Most industries have been severely impacted by coronavirus, though I think it’s safe to say that travel has been hit harder than most. Travel routes were the first to be shut down in many parts of the world and they’ll be one of the last to emerge on the other side.
Work in the travel sector is – to be blunt – plummeting, and I’m not just referring to travel writing either. Plenty of countries rely on tourism for a healthy economy and with flights cancelled, quarantine rules imposed, local lockdowns happening and consumer confidence at an all time low, it’s been a difficult time for everyone involved within the travel industry. From bars to hotels and travel agents to magazines, there’s no sign of when things will go back to normal, and that’s, sadly, breaking point for many.
Most recently, coronavirus has forced STA to cease trading while publication of Sunday Times Travel magazine will soon stop. In these uncertain times, is it still possible to be a travel writer? Read on to find out how travel writing has adapted to work during a global pandemic.
Almost every travel publication has had to switch up their coverage in response to travel’s all time low. Most magazines and websites have switched to a focus on travel inspiration, rather than travel in the here-and-now. Lots of magazines have been pushing this, but I particularly liked Wanderlust’s latest cover on planning trips for 2021.
— Lyn Hughes (@Wanderlust_Lyn) August 13, 2020
Meanwhile, The Daily Telegraph launched their new-look travel section in June, which was brave, but well-received. International travel was shelved in favour of UK staycations, such was the message across the travel industry.
How to adapt your travel writing
It goes without saying that travel journalism is in a bit of pickle. Every writer I know has lost work, and those based in countries where travel for leisure is actively discouraged are arguably the worst hit. So how exactly are you supposed to find work when most of your story ideas are scuppered?
The very first thing you should do is look closer to home. Explore your home towns and cities, look for any unusual quirks, any hidden gems yet to be unearthed by publications and brainstorm a few ideas. Not everything in your area will be news-worthy, but spending some time being a tourist in your own city is not exactly a bad thing. Then find relevant outlets in the same country to pitch to.
If you think the story has a national relevance, such as a well-visited country manor that’s not been covered before, then you can look at firing your ideas to some of the larger publications. But if it’s a story on a small, historic woodland that has little information online, you’ll have a better chance looking regionally.
It’s important to study your desired publications. And by study I mean read, then read some more, and then continue to read, even when you think you have exhausted the travel section. You’ll need to have a good understanding of the outlet’s tone of voice, audience and writing style before you even attempt pitching your stories. You’ll also need to find out whether your ideas have been covered before. If they’ve been covered recently, you’ll have to cross them off your list and move on to somewhere else. If they’ve been covered before but a long time ago, it might be worth contacting the relevant editor explaining that you know your idea has been covered in X year, however it is out of date because of Y and Z, and outline the reasons why you would be perfect to write an updated feature.
Pitching to the right places
Not every publication will be accepting pitches right now. If you’re unsure, it’s best to email the relevant editor and ask whether they are. Most of the larger publications are still commissioning travel articles, but your pitch will have to be relevant to the country’s coronavirus restrictions, i.e. the majority of UK-based publications are covering UK-based locations alongside those who are exempt from quarantine upon arrival and/or return.
Restrictions imposed upon the travel sector are changing all the time, so it’s a good idea to keep up to date with the latest rules and restrictions regarding travel. That goes for domestic travel as well as internationally; if you pitch a story about visiting Manchester when they are in the middle of a local lockdown, don’t be surprised to see it knocked back.
Approach every pitch as though the editor is going to say “so what?” – you’ll need to ensure that your ideas are strong enough for the reader to instantly want to know more.
It might feel daunting trying to get work in the middle of a global pandemic, but editors are understanding and will try to commission as much as they can – as long as it’s relevant.
After pitching some ideas, it’s worth following up a couple of weeks later, unless the editor has specifically stated not to do this. Make sure you’re following travel editors on Twitter as some of them have been posting pitching tips and guidance.
If you get a rejection or don’t hear back, it doesn’t necessarily mean that your idea was terrible. It just means it didn’t work for them. You can either fine-tune your pitch and try another publication, or study the publication further and go back with a different idea that may be more suitable. It’s okay to ask the editor for feedback on your pitch, but receiving so many emails from travel writers makes it difficult for them to be able to reply. Don’t be disheartened if they don’t get back to you, it’s nothing personal.
The key here is to be consistent in your approach – regularly sending quality, tailored pitches to the right places will eventually get you work in this strange world of travel we now live in. Good luck!