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 but continuing to engage with the travel community by reflecting the way they are experiencing the virus.
00:30 The report predicting when travel will start again
01:48 Cholera in Kenya
02:28 What’s happening in South Korea?
04:25 The pandemic plan
07:43 COVID-19 figures for South Korea
08:45 Hanna’s business idea
10:09 Remaining hopeful
12:41 Get in touch
“When there is a confirmed coronavirus patient in my area, I get a text message to my phone from the government and I can then visit a website and I can see every single place that that person visited, and I can avoid those places.” - Rhiannon
“It's been hard for us because we moved back to the states in January after seven years abroad, our whole adult lives abroad. And it's hard now because we're with my parents. We're in New York. It's not the best environment for us.” - Hanna
Who is in the episode
Rhiannon Shepherd is an ex-pat Seoul-based PR Specialist and founder of Ssak Communications, a foreign-led food and lifestyle communications agency based in Seoul.
Resources & links
Coronavirus (COVID-19) and World Nomads Travel Insurance Coverage
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 [email protected].
We use the Rodecaster Pro to record our episodes and interviews when in the studio, made possible with the kind support of Rode.
Kim: In this episode, how South Korea is dealing with the coronavirus, an unusual place to self-isolate, and the million-dollar question, when will we be able to travel again?
Kim: Hi Kim and Phil with you all of that and a chat with Hana, who was just about to relaunch her travel business when the pandemic was declared. Let’s kick off with some headlines Phil.
Phil: Twenty31, a tourism consultancy has done some research and has come up with a timeline on when the travel sector may reopen. We will share the research documents in show notes BUT globally, domestic travel is expected to return close to the end of June beginning of July for some destinations around the world. However, other places including Spain and Australia are hinting that tourism may not return this year at all.
The report goes on to say “Travellers are beginning to show interest in travel again although at low levels. When travel does restart, outdoor and small group activities appear to be more promising when compared to higher density activities.”
Meantime there has been a deadly outbreak of cholera in Kenya with at least 7 people dead and over 130 hospitalized.
And this is an incredible story, four men and two women from France, Turkey, Ukraine, the United States, and Nepal have been found self-isolating in a cave in India, they had been staying in a hotel but ran out of money. They’ve now been quarantined at an ashram.
Kim: Rhiannon Shepherd is an ex-pat Seoul-based PR Specialist and founder of a communications company and gives us an insight into how the virus has affected South Korea
Rhiannon: Well, it's actually been relatively calm and not normal here. Lots of things have changed. But in South Korea, we've not had to this point an official lockdown or a quarantine. Since the coronavirus outbreak started here back in February, at no point have we not been able to go out and eat at a restaurant or go shopping. So while some things have changed in other ways compared to the West and compared to Europe and America, we're still living a relatively normal life here.
Kim: Has the government been transparent? They're constantly communicating with people and very open about their decision not to force South Koreans into lockdown?
Rhiannon: Yes. That's been one of the big things here really, has been from the get-go transparency and really solid, unified communication from the government, which I think was one big problem at the start, particularly in the UK. The messages in the media and from the government were just so mixed that's I think personally what caused a lot of the panic. But in South Korea, because they did deal with this minor MERS outbreak in South Korea in 2015 there were plans in place for an outbreak. So from the beginning, the government said we're not opening schools. We are going to track and we are going to test as much as we can. And because it was so unified and organized from the beginning, there really hasn't been a big panic here.
Kim: You mentioned that it's not only calm but it's organized and also technology-led. Can you expand on that?
Rhiannon: Because of the MERS virus that was a thing here in 2015 the government did implement a potential plan if there was to be another outbreak. One big part of this plan was using technology to track and test the virus from the very beginning. So in Korea, in addition to the drive-through testing clinics that were set up, in addition to wearing masks, which are actually rationed by the government, we get two each a week, in addition to hand sanitizers and heat-sensing cameras, there's also this system whereby every person who's confirmed to have the virus in South Korea has their whereabouts over the previous 10 days, I think it is, tracked using their credit card information and their GPS information. And then this information is made public.
Rhiannon: This was a law that was actually passed after the MERS outbreak in 2015 to make this possible during a pandemic only, of course. When it's not a pandemic, privacy laws prevent this from being possible. But in South Korea during a pandemic, the government does have access to personal information of carriers of the virus. So when there is a confirmed coronavirus patient in my area, I get a text message to my phone from the government and I can then visit a website and I can see every single place that that person visited and I can avoid those places. This kind of system allows the government to track and trace every person and basically prevent a full-scale outbreak from happening.
