There are influencers who aim to travel across the globe to educate and show their followers about unusual or “hidden” destinations this world has to offer. This activity has exploded in popularity in recent years, coinciding with the popularity of a new lifestyle dubbed “digital nomadism”. Throughout this containment period caused by the pandemic, many KOLs (Key Opinion Leaders) reinvented themselves as “homefluencers”, publishing travel and lifestyle content via platforms such as Instagram’s Live to develop a rapport with their subscribers without deviating from stay-at-home orders.  

The impact that COVID-19 has had on the business of travel influencers’ has been significant. Many of these individuals earn their living by traveling the world on sponsored trips to promote hotels, airlines, destinations, and other tourism-related brands. Despite these reservations, there has been some pushback from those currently less sympathetic toward these globetrotters during the pandemic.

But with vaccinations in full swing and the reopening of borders occurring in tandem, travel influencers don’t just have a chance to travel the globe as the envy of their peers…

They have an opportunity to revitalize the tourism industry.


The Expected Upcoming Surge In Travel

As pandemic fatigue slowly transitions into a restored sense of normalcy,  experts predict a surge in travel demand in the second half of 2021. However, global passenger numbers will be down 47.5 percent for the entire year compared to pre-COVID forecasts. Industry expert ACI World said in a new COVID-19 impact assessment published on March 25th that the projected 4.7 billion decreases in traveler numbers in 2021 will result in a loss of more than $94 billion in airport revenues. “Hopefully, the worst days in terms of total passenger declines are now behind us,” says Patrick Lucas, ACI’s director of economics. 

According to a March survey of 535 adults conducted by the website The Vacationer, a quarter of people expect to travel more once the pandemic is “officially” over, while just over 58 percent plan to resume their pre-COVID travel habits. From the same survey, over 67% of respondents expect to travel more this summer, with 65% expecting to travel in 2021. In December, the Expedia Group released its 2021 Travel Trends Report, which found that 46% of people said they’d be more likely to travel if a vaccine were widely available. Nine US states began offering vaccines to all citizens back in March, and President Joe Biden wants every adult to be registered by May 1. 


What The Statistics Show

Even though several destinations are still currently unavailable, interest in 2021 vacations has increased substantially in the last 90 days. Google Trends shows that searches for “2021 vacation” have increased by 124 percent since the end of March. More significantly, it indicates that there is a rise in individuals making travel plans, as well as a pent-up demand among travelers.

Kuoni, a luxury travel company, looked at both UK and global Google search data to see the destinations that all 131 countries worldwide were looking for the most in 2021. In Australia, the most popular destination for 2021 is Fiji, which has picture-perfect beaches and breathtaking views. Japan and New Zealand came in second and third, respectively, with beautiful Bali coming in fourth as the most sought-after destinations for 2021. 

The growing availability and administration of the vaccine is excellent news for all, and it’s already impacting people’s travel plans. According to Google Trends, searches for the word “vaccine travel” is trending upward, with articles covering issues such as “what the vaccine means for your travel plans” and “what cruise lines are saying about vaccine requirements”.

Google isn’t the only source of proof for this trend. According to studies conducted by research organizations such as Longwood International, the vaccine rollout has resulted in a significant rise in traveler optimism. People are not only researching their travel destinations ahead of time, but they are also studying how existing travel restrictions can impact their plans.

Other travel terms, such as cruises, hotels, and airlines, have all seen a 25 percent to 50 percent increase in search volume over the last three months.


Vaccination Passports?

As it stands today, vaccination passports come mainly in the form of mobile applications. The aim is to convert paper vaccine certificates from individual countries into internationally accepted travel passes.

Since October, the non-profit Commons Project’s CommonPass is globally used for the coronavirus test results. The app is available for Android and iOS phones, and it utilizes a scannable QR code that includes a passenger’s test results or vaccination documents and their scheduled travel. The International Air Transport Association, known as the IATA Travel Pass, will be eligible for iOS users in mid-April. Vaccine passports are currently only available to a limited number of passengers, primarily for test results and health waivers on some airline routes that accept them as a standard. 

According to the IATA and the Dailymail, the app is not yet accessible in all countries, and that it will be available to Android users by the end of April 2021. Passengers will be able to upload their official examination, establish a “digital passport” and vaccine documents, and exchange those certificates with airlines via the app’s Contactless Travel Pass section. The IATA Health Pass has been tested on several foreign airlines, and some countries and regions are also developing their vaccine passports. Officials in Europe are developing “digital green certificates” for summer travel. The EU is also working on a vaccine passport that is privacy-friendly and can be used in Europe. By the end of June, the European Union aims to have the certificates ready.


