We are currently experiencing a historic year of dramatic changes with the travel industry inevitably paralysed by the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak on a global scale. One of the most common questions this year is probably “when is it safe to travel again?” but with the lack of uncertainty to control the pandemic, no one can really tell for sure.

For 30 years, PRCO has witnessed the rapid change in the media landscape and the importance of integrating new strategies like KOL marketing to deliver considered communications campaigns on both strategic and tactical level for our clients in the hospitality and travel sector. KOL (Key Opinion Leader) Marketing is an indirect type of marketing that aims to promote brands, products or services via advice or reviews. Now positioned as one of the strongest new media channels essential to businesses, KOLs are seeking creative content to engage their hundreds of thousands of fans.

We are beginning to see signs of recovery through relaxation of social-distancing laws and easing of travelling across borders. We spoke with seven experienced travel KOLs who are highly recognised in the industry in their respective market– Sabrina Chakici (UK), Duncan Couto (Dubai), Anoushka Probyn (UK), Benedict Yuen (Hong Kong), Nael Abu AlTeen (Dubai) ,Wang Hong-yu (China) and Sergey Sukhov (Russia) — on their thoughts on how the pandemic has affected them and what to expect post-COVID. As a global communications group with extensive lists of local contacts and industry knowledge relevant to the market, we gathered the opinions from our selected KOLs in different regions to offer rich perspectives on how they navigate through this crisis.

As the saying goes – there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.

What are they doing now?

With travel restrictions or lockdowns in place, travel KOLs have no choice but to stay responsive and quickly adapt to the situation by coming up with new content that is relevant for their followers. Nael who is based in Dubai chose to focus on promoting local hotels and cuisines while some like Sergey and Anoushka generate content based on home-centred activities in Russia and the UK. Frequent traveller Benedict realized that he cannot rely too much on presenting himself in just one angle (overseas travel) because that would mean a higher risk of having no business coming in at all. He has now turned to film staycation vlogs in local luxury hotels in Hong Kong, where there. are limited choices for domestic travel unlike the big foreign countries. “During the lockdown, I focused on showcasing my personality more on my feed by sharing more of my day-to-day life. And love for my hometown of London. This has, in turn, helped me build a stronger audience”, says Sabrina whose content plan and income faced a hit. Fortunately for Duncan, who used to travel twice or thrice a month and even had his destination wedding postponed, can share his extensive content from previous travels with a reduced frequency until the end of the year.

Post-COVID travel syndrome

Safety always comes first. When asked where’s the first place you want to go after the pandemic is over, a few KOLs responded with tropical destinations like Maldives and Sanya, where they can expect less interaction with people. UK influencer Anoushka mentions she’d “plan the trip to be as

socially-distanced as possible, from renting out a villa to cooking our meals and renting a car”. Also known by his pen name Daokang, Wang mentions the increased hotel bookings in Sanya throughout the summer show the first domestic destination in the country to recover from the pandemic. With the assumption that the highest standard of health and hygiene guidelines continues to be implemented post-COVID, Duncan and Benedict have plans for a Japan trip for its unique gourmet and scenery while Anoushka is keen to revisit countries throughout Asia, her favourite continent.

Positive Mindset

There is an invisible pressure put on KOLs to provide new content for their followers consistently. Staying positive and optimistic is the key to holding the reins in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic when they face difficulty gathering that content. It can be overwhelming at first to adapt new working habits, but we also see there’s a silver lining. It is during this year that Duncan realised how many unnecessary meetings he had and how productive working at home could be. It was a time of de-stress and contrast for Sabrina, who didn’t feel panic for once when she didn’t have a trip booked. Sergey, Nael and Anoushka realised the joy in living a slower pace of life and treasure what we have anywhere and anytime. Anoushka also aimed to present content out of her usual as she thought “it was important to provide an uplifting but still relevant escape from the reality and bleakness of the situation”.

What to expect post-COVID

Although most KOLs will continue to focus back on travel content, it is fair to say the new norm can lead to changing of working habits and mindsets post-COVID. For example, Anoushka mentioned the pandemic has “made me realise that there can be joy in living a slower pace of life – sometimes! I was definitely spreading myself too thin pre-COVID, and as things start to return to normal I think it’s important to find a balance”. Similarly, Sabrina who always felt the anxiety over “where to next?” now also realise to appreciate the present even when she doesn’t have a trip booked in advance. For the travel industry in China, Wang sees a “replacement” with domestic destinations being prioritised over international ones and the rise of local independent luxury hotel brands “replacing” international hotel groups. Many would agree with Surgey on his thoughts that “you shouldn’t wait for a special moment to start enjoying life or to be happy. We can create this moment anywhere and anytime”.

About the KOLs

Benedict Yuen (@benedictyuen)

Benedict Yuen from Hong Kong is a frequent traveller who vlogs and reviews destinations and hotels around the world on his Instagram. He is also well-known for hosting a local travel TV show “Inspiring Journeys”. Watch his latest vlog on his staycation in Landmark Mandarin Oriental here.

Wang Hong-yu - 稻糠(汪红雨)

Wang Hongyu who goes by his pen name Daokang (稻糠) is a frequent traveller KOL for his WeChat account ”Wangqu Traveller”, former editor of National Geographic Traveller and initiator of KOL公信力金榜 (China Travel KOL Gold List). He reviews destinations and hotels around the world.

Sabrina Chakici

Sabrina Chakici is a UK-based TV presenter with a passion for travelling which she communicates through her luxury travel blog, Clutch & Carry On, and Instagram profile.

Duncan Couto

Duncan Couto is a Dubai-based lifestyle and travel influencer as well as content creator who travels the world proving that good photography skills does not require ”a 2000$ camera”. He has a following of 75,400 and an engagement rate of 1.53%

Anoushka Probyn

Anoushka Probyn is a UK-based travel, fashion and lifestyle social media influencer and blogger, as well as freelance content creator. She has partnered with top travel and fashion brands including Four Seasons Hotels, Bvlgari and Ted Baker.

Nael Abu AlTeen

Nael Abu AlTeen is a Dubai-based travel and lifestyle influencer. Nael started his social media journey in 2013 during his last year in the faculty of engineering. He has worked with many international and local brands, more than 500 luxury hotels and resorts around the world, more than 15 tourism boards, and 8 airlines.

Sergey Sukhov

Sergey Sukhov is one of the most well-known travel and influencers based in Moscow. Sergey is famous for his creative approach to photography and always highlights properties he travels to in the most appealing way. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism, but his true passion is photography. According to the blogger himself, at the beginning of his career he had no idea that his hobby could be monetized, and the purpose of all his travels was to show people the world and give master classes. Recently Sergey launched his own editing app.