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2020 in review: how we've survived | Industry health check | Pitch call-outs
We get real about pivoting during the pandemic
When we started this newsletter back in July of this year, many might have called it a fool’s errand given the circumstances: flights mostly grounded; the majority of commissioning put on hold; all of us watching as our plans for the year continued to unravel. Despite this, Lottie and I were filled with cautious optimism about the industry — and our careers — bouncing back.
While the intervening months have tried that optimism on more occasions than we can count, it’s still with us. Yes, the travel journalism landscape has changed — possibly irreversibly in many ways — but our commitment to demystifying the travel media and helping you find greater success remains unwavering.
We are, however, very aware that 2020 has seen all of us having to adapt to survive as the careers we were building seemed to vanish beneath our feet. Many of us have faced challenging months and made equally tough decisions. We’ve watched work dry up, taken ourselves into different industries or opted for a side step into full-time jobs. Very few of us are ending 2020 the way we might have anticipated when we started out this year.
As a result, we we want to be as honest, open and enlightening as ever: in today’s free newsletter, we’re baring all about the challenges we’ve faced and the pivots we’ve had to undertake to adapt. Plus, here’s what the rest of December brings for paid subscribers:
8 December: Mike MacEacheran shares how he’s made it work this year
15 December: Tamara Hinson offers her travel writer survival secrets
22 December: Industry insights from The Times, OutThere & loveEXPLORING editors
BONUS FREE EMAIL — 29 December: Finally, as it’s Christmas — and we’ve an extra week this month — we’ll be releasing a second free newsletter in December complete with a practical action plan for 2021 to help you get next year off to a flying start.
To get your hands on all five editions of Talking Travel Writing this month, become a paid subscriber.
What 2020 meant for us
TTW co-founder Steph Dyson shares how she pivoted during the pandemic.
I went from being based between South America and the UK as a successful travel blogger and journalist, with a brand new guidebook under my belt, to grounded in my old childhood bedroom as I watched my income wiped out in a handful of weeks. It was a sobering experience.
After three months of sitting lethargically at home, struggling to focus and watching my bank balance diminish, I took the plunge and moved up to Manchester, my former home city before I became a journalist. Here, I found an apartment and stumbled into a new full time job as a head of content for a digital agency specialising in SEO. It’s certainly a less thrilling career than travel journalism, but it’s a solid one for now and allows me to continue expanding my skills and expertise in SEO — an area of the travel and wider media that will only continue to grow in importance.
Cheeky plug! Steph is running an SEO workshop TONIGHT for the British Guild of Travel Writers. BGTW members go free, or it’s £6 to sign up.
I’ve also turned my hand to copy across an eclectic mix of industries. I’ve written about vaginal pessaries for a homeopathic e-commerce site, adopted the voice of a bonsai tree for a plant website, and become an expert on eco-friendly slippers, clothes dryers and period underwear for a sustainability site.
I’ve struggled to find the mental energy to pitch travel stories — but been fortunate that I’ve had editors reach out to me, thanks to my focus on engaging more with other writers on Twitter and LinkedIn. I was lucky enough to get a by-line in the final ever Sunday Times Travel Magazine and wrote various pieces about Chile for Trip Savvy. I also polled readers about their experiences of fleeing lockdowns across South America and explored a different side to Cartagena for my own website.
Ultimately, my goal has been to find work — any work — that’ll bring in money and also allow me to expand my skills beyond travel journalism. As much as I love the industry and miss travelling, I think that the pandemic has proven how it’s sensible to have various strings to your bow.
I’ll be continuing to freelance on the side, though. I’m optimistic the industry will rebuild one day soon.
TTW co-founder Lottie Gross on what’s happened to her career since March.
Y̶o̶u̶ ̶w̶i̶n̶ ̶s̶o̶m̶e̶,̶ ̶y̶o̶u̶ ̶l̶o̶s̶e̶ ̶s̶o̶m̶e̶.̶
You lose some, you lose some more.
That feels more 2020, doesn’t it? Earlier this year, I wrote rather candidly about how things have been for me since March. I lost a lot of work, and therefore planned income, and have had to scrabble around to save my career (and credit rating). I tried my hand at other things, penning stories on the vaccine trial and controversial roundabouts, but I just about managed to keep a foot in the travel door.
Like many travel writers, I adjusted my ambitions and instead of pitching stories on Dubai during Expo 2020 or a bunch of parrots in Peru, I looked closer to home for my ideas. I wrote about places like the Cotswolds, the Scottish Highlands and Hull. I dreamed about road tripping in the south of France for Hello! Magazine after some royals were spotted on honeymoon. And I even did some news reporting for Telegraph Travel’s live blog on what was going on at London Heathrow last month – the glamour!
