The World Nomads Podcast: COVID-19 Travel News, 14 April

In this episode, industry insiders discuss the future of travel, how the backpacking sector has been affected by coronavirus (COVID-19) and what is Airbnb doing to encourage connection?


man standing in front of mountains Photo © Paul Mitchinson

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The World Nomads Podcast: COVID-19 Travel News

As governments around the globe impose lockdowns and people self-isolate, coronavirus (COVID-19) has hit the travel industry hard. The World Nomads Travel Podcast has suspended its regular destination episodes and, in their place, offering a round-up of the major coronavirus-related travel headlines, including the future of travel.

 What’s in the episode

00:39 Where’s Phil?

01:33 How Airbnb have pivoted

03:19 What the travel writing community are talking about

06:10 The planet flights back

08:17 Introducing Paul and how the pandemic has affected his work

12:50 What’s happening with backpackers?

15:20 How travel may look post coronavirus

16:30 Get in touch

Quotes from the episode

“I think travel could take a very different approach for the next little bit and even down the line, with the virtual travel and virtual reality experiences” – Cassie

“…you've got a lot of hostels, tour operators, travel agencies, and right now, they need to be thinking how they can adapt for what is to come.” - Paul

Who is in the episode

Paul Mitchinson has been in the retail travel industry for 10 years. Paul was regional manager for STA for 3 years and then for the past 10 months working for Imperium Tourism Holdings, running the retail and online business of a heavily backpacker-based Australia & New Zealand travel retail business. Paul is also on the committee for Adventure Tourism Victoria which is a non-for-profit organisation supporting Victoria's tourism industry.

Originally hailing from England, in 2013 Cassie Wilkins left behind her job as a travel agent to begin a new chapter of her life as a full-time travel writer and digital nomad, traversing the planet in search of wild adventures and ridiculous road trips.

Resources & links

Airbnb has launched Online Experiences, which allows hosts to continue earning income by offering their experiences on Zoom.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) and World Nomads Travel Insurance Coverage

Travel safety alerts.

In self-isolation? You can put your time to good use practicing your travel writing skills

You can get in touch with us by emailing

We use the Rodecaster Pro to record our episodes and interviews when in the studio, made possible with the kind support of Rode.

Speaker 1: In this episode, industry insiders sharing their thoughts on the future of travel, how the backpacking sector has been affected by COVID-19 and what is Airbnb doing to encourage connect.

Speaker 2: Welcome to the new World Nomads Podcast. We'll be keeping you up to date with travel alert and serving some uplifting news and views to inspire you and keep you smiling.

Speaker 1: Welcome to our special COVID-19 podcast, hearing your stories, headlines, and insight into when the travel industry will recover and what it will look like. And for this episode, we have a special guest host, Cassie Wilkins. Now what have you done with Phil, Cassie?

Cassie Wilkins: He's tucked up safely inside his pillow for a couple of days.

Speaker 1: Nice one. Now before we get into hearing more about you, who we have chatted to on the podcast before, let's take a look at some of the headlines surrounding COVID-19. And it was very sadly announced last week that Lonely Planet will close most of its operations in Melbourne and London, as the company deals with the impacts of the virus. Have you written for them?

Cassie Wilkins: I have not. They will always on my dream list and I've had a couple of pitches ready to go, but no, unfortunately not. I'm not sure what's going to happen with their online stuff. I think their tailoring back freelance content, but hopefully there will still be possibilities in the future because I think travel content, people are bouncing back and wanting to read things too.

Speaker 1: Exactly. So what have you got headlines wise?

Cassie Wilkins: Airline companies in Sweden and the United Kingdom are encouraging flight attendants to retrain to help hospitals with the coronavirus crisis.

Speaker 1: Nice.

Cassie Wilkins: And Airbnb has unveiled virtual travel experiences where they pair local hosts from more than 30 countries with consumers. So they're doing things like cheap meditation in Scotland and all sorts of interesting things that you can do now.

Speaker 1: Yeah, I saw that. I was interested in the flamenco for about five seconds, when I realized I'd probably last for five seconds.

