Weblog city not bogged down- The New Indian Specific

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Express News Service

CHENNAI: Ask Anurag Mallick and Priya Ganapathy, Bengaluru- based travel bloggers and founders of the specialised media outfit Red Scarab, about what they miss the most about travelling, there’s sure to be a long list. What stands out is the very essence of why the travel — the spontaneity, exhilaration, and eager anticipation that comes with exploring a new place.

For until six months ago, they were jet-setting around the world. All it took was a pandemic to clip their wings and confine them to their home. From waking up to birds in their neighbourhood to the simple pleasure of seeing a flower bloom — the couple has been focussing on things they never had time for. “There’s a strong sense of caution that has taken over us and dictates our movement.

This has been a time to slow down and reflect on life and choices, including the kind of places we want to visit, how to make a holiday more meaningful and responsible for low-impact travel,” shares Anurag. It’s not just Anurag and Priya who find themselves at this critical crossroads, in need of course-correction. From diversifying their skills, doling out social media posts themed around #nostalgia, finding an escape in virtual tours, staying abreast with latest advancements, and reassessing their content, travel bloggers across the country have been doing it all to keep themselves and their followers engaged and entertained.

Dam Square, Amsterdam

Being responsible
In a virus-world where a visit to the grocery store requires meticulous planning, travel — even the impromptu kind — just got a lot trickier. Ease of transportation, sanitation protocols, quarantine restrictions, budget allowance, minimalism, and remoteness or underratedness of a tourist spot have become the new parameters of a holiday.

With plenty of criteria to be ticked off their list, travellers are forced to sieve through mindfully-curated options. Addressing this change, Preethika and Narayanan — the couple behind Passing Ports blog — remark, “Flexibility and freedom to travel to any destination at any time, using any mode of transport, have been replaced with factors of safety and security — of ours and those around us (family and friends).” It’s a strict no to a public or shared transport for Anurag and Priya unless necessary.

“With lengthy quarantine and inter-state protocols and health apps to be downloaded, borderless intra-state travel will increase. We would prefer smaller hotels and homestays with independent units and personalised meals instead of large chain hotels with elaborate buffets and shared public spaces,” asserts Anurag. The choice of destination narrows down to places with a low-density population. Staycations and domestic tourism are likely to gain more traction, it seems.

In the case of international trips, the rules and restrictions in each country would have to be considered. “People have been cooped up for months managing domestic chores, kids, endless Zoom meetings, and gruelling workfrom- home schedules that have destroyed the boundaries between home and work. Hence, they are looking out for quiet spots to put their feet up and relax; ones that won’t break the bank. One realises that the safest mode of transport, right now, is a self-drive to some secluded place nearby or lesscrowded nature and wildlife destinations. Our friends are already planning biking and cycling road trips. Slow travel and solo/family escapes will see a rise too,” he reiterates.

Content is the king
While travel comes with its host of problems, travel blogging has similar contentions too. Bloggers are divided on how much value old-school content and reviews will hold in the post-pandemic world. ‘Where to go, what to see/do, where to stay, what to eat’ will remain pertinent questions, but blogger Shrinidhi Hande suggests that travel bloggers need to gear up to address them for someone planning a trip in 2021.

“Is a specific country issuing visa/allowing international tourists? Has the fee increased? Is there any travel insurance that covers risks related to COVID-19? What are the offbeat places in a city we can explore safely without having to deal with large crowds? Will it be practical to plan a multi-country trip? What happens to the itinerary if we are quarantined in one place? What is the cancellation policy/ refund policy of a hotel, airline or holiday company in case our plans are cancelled in the last minute?” lists Shrinidhi — author of the page eNidhi — pointing out that these are the concerns bloggers should have answers for.

Srinidhi feels that tourism boards of various state government may be hosting travel bloggers to get them familiarised with the new social distancing norms and safety measures. Those who can assist potential travellers with navigating these conditions are likely to flourish in the new landscape. Janice and Sunny, a Mumbaibased couple running the page Wandering Soulmates, believe that online reviews may still hold good for the initial planning but it would have to be supplemented with more timely research before finalising the itinerary. “Revised local and tourism regulations, requirements, restrictions, safe modes of travel, additional travel time and other such factors will play a key role when planning a trip going forward,” says Janice.

