Covid-19 travel restrictions leave content creators in limbo


Tan regularly participates in trips organised by tourism agencies for her work. — MIERA NADHIRAH TAN

For many people, travelling is a leisurely activity that allows them to see the world, learn new cultures and experience many wonderful things. But for some, travel is an important part of what they do for a living, and the Covid-19 crisis is threatening their livelihoods.

This is particularly true for social media content creators and travel writers. Many influencers who once fill social media platforms such as Instagram and YouTube with breathtaking travel photos and vlogs now struggle to generate content and keep business afloat.

Before the coronavirus, influencer and writer Miera Nadhirah Tan, 44, used to travel up to three times a month around Malaysia. However, the outbreak has forced her to abandon all travel plans.

“There were a couple of media familiarisation trips that were either cancelled or postponed, ” she says, adding that she had to give up some of her flight bookings too.

Familiarisation trips (commonly known as FAM trips to media practitioners) are organised by travel providers like tourism boards, hotel chains, and airlines to promote their products, be it a destination or attraction.

Tan says the FAM trips are important for her work, particularly in creating relevant content for her blog and Instagram account.  - MIERA NADHIRAH TANTan says the FAM trips are important for her work, particularly in creating relevant content for her blog and Instagram account. - MIERA NADHIRAH TANTravel companies have been forced to put off these trips due to travel restrictions imposed by governments around the world to curtail the spread of the coronavirus.

Tan says the FAM trips are important for her work, particularly in creating relevant content for her blog and Instagram account. Some of the cancelled events, according to Tan, were paid engagements.

“It affects my livelihood as I am not able to make any money to even pay my bills and rent. I have also been talking to my friends who are tourism product owners.

“It’s truly heartbreaking to see how the situation is for travel and tourism operators. They have to manage the product, staff and also at the same time, consider everyone’s best interests.

“Some of the people I know have also been dismissed from their jobs overnight, while others were told to take unpaid leave, ” she reveals.

Taking precaution

For Singaporean freelance writer Morgan Awyong, 42, his travels help with creating content for his work. He has been travelling around South-East Asia the past couple of months.

In fact, he was in Penang just before the coronavirus situation in the country started to escalate.

“I have had to keep a close watch on the situation via the news, but I’ve been largely unaffected as the places I was travelling to were largely not as badly affected (by the virus outbreak), ” he says.

Since then, however, Covid-19 – recently labelled a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO) – has taken a toll on the global tourism landscape.

   Awyong was in Penang before the coronavirus crisis escalated in the country. Here he’s seen hiking a trail at Paya Terubong. — MORGAN AWYONGAwyong was in Penang before the coronavirus crisis escalated in the country. Here he’s seen hiking a trail at Paya Terubong. — MORGAN AWYONG

In the past weeks, many countries have closed their borders and airlines have been forced to significantly reduce flights. In Malaysia, the government implemented a movement control order (MCO) on March 18, which is set to end on April 14.

Awyong says he has been adhering to official travel orders and requirements, such as submitting health validation forms at the countries he visits. And when he returns to Singapore, he will observe a 14-day home quarantine.

For those who are still travelling, Awyong says all necessary precaution to stay healthy must be taken.

“Practise the three main rules – social distancing, no face-touching and washing your hands when you are out and about. The world is battling a highly contagious pandemic right now, ” he cautions.

That being said, Awyong is concerned that his ability to generate income might be affected due to the travel restrictions.

“As the travel industry grinds to a halt, there will be a natural drop in demand. And with the potential recession coming as a double whammy, that can also mean a slowdown in business, ” he says.

Once he returns to his home country, Awyong plans to just conduct research and do interviews from home.

“For now, with most countries on lockdown and this period being extremely volatile, I’ll likely ground myself until August or so before re-evaluating my plans, ” he says.

Grounded for now

Shahida says instead of travelling now, people should stay home and save money for their next big adventure once the crisis is over. — SHAHIDA SAKERIShahida says instead of travelling now, people should stay home and save money for their next big adventure once the crisis is over. — SHAHIDA SAKERIAnother person who will be grounding herself at home is travel writer Shahida Sakeri, 29. In fact, she says she would not be advocating people to travel in the near future.

“I have realised that it takes a collective effort to slow down the spread of the virus. So, let’s just play our part to flatten the curve, and wait until it is really safe to travel again, ” she says.

Using mathematical modelling, “flattening the curve” aims to prevent a sharp peak of cases and spread out the infection over a longer period of time so that the healthcare system will not be overwhelmed.

Except for essential travel, Shahida stresses that all holiday plans should be put on hold while the world grapples with the health crisis.

“I see how some cheap travel deals could tempt us to do impulse buying, but think wisely whether it will be worth the stress that ensues later on.

“Some people take the issue of travelling during this pandemic lightly because they think they are covered by travel insurance. Unfortunately, not all travel insurance will reimburse coronavirus-related cancellations. So check the policies carefully, ” she cautions.

Shahida says there are other ways to channel one’s wanderlust during this period of travel restrictions.

“Use this time to research our dream destinations, craft the ideal travel itineraries and save money, so that when the time is right, we’ll be ready, ” she suggests.

Although she is worried about her livelihood, Shahida says she will try to remain optimistic.

“I’m worried, but one thing I know is people will always have an appetite for travel. We just need to be more creative and responsible in creating content, ” she says.

That being said, Shahida believes that this tough time will pass. And when it does, she would like to see a concerted effort by Malaysians to help the local economy grow.

“When the time is safe to travel again, I strongly suggest Malaysians to do so within our country first. Our local tourism industry has been badly affected by this pandemic, so if there was ever a time to support local businesses, it is now, ” she concludes.

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