Cassie Wilkins: This idea of bringing Zoom and these Skype calls into travel experiences and pairing new people around the world, because one of the best things about traveling is meeting other people and connecting with other people around the world. So I think it's actually a really good idea.

Speaker 1: Yeah, I think it's great. And we'll share the link in show notes. As China lifts travel restrictions, a survey across a hundred cities in China has found that people would rather travel domestically than overseas, which is not ideal globally because many travel agencies, hotels, shops and guides around the world rely on Chinese travelers. And we will chat about the future of travel later in the episode, but let's get to you. Tell us about yourself.

Cassie Wilkins: Okay. So I was a travel agent in the UK. I worked for STA Travel and spent a couple of years planning round the world trips. And then I got fed up with booking everyone else on these amazing trips, so I decided back in 2013 that I was going to book myself a one way ticket. And I ended up in Asia for nearly four years, living in Cambodia on a beach, which was incredible. Then I spent six months road tripping across America, a month in Canada. I worked in disaster relief after an earthquake in Nepal, and then I've spent the last year in Australia.

Speaker 1: Fantastic. Well you've been great at putting me in touch with a lot of the people in your community. So what are they talking about?

Cassie Wilkins: Everyone right now, the travel writing community has obviously taken a big hit. People aren't commissioning new articles, a lot of the editorial teams of the big travel writing companies have been laid off as well, so the freelancers don't have much going on. There's a lot of people wanting articles about corona and how that's affected travel and how that's affecting different people, in the same way that we're talking to people or you're talking to people on the podcast about their stories, how it's affected them and stuff, because it's so relevant. I think people want that sort of content. But in terms of the other content, the dreamy, the trip planning, the, "This is how you do it," content, everything's taken a bit of a back seat.

Speaker 1: We had an episode last week that featured Zoran from Croatia, who is in the travel sector, and he said when we start traveling again, people are more than ever going to be driven by the prevention emotions of safety and security. And these are direct quotes, "It might be a while before people really go out exploring the world as they did before." What would your reaction to that be?

Cassie Wilkins: I think in places like Croatia and Europe, it's going to be different because people can get in their cars and drive. So if you live in Europe and you can drive to other places, and then you don't have to be on planes, which I think a lot of people are scared of flying right now because it's quite anxiety inducing, being in a big metal can, flying through the sky, which could be full of germs and other people. So I think people, if they're in their own cars or even if they can travel in trains and things, Europe will probably experience it a bit differently to everywhere else, I think it's going to take a long time before things push back.

Cassie Wilkins: Like Zoran was saying, I think business travel will definitely come back first, especially places like China, who've started opening their borders again and people are traveling more freely around China now. But in terms of the rest of the world and the leisure travel and things, I think things are going to be quite different. And it will probably be more longterm trips, rather than short term trips. I don't think people will be flying as much for a week here, there or everywhere as they used to.

Speaker 1: Well we've seen in a very short time, and there was a lot of discussion before coronavirus on climate change, and we have seen in a very short time that stopping us from moving has had an incredible impact. There's less seismic activity. We speak a lot about the canals in Venice returning to pure water, full of fish and dolphins. There are animals coming into the towns like monkeys, deer, even in London, there was a street where there were 20 odd deer, right in the middle of London. And it's only been at the time of recording, a few months or a couple of months really.

Cassie Wilkins: I feel like the best thing to compare it to is Chernobyl, after the accident there, when they just shut everything down and within weeks and months, the whole place was back to nature, and the trees were all growing and everything was happening, just nature reclaiming. And I think that a lot of places like that in the world, which are really beautiful and a lot of people have wanted to travel there, just to see nature fighting back. So I think we're seeing that on a smaller scale now, but it's just as impressive.

Cassie Wilkins: Over the last couple of years, personally I've been trying to fly less, one international flight here or something, and travel over land as much as possible as well. Before all of this happened, I was planning on making my way back to the UK over land on a big road trip from Australia to the UK, but that's not really in the cards anymore. But, I think that will be more of a push for over land travel for longterm travel, for less short haul flights.