Sharing a similar view, the brains behind the page Kickass Travelers — Thiruvannamalai -based couple Sruthi and Selvanarayanan — point out that pre-pandemic costing would no longer be relevant, given the new restrictions. “Budget airlines may cease to operate and accommodation bookings may become restricted to follow social distancing rules. In the future, people will look for Covid-19-based restrictions and travel bubbles (if established) before planning their itinerary. Another possibility is that companies could start practising competence tourism, where they relocate to countries (green zones) that have contained the virus to facilitate regular work and increase output. People would expect us to be updated with all this information,” they reason.

Expanding horizons
Even as they prepare for a whole new travel world, the inbetween has not been easy on bloggers who depend on travel for a livelihood. Forced to become as diverse as possible in terms of content, to sustain their work during this hiatus, they find themselves wielding the subjects of sustainable lifestyle, food, fitness, minimalism and much more. Janice and Sunny have been recreating culinary travel recipes at home; while reading and researching about lesserknown destinations in parallel.

Sruthi and Selvanarayanan have been focusing on developing their SEO skills and creating a new line of Indian travel souvenir range that they plan to launch under the name ‘Amazing India’ soon. Anurag and Priya have been juggling projects, live sessions, editing old footage, Zoom meetings, and whipping up recipes. “We had curated the India episode of ‘Gordon Ramsay: Uncharted’, which was shot in Kannur and Coorg in January; just before the corona crisis hit.

When the show premiered on National Geographic and Disney+Hotstar, we got busy with Zoom meetings, social media promotions and writing about our experience. We also made a video on a whitecheeked barbet that we rescued during the lockdown and rehabilitated with the help of the Avian and Reptile Rehabilitation Centre. With our maid/ cook on leave, we tried to recreate and cook several dishes inspired from our travels —homemade pizzas, pav bhaji, hummus, bakes, casseroles…if we have to look at food as an alternative career option, we’re ready, ” says Anurag cheerfully.

A few bloggers have been reminiscing about their trips with #throwback and #lategram posts on social media. Maanasa G has been sharing her journey on her Instagram page @nomadonbudget to organise her memories and document her experiences; more often since the lockdown started. “This sudden shift might be a huge hit initially, but as long as they know how to keep their audiences engaged, they will continue growing their audience and get back to pre-pandemic income,” recounts Maanasa, based out of Singapore.

Blogger Mridula Ramadugu has been stitching together her long-pending travel videos during this break and posting it on social media. “It’s inspiring to find fellow bloggers doling out content effortlessly. It’s not an easy thing to churn out content despite not venturing out. We feel encouraged to stay productive because of a few who are doing a great job,” says Mridula.

Rohtang La, Manali

Going the virtual way
If Instagram wasn’t a virtual world in itself, virtual travel or VR-enabled walkthroughs came as a welcome respite for many. This was primarily influenced by many tourism boards and destinations throwing open their digital archives for free; not to mention the Google Arts and Culture’s tours of museums. “There is plenty to choose from for the vicarious traveller. Personally, we’re more into the real thing. However, seeing the dramatic locations stripped of crowds — and finding ourselves free from the pressure of documenting it while we’re there — gives a unique perspective that’s oneon- one and immersive,” says Anurag. Shrinidhi suggests that if bloggers can make good videos with 3D shots and drone footage, then it may be easier to survive.

Bulking up bucket lists
Despite the circumstances, bloggers find themselves working on buckets lists as usual. Anurag and Priya only wish to keep theirs simple. “Shortdrives around Bengaluru and direct flights within the immediate region —perhaps Burma, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Indonesia, and the Far East. European countries with a relatively low infection rate like Georgia, Croatia, and Greece, and places requiring no visas for Indians and offering long-term stays would be preferable,” reveals Anurag. Despite safety concerns, international tourism seems to top the list for Maanasa.

