When I say no industry is immune to coronavirus, I mean it: literally, no one is not impacted by what’s currently going on. Of course, we work in an industry, tourism and hospitality, that’s been hit particularly hard, but I don’t think it’s fair or possible to say that one person or business is affected more harshly than others. We are all impacted, and everyone handles this new normal differently. Still, few people are talking about how coronavirus affects travel writers and journalists—those of us who bring the news to the public—specifically, so I decided to tackle that topic.
One person’s more-sad doesn’t cancel out another person’s less-sad. Our personal concerns don’t go away just because the world is going up in flames on a global scale. That’s now how it works.” —Mary Laura Philpott, author of I Miss You When I Blink
SVV and I have always been diverse in both skill set and client offerings, so when all of our spring projects came to a grinding halt, we were able to pivot and do more homes writing for brands like This Old House, as well as pick up some freelance home renovation projects for friends, while also offering free webinars, consulting sessions and other services for our clients who have been devastated by the shifting beneath our feet.
We also still had several projects, like three big marketing video and photo library contracts for surrounding counties, that were due this spring under a state grant program, so we’ll continue to have a trickle of income despite new work drying up. Additionally, we still work regularly with a handful of city governments and are trying to help out other past CVB and chamber clients as they navigate this new normal.
But mostly, we’ve had more time and bandwidth to pour into the public art nonprofit we founded two years ago. This summer was already going to be a huge project for us even before the pandemic, and I know that more than ever people are going to need some glimmer of hope come July, so I’m thrilled we can be that source of joy for now.
We are some of the lucky ones, though; we live in a cheap place and it’s crazy to see how low our expenditures are now that we aren’t traveling, nor are we eating (or drinking) out on the regular. But it’s startling to see how coronavirus, dubbed “the great equalizer,” has continued to expose and peel back new layers of inequality in this country.
I was curious how coronavirus has affected travel writers, bloggers and other creative entrepreneurs around the globe, as marketing, media and other creative arts are usually the first to be axed when budgets are slashed. So I checked in with a handful of freelance pals—every one of them has worked in the media for well over a decade—to get their take on how the current state of affairs has impacted their businesses. I’m also linking to various ways you can help writers out, whether reading a blog, watching a YouTube series or buying a book. Please subscribe to newsletters, click-through blogs and give my fellow writers some page views or buy their books when you can. Every little bit helps, I promise!
Margaret Littman, freelance writer
I’ve been a full-time freelance writer and editor, working on magazine articles and travel guidebooks, for decades. While I have specific areas of interest and expertise, writing about the people, businesses and places of the South, I thought I had enough diversity in my work portfolio to weather a storm. When the pandemic hit, I learned that wouldn’t protect my bottom line.
At first it seemed like post-9/11. Back then, magazine work evaporated almost immediately. But back then, there was a demand for newspaper articles, which isn’t true now. Contracts for articles about new hotels and restaurants disappeared because, those projects are, understandably, on hold. Major outlets, like Fortune magazine, eliminated their freelance budgets entirely. At the publications that are still assigning, accounts payable folks may or may not be working from home, so payments are significantly delayed. I struggle with how to be a good reporter on the assignments I do have and how to access sources with diverse points of view without wearing out my shoe leather. How can I tell those important stories while sheltering in place?
I still had a book deadline—updating Moon Nashville to New Orleans Road Trip, a guide to the Natchez Trace Parkway—during quarantine. That’s not income, as folks need to buy the books for me to get paid, but it has kept me to a routine at home and kept me busy.
Without any income, and some of my other activities, such as teaching at The Porch and leading tours with Walk Eat Nashville, on hold, I applied for an EIDL loan. I haven’t heard back on that yet. While, in theory, the self-employed are eligible for unemployment I haven’t heard of a lot of people who have received it yet in Tennessee. I’m not seeing a ton of other government resources for the self-employed. I’ve applied for a few private grants and, thankfully, received one $500 grant thus far. I think most of the financial benefits for the self-employed will come when we file our taxes next year, rather than cash-in-hand this year.
How she’s pivoting: Those are the challenges, but I am optimistic about a few things. People have been telling stories and reading stories since ancient Mesopotamia. So, whether it is a clay tablet, a broadsheet, magazines, or online, there will be opportunity for professional reporters to tell stories in responsible ways, and I am looking for the best ways to do that, and trying to improve my skills—such as audio and photography—during this period. I am optimistic that the kind of travel books I write—to domestic, affordable, drivable destinations—will make sense for the kind of travel people will want to do. If we’re flying less during the short-term, day trips and short staycations to explore your own city or region, are good options, and my books are ways to help people explore.
Jade Broadus, Vice President of Travel Mindset
Los Angeles, California
COVID-19 hit my two businesses at our busiest season of the year. Within days, we had over 50 campaigns postpone and a few cancel altogether. It’s been an emotional roller coaster. I didn’t pivot so much as just dive head first into work.