Speaker 1: What about a push for people to explore their own countries before exploring others?

Cassie Wilkins: I think that too, definitely. And the fact that people are stuck inside right now in a lot of places, the UK personally, that's where my family is, there's a lot of frustration about being cooped up, and people just want to be able to go for a walk and explore their immediate area. So I think there is going to be a big push on people enjoying being out in nature. And I think there will be more of a balance between working all the time and then coming home and sitting in front of the TV, you might make room and make time to go for a walk on your lunch break, or drive down to the beach or to a forest or somewhere, and just have that enjoyment of your local area too.

Speaker 1: Well, Paul Mitchinson, who Cassie happens to know has, like many people in the industry found himself redundant.

Speaker 1: Hey Paul.

Paul Mitchinson: Hey. How are you doing?

Speaker 1: And Cassie too. You know each other well.

Cassie Wilkins: Hey. Yeah

Paul Mitchinson: We go back a long... Well, a while back. We started our little travel careers together, many moons ago, back in little Sheffield in the UK.

Speaker 1: Well who would have thought then that you'd be talking about a virus that would bring the world to a standstill, Paul? What's happened with you?

Paul Mitchinson: So my background is that I've been heavily involved in the domestic travel market, working for a retail agency, and obviously the situation in Australia specifically, really obviously horrible bushfire situation, which caused a lot of businesses to really struggle, to then have that second punch of the dreaded coronavirus. So it's had a knock on effect where myself and I think the running total is potentially into the millions of people who've lost their jobs or been shut down. I unfortunately was one of the ones who actually got made redundant. I don't like using that word because it seems to the word of our generation that is unprecedented, but it's a situation none of us have been in before.

Cassie Wilkins: What exactly were you doing before you were made redundant?

Paul Mitchinson: Yeah. So I was working for a community called Imperium Tourism Holdings. I was head of sales for Australia, New Zealand for their retail network. So we had 50 retail stores across Australia and New Zealand, predominantly selling to backpackers. However, we catered to anyone and everybody who was wanting to travel in Australia.

Paul Mitchinson: We were Australia's biggest backpacker focused tourism brand. We also have a tech company called Website Travel, which is a booking platform agencies and tour operators to use. We had a couple of hostels, up the East coast and we had a couple of touring companies at Fraser Island, and another company called Adventure Tours Australia, that we recently acquired off Intrepid. So I was leading up the retail and online call center business.

Paul Mitchinson: Yeah. That was my role. How I got into that, I was actually STA and that's where me and Cassie know each other from. So I was at STA for nine and a bit years, it was, and been in Australia for five and a half of those.

Speaker 1: How is STA going?

Paul Mitchinson: Similar to your other big retail brand, they've now closed globally all of their retail stores. Yet again, a business that is heavily, heavily focused on international travel, and with international travel grinding to a halt-

Speaker 1: Does it make your tummy slightly turn?

Paul Mitchinson: It does for me because it's one of those situations that we all like to think we travel all the time, but realistically, most people who are in full time jobs only go on holiday maybe once, or if you're lucky, twice a year. But being told that you physically can't go is a slightly different situation. It's not as if we were all planning to leave immediately, but the fact that you don't know when you can actually leave a country is quite a bit of a-

Cassie Wilkins: And you're reading all these headlines every day, like Australia might have to keep its borders closed until 2021, and then other people are like, "Oh, maybe it'll be 18 months, two years before you can travel internationally again." And that's just Australia. Obviously, it's quite different for the rest of the world.

Paul Mitchinson: Yeah. And it makes sense, to be honest. Even if Australia, say for example, we come up this and a couple of months and we start to ease our lockdown, risk opening up their borders until they know that the virus is under control or a cure, and that's the realistic things is that domestic will see a surge and I'm more than confident of that, before international.

Speaker 1: And as we're looking at overseas travel, we have had discussions with a journalist recently who said that, firstly, the business sector will recover and then luxury travel, because they're the people that have got the money. What do you think about the backpacker sector, the sector that you're involved in? Will that be the last to recover?

