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I Know What You Did Last Summer!

Find out from PRCO what travel KOLs are doing during COVID-19

Photo by David Bartus on Pexels

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 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”. 

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 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 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 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 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 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 travel was to show people the world and give master classes. Recently Sergey launched his own editing app.

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