At first, I was just trying to keep positive because it’s my nature. In that first week of stay-at-home, I wrote more industry pieces than I did last year. We hosted several webinars and had client meetings brainstorming ways to get audiences inspired, stay top of mind or be a community builder for their locals. The lack of any pressing deadlines made every idea I had feel like it needed to be completed immediately.
How she’s pivoting: We launched the new arm of our agency, something we had talked about for two years, with a new site and media kit in less than a week. We have two new products we’re releasing soon and a third in development.
As for my blog, it was already in the process of being completely redesigned and now we are tweaking for some content that will help in immediate post-corona needs. Funny enough, we’ve been contacted by two publications to buy our images from previous trips because they can’t get anyone to travel there at the moment and need images for immediate publication. I’ll take it! I always knew I worked well under pressure, but this situation put a fire under me and I’ve never worked harder. And I don’t say that to be annoying like “you should use this opportunity to do all the things you’ve wanted to do”. I say it because this was my coping mechanism. If I was working on a project, the industry was okay. I was OK. I’m sure I’ll have a complete meltdown once I stop long enough to come up for air.
Dana McMahan, freelance writer and Airbnb Superhost
How COVID-19 has affected her: I’m a full-time freelance writer in Louisville focusing mainly on lifestyle topics like food and drink along with travel and home. Early spring is usually my time to make the most of Louisville being in the limelight as the Kentucky Derby approaches. With Derby being postponed this year, those stories were suddenly off the table.
I’ve taken a financial hit on another front, though: About half or more of my income has come from the two Airbnbs I run out of our Victorian home. My husband and I bought the house specifically to Airbnb and have invested a lotta lot of money into the 130+ year old home.
Derby rental is a huge part of our operating budget, so losing that was tough. We haven’t had a guest since early March and of course have no way of knowing when any sort of travel will resume. Airbnb’s much-touted 250 million in relief for hosts got them a lot of press but didn’t actually do much, if anything, to help actual hosts. We didn’t receive a dime. We rented one unit to a travel nurse at a discount, which helps, but we’re still in extreme financial lockdown.
I was super relieved when our (amazing!) governor announced that independent contractors could file for unemployment insurance benefits, and I received small payments for about three or four weeks. Then when I entered some freelance income in the regular claim renewal process, benefits stopped. The system’s not built to understand the gig economy, so there’s no way to indicate that just because I’m making *some* money doesn’t mean I’m making enough.
I haven’t wanted to complain, or even make much mention of our income loss because it’s nowhere near as catastrophic as what our friends in the hospitality industry are experiencing. We’re healthy and my husband has full-time work in the health field so we have a lot to be grateful for. But it’s scary to wonder what we do this summer when we should be bringing in several thousand dollars a month that’s just … not there. It’s not like we can just drop a giant Victorian on the market to sell, and the only way to keep and maintain this house is for it to pay for itself.
We’re all in this boat together, but that doesn’t make it any less worrisome.
How she’s pivoting: I’m fortunate that my weekly dining column in the local paper could shift gears to covering how local restaurants are weathering the pandemic, and my other outlets welcomed coverage of the virus. It let me feel helpful to interview experts and answer questions a lot of us had, especially in the early days of the pandemic.
Sarah Khan, travel writer and journalist
New York, New York
How COVID-19 affected me: I signed a lease in January for the first time after years of traveling and subletting, so I was intentionally planning on nesting from January through March to give myself time to settle in. I had some trips in the works for the spring and summer, though—London and France, Toronto, South Africa, and India. By early March, I hadn’t booked my Europe flights yet and was getting unsure—at that point the biggest concern was getting stuck, not sick—but then my editor for the France assignment messaged me a few days before it was officially declared a pandemic, asking me to reschedule it for sometime in the summer.
I was sure things would be back to normal by then and none of my other trips would be affected—not so much. All the assignments and conferences I had in the pipeline quickly were canceled or postponed indefinitely, and all the copywriting work I was doing dried up before the end of March. So like many freelancers, I’ve been left with plenty of time to ponder the state of the world in isolation in an apartment I definitely didn’t expect to still be spending so much time in by now. (Thankfully, I do love it and I’m very grateful for someplace comfortable to hunker down in!)
How she’s pivoting: Based on my existing relationships, some work has still been trickling in—I’ve been doing some personal essays, as well as some reporting on other topics for non-travel publications. My workload definitely isn’t as busy as it usually is, but I’m grateful for the assignments to keep me going and it’s been nice dabbling in other subjects and types of writing than I’ve been doing in recent years. I’ve also tried to use the time to work on other essays and long-term strategy projects I’d been pushing off for years since the daily hustle of freelancing was keeping me so busy. I’ve also been dabbling with Instagram Live interviews, like so many others: normally when I travel I post clues on my Instagram and ask my followers to guess #whereintheworldissarahkhan; now, I’m doing Where in the World Are Sarah Khan’s Friends, interviewing people around the world about how things are in lockdown for them.
