaces this with “without being wanky” – love it) says she’s had more offers for sponsored content, in lieu of real trips.
How are travel bloggers adjusting their content?
So, we’ve now seen that people are still hungry for content – but different content. Do travel bloggers have a bounce back plan? More than half (53.8 per cent) are “just going to try and stay active” (sage advice) while 38.5 per cent have a confirmed strategy.
Of course, most of this centres around content.
Travel from home
Coco Travels author Samantha has been doing a lot of “virtual travelling” on her blog, featuring virtual tours, books and podcasts.
She’s not the only one embracing travel from home. Accessibility writer Carrie has written a disabled travel blogger’s self-styled isolation guide, plus she’s sharing her memories. Francesca is a big fan of cruises – which are understandably not selling at the moment – so she’s focusing more on social and writing about the UK.
A little self-love
Now is the time to take better care of ourselves, so Valerie is turning her attention towards books and yoga. Naturally, gluten-free blogger Jen is all about the recipes, while some of us are looking ahead to the future.
Who says we can’t dream about future trips? Dani tells it like it is. “I am still working on posting new travel-related content. I think travellers need something to look forward to during such a crappy time.” Wise words.
One thing we’d expect all these bloggers to have in common is that they travel quite a lot. As such, when the news of lockdowns broke, it wasn’t all plain sailing.
Carly, co-author of We Are Sumatra, was plagued by health problems and visa issues. “We’d been living in Gili Trawangan (Indonesia) for a year. I got very sick, so needed to return to New Zealand for healthcare. We only planned to stay for two months, but then coronavirus hit! We couldn’t go back to Indonesia even if we wanted to, so thankfully NZ extended all visitor visas and we’ve been staying with my mum.
“Indonesia’s battle with the coronavirus seems like it’s only just begun. We’re stuck with the NZ winter for now but we are so grateful that we’re together.”
Ashley was moved from pillar to post by the military in Uzbekistan, but managed to call the French Embassy and head home. Samantha was in the Czech Republic when lockdown was announced, but arranged a lucky escape home.
Planes, trains and automobiles
Sadly for Chloe, she and her boyfriend were in Vietnam at the time. So ensued a 60-hour journey, including a flight to Singapore, Greece and Bristol, before driving six hours home to the Lake District. Somebody get that girl a cup of tea.
What’s next for travel blogging?
With hotels closed for the foreseeable and airlines drastically reducing flights, almost all respondents had to cancel their trips.
“As so many brands are struggling with no bookings, I can’t see them having the budget to work with bloggers at the moment,” says Tom. This seems to be the sentiment across the board – PRs are pulling out of sponsorship opportunities, while affiliate income has slowed to nothing.
So, should we be worried about the future of travel blogging?
“I think the cheap flights industry should be worried. For those seeking more experiential, meaningful travel, they will keep digging off the grid, and the community built around that will continue to grow,” says Ashley.
“Time will heal it,” says Francesca. “Content is in constant flux with travel trends anyway. I think we’ll see a renewed enthusiasm for travel, though this may be focused on domestic tourism initially.”
“People will travel again,” says Squibb Vicious author Haydy. “We may just have to adjust to new rules and guidelines!”
What about the future of travel?
The resounding response from the blogging community is that we’ll focus more on local trips, supporting small businesses. That’s a wonderful message, and it seems to be supported by industry experts.
In an investigative piece for the New York Times, Visit California Chief Executive Caroline Beteta said: “Road trips are a huge opportunity for California to jump start the economy.” The article also referenced travellers’ own feelings of security and control by staying close to home.
The United Nations World Tourism Organization has a four-point plan for #traveltomorrow, including:
- Co-operating with the World Heath Organization to manage the outbreak
- Implementing health measures to avoid unnecessary impact on international travel
- Standing in solidarity with affected countries
- Emphasising tourism’s resilience and recovery.
The site offers assistance packages, courses and webinars to help the tourism industry in the long term. Here in the UK, VisitBritain has produced a government proposal to get tourism back on track.
It addresses consumer guidelines, furloughing for hospitality staff, incentives for domestic trips and a ‘stay safe’ charter mark.
For those wanting to travel internationally, there will be more emphasis on touchless technology. According to the World Economic Forum, new health and safety regimes such as the Known Traveller Digital Identity initiative will come to the fore.
Expect digital health passports, biometrics and contact-tracing software. Will this spark privacy concerns? Only time will tell.
Collaboration is key
One thing’s for sure, though. Blogger, hotelier, pilot or otherwise – we’re going to have to work together on this. The forum adds that now is a “unique opportunity to redefine travel to build a more sustainable, agile and resilient industry”.
Give it enough time, and travel bloggers can make their mark. We’re already seeing a rise in:
The future is bright
If there’s one thing this survey has taught us, it’s that positivity is the bedrock of the travel industry. It’s survived Brexit, volcanic ash clouds, terrorism…and it will survive this. Now, it’s got a whole world of bloggers just waiting to prop it up.
It will take time, and it will change – but we’ll carry on the journey.
A huge thanks to all the travel bloggers who took the time to fill out my survey:
28th May 2020