How to be a travel influencer in a global pandemic

To show people travelling during the pandemic
Masked passenger looking at their phone outside Manchester airport with a black suite case. Pic: Charlotte Le Noury

The coronavirus has meant the travelling to and from the UK is illegal unless it is for a valid reason. But what has this meant for people who make a living out of being travel influencers? Charlotte Le Noury investigates.

Many of us have been dreaming about jetting off to the sun for a holiday but have been unable to do so because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Currently, it’s illegal to travel abroad from the UK for a holiday. Individuals wanting to leave must have a permitted reason to travel abroad, for example, work purposes.

You could be fined for leaving or trying to leave the UK without a reasonable excuse.

Undoubtedly, for this reason, the pandemic has had a huge impact on the travel industry.

According to the Office of National Statistics, UK residents made 13.9 million visits abroad in the first quarter of 2020.

This is 24% fewer than the corresponding period of the previous year, which is attributable to the coronavirus pandemic.

However, some travel influencers have continued to travel and post content of themselves doing so.

A travel influencer is someone who creates content for social media about tourism and culture. There’s also an opportunity for people who follow them to have a personal relationship with the influencer.

This sparked national debate about whether travel influencers should continue to promote travelling during a global pandemic.

It has also led to a split within the travel influencer community with some taking the decision to find other means of creating content or even finding a job.

Milly Mallender, 30, is a travel influencer running her blog called ‘What’s up Beaches‘, from Guernsey currently residing in Thailand.

She started her blog in 2017 whilst working but left her job and concentrated on travelling in 2018.

Milly took the decision in March 2020 to stay in Thailand during the pandemic because she hadn’t anticipated how long restrictions would be in place.

Just over a year later, she still resides there but has had to find new ways to earn a living.

Talking about how she earnt money before the pandemic, Milly said: “People have the misconception that Instagram pays us. Instagram doesn’t pay us anything. If you want Instagram to work for you, you pay Instagram – that’s why the platform runs ads.”

She continued: “Personally, most of my income is from taking photos in restaurants, like food photography. So many influencers are paid for their photography work, not as advertising.

“On top of that, you reach out to brands or brands reach out to you. There’s one particular clothes wear brand that I work with regularly and they’ve never paid me, but I get free clothes from them maybe every 2 months.”

Milly Mallender, modelling for a clothes wear brand that she frequently works with.

When coronavirus was beginning to spread across the world, Milly and her boyfriend were working in Sri Lanka with a hostel, running their social media page and taking photography.

The pair decided to move to Thailand but had to find a news means of income because of the restrictions on travel. She is currently teaching English online.

Milly said: “I don’t agree with promoting travel and I think it would be selfish of me, as someone from the UK with a lot of British followers, to start posting my lovely Thailand Travel photos.”

“When it’s illegal to go on holiday if you’re from Guernsey or the UK. It’s illegal, you can’t do that. So, why are you promoting going on holiday through a global pandemic?”

Guernsey is currently the only place in the British Isles that is restriction free apart from stringent measures on travelling to and from the Island.

The Islands Director of Public Health, Dr Nicola Brink, MBE said: “The travel restrictions are twofold. We have a testing policy when people come in so that we can isolate any positive cases but then also contact trace around the airplane or boat that they’ve come in and, we have self-isolation.

“If you do a test on arrival, you will detect 56% of cases but the remainder will come positive in those 14 days. So having testing and self – isolation has been absolutely key”

In July, the Island is looking to ease restrictions further with even more open travel.

Dr Nicola Brink said: “At the moment the restrictions are based on the prevalence of infection in a region. As countries become more vaccinated, they will be doing less testing and prevalence will become a less reliable indicator.”

She continued: “What we will be doing from July is looking at vaccination stages of where somebody is coming from. You can see a sort of British Isles bubble developing and that’s a lot of the travel for islanders.”

Some travel influencers have stayed in Guernsey during the UK’s lockdown and have been able to freely create content with no restrictions.

Campbell Kerr, 27, and Gemma Spence, 26 bought their URL, highlands to hammocks, in 2018 and are just about to quit their full time jobs to completely commit to making a living out of being travel influencers.

The majority of the couples’ followers are from mainland UK who were still living in a heavily restricted lockdown.

Travel Influencers in Guernsey
Screenshot of @Highlands2hammocks instagram.

Campbell said: “We always felt guilty because we started posting stories of being out but the number of comments and messages we received saying to keep posting because our followers were able to travel through our eyes.”

Gemma said: “We believe that you should explore your back yard first, you don’t need to be jetting off, we can explore local. I just don’t think it’s worth it and that’s why we are still here, we could’ve jetted off.”

Although the Island is restriction free, hotels and tourism are continuing to suffer.

Calum Le Noury, Operations Director of the Sarnia Hotel Group, said: “As an individual I’m glad we can open up and have some sort of normality. But these restrictions will have a detrimental affect to our business in the long term.”

The Director of Public Health in Guernsey has said: “One of things we’ve got to learn is what our new normal is. I see people travelling with masks on aeroplanes for the foreseeable.”

She said: “I think the development of a molecular capacity I’d want to see retained on the Island for a future pandemic, and we will see another pandemic. It might be another coronavirus, or it could be a nasty flu.”