COVID-19 in Transit
COVID-19 in Transit
Yanqin has wanted to be a writer ever since she discovered English Composition in Primary School, and threw herself into journalism after university. Now, as a Content Producer at Our Better World, she hopes to use her love of a good story to give voice to social causes.
Travel. In 2020, it became a word that evoked sighs of yearning, shaking heads over cancelled reservations, eyes glazing over with fits of wanderlust. At least, among us lucky ones who mainly travelled for leisure, these were the extent of our woes.
Others working in the world of tourism (and its cousins F&B and retail) had more serious concerns, namely the near-total loss of income and ability to support themselves and their families. Beloved destinations like Bali and Siem Reap become ghost towns.
It was in the spirit of bringing together these two issues that brought Our Better World and our travel series, The Better Traveller, to “WWF Explains: Tourism after COVID-19”.
Organised by WWF Singapore and the National Library Board in December 2020, we were invited as a panellist to chat about the post-COVID travel world and our views on responsible and sustainable travel. Could holidays do more than allow us to relax and recharge? Can we ensure our travel dollar benefits the local community and environment?
The answer from The Better Traveller is of course yes; since 2017, we’ve been telling stories of getaways in India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore and Philippines that check all the above qualities.
A journey of adversity and innovation
Like most Singaporeans, I did not leave our shores for much of the year, but as COVID-19 overran the world, stories from the destinations we featured in the past trickled in, putting a human face to the numbers: an estimated US$1 trillion in losses by the global tourism industry due to the pandemic, and some 100 million jobs at risk, according to the United Nations.
The challenges they face continue to be immense. But so is their undimmed resilience, which has inspired us to keep telling their stories — how they have adapted and found new ways to bring relief to their communities, which have lost tourism income. For example, I shared about a community of mountain guides in the western Himalayas in India who have turned their attention from eco-conscious travel to carbon offsets. Through them, anyone in the world can now offset their carbon footprint by planting trees in eroded parts of the Himalayas, and create a modest income for the guides as they manage the reforestation work.
With Singaporeans unable to travel and in the mood for staycation and local experiences, I also shared our Weekend of Good city guide for Singapore, which offers tips on what to do in Singapore to take the edge off our wanderlust and do good for the community at the same time.
The event also gave me an opportunity to hear from others on the topic; panellist Lim Jia Ling, Communications and Marketing Lead, Coral Triangle Programme at WWF, shared even more stunning destinations in the Coral Triangle, where travellers could support conservation while being dazzled by some of the most spectacular marine environments in the world. Another key takeaway was how COVID-19 gives us the opportunity to put into practice a sustainable lifestyle, practices we could apply when we begin travelling again.
The journey ahead
And where will 2021 take us? In producing The Better Traveller before and during a pandemic, I’ve learnt that where and how we begin is as important as where we end up. As I revisited former story subjects to see how they coped with the pandemic, I’ve seen how their mission to build strong communities through tourism has helped them weather their toughest challenge yet — they are the real deal. They have strong local ownership and have made investments for the long-term, be it switching to solar power or developing the skills of their local community.
I didn’t get to travel much in 2020, but through these stories, I feel like I did. And if I get to travel once in 2021, I’ll certainly dedicate at least one trip to one of these places.
In some ways, travel is like producing a story —you go somewhere to seek the thrill of something different and unique, you observe, ask questions, try new things, meet new people, and generally you hope to get to know a place better (and have a great time). True, we are not professionally obliged to come back with a great story in hand, but still, there is no harm asking ourselves, ‘What is the story of my trip? How does this story end?’
With The Better Traveller, we hope the ending is always one that leaves a community better off, and us enriched as people. Pandemic or not, these are the stories we will keep telling.