Local vs International Travel For Influencers

Despite the pandemic, several influencers are still creating traveling content for their followers. However, instead of jumping on an international flight, they focus on road trips, hikes, and sponsorships with their local brands while observing social distancing policies. Moreover, US influencers are getting a headstart, hopping around to destinations that are now reopening their borders to US citizens and offering more flexible COVID-19 policies. Destinations like the Balkans, Spain, and Mexico have become hot travel destinations in recent weeks as a result – just another indication of the shifting tides in travel optimism. 

However, a few influencers who have been traveling both during and after the lockdown have elicited backlash from an angry public. Users have been mocking the number of reality stars visiting Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, particularly on TikTok and other social media platforms. A glance at some recent Facebook posts’ comments demonstrates the backlash some have received from followers dealing with domestic restrictions. 

Many accused celebrities of being disconnected from their fans, attempting to exploit hidden rules and loopholes to continue living their seemingly lavish lifestyles. Certain reality stars and travel influencers have come under fire for their carefree international travels, and as a result, have made some brands hesitant to begin utilizing these relationships again while we still continue the fight against the Coronavirus. 

Numerous influencers were deported from the Indonesian island of Bali for overindulging and violating the rules. But it was the mere fact that influencers were able to travel the world while most people were struggling financially and stuck at home that really became a point of contention.

But as restrictions begin to ease and certain areas begin to open to the public again, the data shows that interest in travel is substantially rising. So it’s not difficult to imagine that influencers whose livelihood relies on their ability to traverse the globe will be first in line to book their post-pandemic getaways.


The General State Of The Travel Industry

For online creators whose content is centered around traveling, it’s difficult to imagine that it’s only one part of the influencer’s job: Many influencers have revamped their brand during the lockdown by launching podcasts, live shows, or converted to the beauty and fashion sector to stay engaged with their audience.

By maintaining their interactions with their audience, travel influencers are now optimizing their “homefluencer” approach – keeping their audience curious as to how their favorite nomads are adjusting to a settled lifestyle. Other influencers are taking the opportunity to post throwback pictures or behind-the-scenes content about future projects with brands. 

For example, Ana Linares, with more than 190k followers on Instagram, is now focusing on diversifying her business. She has adapted to the lockdown by opening a print shop where she sells her photos. Having strong, long-term partnerships with clients, the travel influencer is still performing well, and her business expansion has initially proven fruitful. She has also started planning future trips with her audience to maintain her online presence with her public. 

Alvaro Rojas, another travel influencer with more than 203k followers, has now published a book about his visits to all countries of the world. His book has been a great success and is taught him that he could propel his brand into other influencer sectors. According to Rojas, 2020 had been a hard year for his personal brand, with no project-based revenue due to the pandemic.

In contrast, Elona Karafin, with 124k followers, started a podcast where she shares her stories and trips around the world with her audience She also interviews people across different countries to talk about their experience with the COVID-19 pandemic. Talking with USA Today, Karafin stated that she had taken multiple risks during the pandemic to tap into various dimensions of her brand.

These are just a couple of the many examples where both brands and online creators have adapted their approach to the current state of affairs, so to speak. Every business and brand must be agile at a time like this, and the industry as a whole has displayed wonderful adaptation to the challenging circumstances we all endured in 2020. Like many industries, the travel sector should expect a resurgence as normalcy continues to ensue with vaccination numbers climbing nationwide. 


What’s Coming Next For Brands And Influencers?

In light of a combination of factors, travel influencers are repositioning themselves and providing an opportunity for DMOs (Destination Marketing Organizations) to rethink and reimagine narratives.

According to a survey from Destinations International, 80% of influencers indicated that they are still working on some projects, while 75% indicated a willingness to travel within the first three months after lockdowns are lifted. Some believe their work will be more heavily focused on safe and clean travel, while others believe their audiences will be more interested in local and domestic destinations. 

The survey also indicated that there will be new themes, new habits, and new values, and destinations we will want to pay attention to. The primary concern is whether DMOs can retain influencers during a time where many organizations are seeing their budgets slashed. But there are some encouraging signs for destinations and digital travel influencer collaborations in the very near future.

To avert the fallout of any future pandemics (or anything of the like), influencers are reevaluating their relationships and business practices. Destinations and DMOs seeking to maintain these relationships must be adaptable and receptive to new ways of collaborating with influencers. With travel at the core of their profession, it may take some time for them to re-establish a sense of normalcy, but fortunately, the majority have found creative ways to survive. As recovery efforts ramp up and travel becomes more responsible, influencers will be ready to take the lead.

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