“I’d like to visit New Zealand at the end of this year, if possible. In the last quarter of 2021, I want to go to Antarctica to participate in the expedition to help save our poles and also fulfil my goal of travelling to all seven continents before I turn 25,” she says. As it may take a while for the new normal to set in, people like Janice and Sunny, and Preethika and Narayanan, have reconsidered their mustvisit places. “We are planning to first resume travel within the country — parts of Kerala, Karnataka — and then definitely Japan, for its culture and nature has hugely impacted us,” says Preethika.

A risk worth it
Even as most avid travellers are still weighing the risks of a well-planned trip, Radhika Sharma of New Delhi already made it to Manali and back in early August. There was no saying no to a road trip with her brother. “Uttarakhand, Goa and Manali were my options. I reached out to local friends in these places, checked if there were places that I could rent out and that’s how Manali clicked. We had to get our COVID- 19 test reports and vehicle documents in place.

There are three check-posts on our way to Himachal. We crossed the first one smoothly, the second one with few questions from the police, and we were finally stopped at the third one. They said that COVID-19 reports were not valid after 72 hours from testing. We pointed out that the other two toll gates let us in. Eventually, we quarantined ourselves in our cottage in Manali,” recalls Radhika, who has been building her immunity and working out regularly during the lockdown for the trips planned ahead.

Pictures from the trip that she puts up on her Instagram page @RadhikaNomllers tell their own story. “The skiing places are empty, cafes in old Manali have shut doors, and even trekking options aren’t available. The place that was once bustling with noise is serene and blissful. Another friend will join us soon and we plan to go around the town in our own vehicle, with food packed. We do not want to disturb the locals as they are already apprehensive.

This is going to be our house for another year,” says Radhika. While Anurag and Priya are not planning too far into the future, their first out-of-town travel was to The Bungalow 1934 in Kodagu (Coorg) for the Kail Podh festival. “It’s a beautiful heritage homestay with great food and wonderful hosts. It also served as a locale for ‘Gordon Ramsay: Uncharted’.

The core team behind the show got together for a small celebration and it was blissful to wake up to misty mornings and dip our feet in the cool mountain streams. In the coming weeks, we might do a few easy weekend drives around Bengaluru (and we are working on a piece)! We’re not in a hurry to don PPE kits and space-walk our way through aisles just yet,” says Anurag.

Adapt, evolve, move on
Travel blogging may have hit a roadblock but it’s here to stay with travellers itching to take a break and set off. Maanasa remembers reading a statistic from the World Travel and Tourism Council. “Once travelling resumes globally, there will be more travel blogs and media content about the low impact/responsible travel.

In countries that have almost recovered, such as Singapore, there has been a huge sprout in local tourism. I have seen an increase in local blogs in the past six weeks; it’s likely that this trend will peak and go back to normal by the end of next year,” explains Maanasa. Preethika and Narayanan opine that people are still far from making a career out of travel blogging, given that monetisation as a strategy — especially with Indian brands — hasn’t kicked off as it has in the West.

Sruthi suggests that it may take at least a year for the travel bloggers to be financially independent as sponsorships and collaborations will be highly competitive in the months to come.“As places gradually open up, the key will be to regain the trust of travellers. There will always be destinations, hotels, and airlines that would need promotion.

Despite the temporary hiccup in assignments or trips, the travel writer/blogger will still remain relevant. Of course, it helps if you don’t have all your eggs in one basket and develop different specialisations — food, culture, architecture, people. Several publications have downsized their operations, delayed payments, cut down on staff, travel supplements or features, and book titles. Yet, if you choose to dig your heels into travel writing as a career right now, the rewards are great but will not come overnight, so be prepared,” says Anurag.

Travel biz will survive
According to a survey by World Travel and Toursim Council, the travel industry is accountable for
one in every 11 jobs in the world. It is impossible for this industry to completely vanish due to the
pandemic.

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