So far I’ve chatted with friends in New York, Bombay, Paris, Cape Town, New Zealand, Australia, and Bangkok, and have a few more in the works, especially around Muslim countries now that it’s Ramadan in lockdown. It’s been fun—a great way to stay engaged on social media while learning a lot about how lockdown looks in other countries, since US news doesn’t cover much abroad, and seeing how universal this is for so many people in all corners of the globe. It’s also a good excuse to put makeup on a couple times a week!
Angie Orth, travel blogger and personality
How COVID-19 has affected her: COVID-19 has been a trying experience for [sister and business partner] Rachel and me from a business perspective. Everything planned for this year is postponed or cancelled, from speaking gigs to shoots for our travel show and marketing campaigns to PR consulting. We’ve had to close our Airbnb due to state regulations as well, so all of our income has trickled to a stop. The uncertainty is not ideal, but it’s the reality.
How she’s pivoting: As heartbreaking as this season has been (and the Florida re-employment assistance situation has been salt in the wound), we have been using the time as wisely as we can. (Real talk: sometimes we just watch The Office. It’s a balance!)
In the short term, we’ve been able to attack projects we haven’t had time for in the past. We’re updating our sites daily so whenever people start searching for travel again, we’ll be ready. We’ve launched a new local website that had been in the works for a while and I’m offering free coaching calls to readers. Normally I offer consulting on a paid basis, but I realize that if we’ve lost income, so has everyone else in the travel world … why not use this time to connect with folks and give back where we can? I’m also keeping a little quarantine journal on the blog —for me as much as anyone else. When this is all over, I want to be able to look back at this time and remember it accurately so I can always be grateful about making it through.
On a personal note, I’ve been writing my book (nine years in the making!), and since we’re grounded for the time being, my husband and I are moving forward with getting certified as foster parents. I’m also growing a mountain of vegetables out back. I do that every year, but in this strange season where we just don’t know what’s going to happen, it seems more important.
We’re not planning to pivot out of travel in the long term, and our brands (AngieAway / TheJetSisters) have always been a reflection of who we are rather than what we do, so our audience is in the thick of this right with us. Travel may be completely different on the other side of Coronavirus, but we’ll be out there figuring it out once the fog clears.
Jill Robinson, freelance journalist
Half Moon Bay, California
How COVID-19 has affected her: Pretty much all my assignment and conference travel for the year has been cancelled or postponed. Many of the publications for which I work have either closed, furloughed editors, or frozen freelance budgets, although there are still a few publications accepting freelance pitches (and as we move forward into the summer, I’m seeing more return to taking freelance work). I’ve been lucky to be sitting on some existing assignments during this time that have occupied my attention as I complete them.
How she’s pivoting: Aside from pitching publications on stories with angles covering domestic destinations, road trips, sustainable practices, and the meaning of travel and place, I’ve partnered with some travel outfitters. They’ve realized that asking potential clients to book right now seems a little insensitive, so have wanted ideas for inspirational travel content in the meantime for a lighter touch. I’ve also spent time working on a few book projects that I’ve always meant to get to, but never seemed to have the time to get them to completion.
Justin Walter, video producer and blogger at ATW Justin
Los Angeles, California
How COVID-19 has affected him: The week after the dominoes started falling, I was supposed to leave the country for a long-term travel project. Obviously that didn’t happen. At the beginning of the pandemic it was hard for me not to focus on all my passions coronavirus stripped me of including travel, human interaction, gym, nature and workouts. Since then, I’ve been trying to focus more on new opportunities that this entire situation presents.
How he’s pivoting: That perspective has been reflected in my content. Although my paid collaborations have stopped, I’m still creating content that I hope is uplifting but meaningful during these times. For the past month I have been doing Insta Live Travel Chats with travel friends from around the world and love it! I put together a 3-part coronavirus blog series on travel planning, quarantine adventures and pandemic perspectives.
On top of this, I’m creating an at-home travel talk show with two of my travel idols and an online travel game show experience for a major travel brand. All of these projects are happening because of this global pause. It’s bringing me together with travelers I love in a new way since we all aren’t busy traveling. Although times are tough, I am also grateful for these opportunities that I hope are keeping the travel spirit alive in a positive way.
Caroline Eubanks, travel writer and author
I feel like I’ve been doubly hit from both the freelance writing and blogging sides. My advertising income is nearly non-existent at this point. Many of my freelance stories have been put on hold indefinitely. I’ve been digging out old pitches and trying to place them and am also focusing on stories based on interviews or existing knowledge.
How she’s pivoting: On the other hand, I’ve been working on my house for the past year plus and I’m finally in the home stretch. During this quarantine, I’ve been able to stay sane by doing projects like hanging removable wallpaper, building furniture and unpacking. It’s giving me ideas about the types of stories I can branch out to at some point.
Check out Caroline’s Blog, This is My South, and order a copy of her book This Is My South: The Essential Travel Guide to the Southern States
Are you a writer or blogger? How has COVID-19 affected you? Even if you are in another industry, I’d also love to hear your perspective on how you plan to tackle business challenges and come out thriving on the other side.
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