When the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the world and devastated many countries in its wake, the travel industry was undoubtedly one of the hardest hit. With travel plans flung far out of the window, it seemed as if the lights had dimmed on one of the fastest-growing industries in recent years.
On the customers’ end, it was a mad scramble to cancel tours, check on flight refunds, and rearrange their schedules. For the vendors, on the other hand, it spelt a much more distressing outcome: a torrential decrease in income was coupled with a massive loss of jobs, as well as years of work gone down the drain.
However, as the saying goes: when there’s a will, there’s a way. Every dark cloud has a silver lining — here are some ways that individuals or companies in the travel industry pivoted to make the best out of the situation:
With the lockdown confining most people to their homes for an extended period of time, many turned to virtual sessions to assume some form of normalcy. Be it zoom meetings for work, ‘House Party’ hangouts with friends, or virtual workout sessions, computer screens offered windows to the outside world.
Transcending physical boundaries, these virtual tours allowed participants to travel almost anywhere in the world — at just the click of a mouse. Indeed, according to Google Keyword Planner, searches for the phrase ‘virtual tour’ increased seven times once governments started locking down their countries.
Guided virtual tours
Virtual tourism also became a hit, with many turning to virtual tours to pacify their #wanderlust. For example, Singaporean Lee Xian Jie, 30, Kyoto-based tour guide and co-founder of travel company Craft Tabby, takes individuals on a paid 75-minute guided virtual tour of Kyoto’s lesser-known spots. Participants can even look forward to meeting Mori, Lee’s four-year-old adopted dog and ‘business partner’.
D.I.Y. virtual tours
For those that prefer a more own-time-own-target type of virtual tour, there are plenty of free 360-degree-view videos — with some even accompanied by a narrator! — to check out right from the comfort of your own homes. Explore the ruins of Machu Picchu, traverse the Great Wall of China, conduct a temple run at Angkor Wat, and more.
Art and history buffs can also delight in exploring museums such as the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History and The Vatican. The adventurous can even do a virtual mountain climb up like Mt. Fuji; animal lovers can also get up and personal with their favourite creatures via zoos’ livestreams. Nothing is impossible, including an augmented reality trip to NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Centre!
Tour guides also had to take it upon themselves to be innovative and reinvent their careers. Mr Tan Jun Wei, for example, went from being a tour guide to suiting up as a full-time safe distancing ambassador with the Singapore Tourism Board. The safe-distancing ambassadors are tasked with conducting daily checks on businesses in key tourist districts, as well as helping to regulate crowd behaviour at popular attractions and hotspots.
Others like tour guide Basirun Mansor went from leading tip-based walking tours for Monster Day Tours, to delivering parcels and working as a private-hire driver. After the lockdown, he has since resumed leading a series of SG55 tours that bring Singaporeans on a journey to rediscover their city. Interestingly, the company has also rolled a virtual bingo tour, where prizes such as $1,000 cash and Grab vouchers are up for grabs.
Instagram: An Escape?
Take a scroll through Instagram and you’d see countless travel pictures — as if nothing has changed. However, behind this smokescreen lies a group of heavily impacted individuals; the very livelihoods of many travel influencers were affected by the pandemic, with their bread and butter seemingly eliminated in a matter of weeks.
These influencers were subsequently divided into two camps — the first continued posting as per normal, seeing it as a way to “help support tourism during these tough times”, as claimed by the couple behind @KOTravellers. Before you start crying foul, look at it this way: influencers have the power to educate people with the necessary information, which will enable their followers to make informed decisions when borders start opening up again.
On the other hand, some stopped posting altogether, or at least until they could figure out how to “appropriately address the pandemic”. One example is @theglobetrotterguys, who previously refrained from posting to avoid giving out the wrong advice. Raymond from @oneikatraveller has also moved towards posting general lifestyle content, sharing resources and information to start a conversation with her followers about the pandemic and how it’s affecting them.
For some influencers, the pandemic has brought them back full circle. They’ve now reverted to shooting photos in their own bedrooms; with Spiers, a lifestyle blogger based in Glasgow, appreciating the slower pace, and savouring the increase of authentic content being posted. Other influencers have used this time to explore other platforms, such as TikTok.
Whatever the response, everyone and everything has its own coping mechanism — the travel industry, travel companies, and travel influencers included. It’s heartening to see the overall resilience of the travel industry and how it adapted to survive — and here’s to hoping that with time, it’d once again return to its former glory!