Somehow, I managed to make 45% (around £6,600) of my income from travel journalism during August through November (the rest comes from commercial travel writing and this newsletter). And, despite COVID, this year’s revenue so far looks to be just 30% lower than last year’s. That, all things considered, is not too shabby in my book.
Overall, in that email from early August, I was pretty optimistic. It was a scary time, but I felt like things were on the up. It’s fair to say, though, since I wrote that, a lot has happened. We’ve entered our second wave, seen the UK’s devolved nations take their own drastic measures from full-blown lockdowns to ludicrously complex tiered restrictions, and we’ve watched the travel industry attempt a bounce-back only to be thrown into disarray again by another FCDO travel ban.
For some reason, that once-held optimism feels harder to conjure up than it did back in summer. But there are things to be hopeful about. The vaccine. The end of the second-wave peak. New air corridors. While the media landscape and travel industry continues to shift and change, so will we travel writers — it’s a matter of survival, after all.
This is the free version of Talking Travel Writing. The rest of December’s emails (except a cheeky freebie on the final week of the month) are for paid subscribers only, and it’s going to be a cracking one. Coming up for this series, we’ve got:
Tips and insights from travel journalists who’ve continued to thrive during the pandemic
How publications across the industry are doing right now and what that means for your future pitching
Don’t miss it – become a paid subscriber now.
🌡 Industry health check
Need we remind you this year has been a tumultuous one for the travel media and wider travel industry? Probably not. But this is what happened, in case you’d forgotten.
Almost all major newspaper travel sections had pagination reduced as soon as lockdown hit, and The Guardian announced proposals to closed its weekend supplements including travel. City AM
We lost Lonely Planet magazine to the pandemic in April and the guidebook publisher closed its London and Melbourne offices. Independent
Intrepid Group-owned Adventure.com announced its hibernation in April. Adventure.com
Family Traveller magazine was liquidated after revenue fell to zero. Press Gazette
The Sunday Travel Magazine breathed its last in November after 202 glorious editions. Press Gazette
Major travel operators closed down, with STA Travel dealing the biggest blow to the high street. BBC
UK regional airline Flybe collapsed back in March 2020. The Guardian
Coach travel specialist Shearings went into administration, though it was later saved by Leger Holidays. Route One
Group travel operator Flashpack closed down, but its founders have vowed to come back strong in 2021. Travel Weekly
Is there any good news? Yes.
Sustainable travel start-up Byway launched, despite the pandemic. The Guardian
New magazine The Black Explorer started up in 2020. The i
Guidebook publisher Bradt launched the Travel Club, a clever subscription model designed to keep grounded readers engaged. Bradt Guides
Three excellent women are heading up the launch of Russian-owned Biblio Travel, which will focus on holidays to Cyprus. Travel Weekly
And finally, we still have industry stalwarts like Wanderlust, Conde Nast Traveller and National Geographic Traveller and the nationals who are all still commissioning your ideas ❤️
China writers, Goldthread wants your pitches. Guidelines here.
If you’re a free subscriber, you missed out on an exclusive call-for-pitches courtesy of the Independent’s Qin Xie in November’s final edition of Talking Travel Writing. Make sure you have access to all the opportunities in the future by becoming a paid subscriber.
City of contrasts — When has a city ever not been? Be more creative!
Acronym of the day
LATA — The Latin American Travel Association. A trade membership organisation comprising hotels, tourist board, airlines and more.
Act fast for this must-watch event tonight at 6.30pm: SEO and Travel Journalism: How Google Can Help You Land Commissions will be a deep dive into exactly why you should care about SEO (no, it’s not just for bloggers) and tips and tricks for using Google to bring your work — while barely lifting a finger. It’s free for members of the BGTW and £6 for non-members.
Hear what’s next for our industry from travel editors and writers in this recording of the Civic Journalism Lab’s latest debate. Some really interesting thoughts from the likes of Simon Calder, Lyn Hughes and Nicky Trup.
Finally, the “to travel or not to travel?” question has been on all our minds a fair amount this year — there are ethical and public health implications, after all. This interesting piece on Medium explores perspectives from travel writers around the world on why they’re not going anywhere during this pandemic.
We’re looking for sponsors! Fancy getting your brand or business in front of 1,400+ (and growing!) travel journalists and editors? We’d love to hear from you. Reply to this email and we’ll send you a copy of our media pack, complete with our competitive rates for sponsorship.