It was a few minutes before noon when I received the message. We’d been disconnected for days exploring the coastal dune deserts and rugged mountains of Socotra Island in Yemen, so it might’ve been sitting there for a while, unattended. “Your outbound charter flight has been cancelled. There is no further notice on when it’ll resume.” I stared down at my phone and angled it slightly to avoid the powerful glare from that blazing 40-degree Celsius sun. “Fantastic,” I thought. Stuck in Yemen with a group of fifteen adventurers that had joined our latest Wander Expedition
. Between the hopelessness and the lingering anxiety of not being in control, it felt like 2020 all over again. It even had a hint of that similar initial survival hysteria from March last year. That same “every man for himself” feeling. You see, there were limited hotel rooms on the island, far fewer than tourists since every tour usually camped outdoors for accommodation. Amidst this chaos, stranded with my expedition on this Yemeni island in the Horn of Africa, I remembered the lessons learned when COVID-19 went global and caught me exploring India’s Holi Festival
on March 8, 2020, days before it was declared a pandemic.
Capturing stories of travels past
First and foremost, the pandemic taught me to be flexible. Plans were a luxury of the past and it was time to go with the flow. I think this was my hardest lesson. I had just finished visiting every country in the world in December 2019, probably one of the most difficult logistical feats out there, a challenge that only 200 people had accomplished. As you can imagine, it involved a lot of planning. Just three months later, COVID-19 seemed like the perfect detox for my meticulous and detailed approach to planning. The hard lockdown that ensued wasn’t easy for anyone, and for someone like me, a professional traveller used to roaming a new side of the world every month, it was agonising. However, I quickly realised it wasn’t about me. 2019 had been at the forefront of individualism and 2020 certainly brought us closer together despite the social distance. I went back to the basics, simplified my thoughts, and took the opportunity to finish my book, Stories from my travels to every country in the world,
a passion project that wouldn’t have been possible to finish if I were traveling. The book gave me the opportunity to reflect on my personal journey: the places I have visited, people I’ve met, and photos I have captured. I was able to pull the stories together so I could share them with others who share a love of exploring the world.
Itching to travel
Searching for flights in June 2020 was a weird feeling after three months in my apartment in Madrid, my base when I’m not traveling. We finally had a chance to slowly travel again, and—in a way—it was like learning to walk again. I was rusty, piecing together the new COVID-19 travel requirements, a new variable in the equation I was so familiar with. Honestly, I was grateful just to be able to fantasise again about the idea of exploring the world. It transported me back to my early twenties as a broke college student, when dreaming and trip-planning were more fulfilling than living the trip itself. There is this saying that goes: “You travel three times: once when you plan your trip, twice when you live it, and finally when you return and relive it through your pictures.” Well, during this strange year of lockdown, many of us avid adventurers have had to keep our sanity with a lot of dreaming new trips and reliving old ones. Bucket lists are full, and the travel itch is bigger than ever. Some countries opened in the second half of 2020 and, of course, I was first in line to get stamped by immigration. Turkey, Mexico, Portugal, Romania…I picked big, diverse countries relatively close to home, where I could road trip safely on my own. Following healthcare measures, exploring stunning outdoors, and avoiding crowded places and public transports were some of the ways I found a balance in this new normal. Traveling safely was possible, and a much-needed life raft for many small businesses in the tourism sector that were heavily affected by the travel standstill. Sure, the pandemic also had its perks as a traveller: amazing hotel deals, no lines at monuments
, and empty rows to sleep on in planes…but I’d give them all up in a heartbeat to alleviate the suffering of so many millions affected by the lack of tourists.
A growing sense of wanderlust
Having a 200,000-people strong travel community on social media gave me great insight into what my audience was thinking or feeling. By the end of 2020, a great majority were ready to get back out there but maybe weren’t sure about how to do it, or where was open. I can’t blame them, things changed every week, new strains, new requirements…this sparked my next venture, Wander Expeditions, a travel agency that looks to connect a community of travellers and create travel adventurers in unique destinations. The response was overwhelming. So far, we’ve led trips to Afghanistan, Iraq, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somaliland, and Socotra in Yemen. People are itching to travel. Businesses are ready, seeking places off the beaten path
, and locals are more welcoming than ever before!
How travel advertisers can reach travellers
As tourism slowly resumes, I think we’ll generally continue to see simplified travel plans and logistics. While some travellers might be more daring and are ready to move on seeking destinations regardless of the COVID-19 restrictions, others are still wary and might venture out closer to home, avoid crowds, and take it slow. Domestic road trips have seen a surge recently and chances are they’ll still be a hit for the remainder of this summer. The next big game-changer will be the opening of destinations to vaccinated travellers. As vaccination advances rapidly in many Western countries, the main tourist hotspots will be competing for their attention, and other destinations that had remained closed might be reassured now to open for good.
Marketers in the travel sector should focus on showcasing these markets, accommodations, and activities that will open soon with all the necessary safety protocols in place. No matter which destination tourists pick for their summer, it seems certain that trips will be more streamlined than ever before. Country hopping seems unlikely for a while, road trips are on the rise
, and COVID-19 testing will be around for at least another year, so the fact that countries are opening doesn’t mean travel is back to what it was in 2019.
One thing is clear, the future in travel looks a little brighter now that safety protocols have become a priority for so many travellers. So, grab your backpack (fine, I’ll allow suitcases too) and get out there, friends! I hope to see you on the other side sometime.
Resources for travel advertisers
For more insights about how to reach people dreaming about, planning, and booking travel, check out the Microsoft Advertising travel site
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