Paul Mitchinson: It's a very tough one, and this is one thing that, I didn't mention before, I'm also on a local Victorian committee which is called Adventure Tourism Victoria, and that's one of our focuses is generally around that market. And that's what we've written to our local government officials is what are the longterm plans? How can we actually entice people to come back?

Cassie Wilkins: But there's also no jobs for the ones who are still here now.

Paul Mitchinson: Correct, yeah.

Cassie Wilkins: Over here in Western Australia, there's a lot of problems with people that, they've got their vans, they don't have any money, they don't have any jobs, and now because they've closed down all the regions, they can't even travel. They're making some exceptions for work, but you still have to quarantine for two weeks when you get somewhere before you can start working.

Paul Mitchinson: Yeah, that's the tough thing. We have made progress in that. Like you said, they're allowing backpackers to go, work on the farms, because one, we need it for the economy as well. These farms which they rely on their international workforce every year have a massive drop in employees, and it's going to have a longterm effect on the economy and food sources as well.

Paul Mitchinson: So the government have opened that up again. But like you said, they have to go into two week quarantine at the farm. And also, there is a little asterix in there as well that the farm also has to offer safe accommodation. The tough thing is one, how can we protect the backpackers in the country right now? But also, how can we attract them back again? So there's a bit of a, I suppose, movement for giving people free visas to return again. Or what is our longterm strategy?

Speaker 1: What's the morale like among this sector?

Paul Mitchinson: From what I know is that I actually think the majority of the backpackers have left and there's lots of repatriation flights still happening. We've seen world first direct flights from Vienna to Sydney with no stops, and Munich to Sydney with no stops. There's been these repatriation flights that are continuing to fly into Australia to get people out, but I think looking at it, do these backpackers see it as have I just wasted a year of my backpacking? Am I just squandering all this hard money that I've saved up for years to go traveling?

Paul Mitchinson: There is a small number of backpackers that are still working, and I suppose they're in a situation where they can support themselves, but it's not really a backpacking lifestyle. One, you're locked into a hostel, potentially. You can't leave the hostel, you can't work. My probably advice is unless you can support yourself, I would probably go home. That would be my advice.

Cassie Wilkins: That's the advice of the government here as well.

Paul Mitchinson: It is. Yeah, it is.

Speaker 1: Yeah. It's going to be very, very interesting when travel in the world gets back to normal.

Speaker 1: In closing, Cassie, when do you think that will be, going by your gut reaction?

Cassie Wilkins: I don't think it will be normal again, as to what it was before. I think the travel industry will bounce back and there's a lot of desire for it, but like we mentioned with the Airbnb experiences and things, I think travel could take a very different approach for the next little bit and even down the line, with the virtual travel and virtual reality experiences.

Speaker 1: Paul?

Paul Mitchinson: Yeah, I think I agree with Cassie. What is normal travel will, I don't think will return for a long time. Years. I think how we travel... And what we're seeing is how can these companies adapt? And that's the biggest thing is you've got a lot of hostels, tour operators, travel agencies, and right now, they need to be thinking how they can adapt for what is to come, I suppose. Even though it's a bit of an unknown, they're really going to have to look at how they can pivot their business to actually stay afloat.

Speaker 1: You said the word. You said it.

Paul Mitchinson: I know, I said it.

Speaker 1: I was going to say the new buzzword is pivoting.

Paul Mitchinson: Pivoting. Yeah. Oh dear.

Speaker 1: Well guys, thank you so much, both Paul and Cassie. I really appreciate your insight. And if you have a story to tell or insight into the travel industry, please email And next time, we're chatting to a popular blogger who is recovering from coronavirus.

Speaker 1: Thank you guys.

Paul Mitchinson: Thanks.

Cassie Wilkins: Yeah, you're welcome.

Paul Mitchinson: Have a good day. Bye-bye.

Speaker 2: The World Nomads Podcast, explore your boundaries.


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