Kim: You are also the founder of a communications company. You're linked to the travel and tourism sector. How's it affected you personally in terms of your company?
Rhiannon: While we haven't had a lockdown here, of course, the economy has seen a big slowdown. People are going out less, restaurants are really struggling. The government has said we're not going to keep you at home, but do try and social distance as much as possible.
Rhiannon: So there has been a slowdown. In some ways, it's affected my business because my local clients have been affected and they're tightening their budgets and really trying to save money where possible. But I also work with companies that usually come into Korea but aren't able to at the minute. So work has been passed on to me remotely. So it's been kind of swings and roundabouts really.
Rhiannon: It's really hard to say how things will be over the next six months or year. I think it looks like Korea is going to rebound more quickly from this than some countries in Europe, which have been really, really devastated by the virus, but it is hard to say. Fingers crossed that this lull that we're seeing now in South Korea is permanent and there is no big second wave, but it's really hard to tell.
Kim: Well, it would be remiss of me to let you go without asking, have you heard anything about North Korea?
Rhiannon: The last I heard was that they were not reporting any cases. Of course, this is highly unlikely to be true, but again, without the capacity for testing or even the medical capacity for treating the virus in North Korea, I imagine that once it hits or if it has already hit, then it's likely to be quite devastating really.
Phil: And at the time of recording South Korea had recorded just over ten and a half thousand cases with 247 deaths from COVID-19
Kim: Hana and her partner first started their travel adventure in South Korea. They have lived there and in Mexico. They then moved back to the States where they planned to settle but took one last trip in January cut short by the virus which also ruined their plans to relaunch their travel business, they’d worked hard to create.
Hanna: My husband and I don't really come from means. So being able to travel all the time, those of us ... The people in our lives who know us know that we really worked hard to get what we wanted and nobody was paying for it for us or whatever. We really had to make it happen on our own. So a lot of people would ask us, "How do you do this? How do you make it happen? How do you live abroad? How do you bring your dog? How do you travel for this long?" Basically, we realized that we could kind of turn it into a business and help people ... genuinely help people who were like, "I want that life. I want to do what you're doing to some extent. But I just don't know where to start because there's a lot of information out there for people who want to work remotely or just do something very specific, teach English ... excuse me, volunteer, whatever it is."
Hanna: And we realized it's different for every person. Not every person is able to do every opportunity that's out there. So we wanted to be able to customize that experience for people who want to travel, but they have money standing in their way or family or whatever it is that's kind of stopping them from like taking that leap. That's where we come in.
Kim: But you were about to relaunch, correct?
Hanna: Yes. Yeah. So we kind of started off maybe a year and a half ago, two years ago, just kind of talking with people, just word of mouth. And then, so we were working for a while on this big relaunch with the website. I wrote a book. All this stuff was ready to go and then this happened. So I don't know. It's been kind of hard.
Kim: Are you maintaining a sense of confidence?
Hanna: I am, because from my point of view ... I mean, we still have a few clients that we started working with a few years ago who are still abroad now or kind of in the midst of traveling. Maybe they had to come back, but they still want to keep going. So for me, I'm hopeful because I think because of this people are going to be like, "Well, if I don't go now, who knows what can happen?" I think it's made people reconsider putting off travel for a later date and wanting to be like, "I got to do it now." So I think there's a sense of urgency there.
Kim: And Hanna, you also mentioned you think the way that we will travel will change.
Hanna: Yeah, I think people are going to be more thoughtful about their travels. I don't know how things are going to change in the states. I mean, one of the things that I notice a lot is Americans, in general, don't have the ability to travel as much as people from Europe maybe or whatever because they don't get as much time off or they don't have as much savings to travel. So I think people who do have that opportunity or who are willing to do that are going to, yeah, just be more thoughtful and really do the experience they want to do, no matter what it's going to cost them or how much time off of work they're going to take. Because I think, as I said, this whole experience made people realize life is short.
Kim: Something else that we're picking up on as we have these chats is that domestic travel will be quite strong early on. And you mentioned the states, and it does blow me away. I think only 40% of Americans have got passports. But there is so much to see in America.
Hanna: Yeah. It's funny because since living abroad, I've actually been able to see more of the states than I would have if I had been living here this whole time, just because it's more affordable for us to travel since we were living abroad. But yeah, I think I had a unique opportunity to travel the states when I was a teenager. And I think it is a beautiful country for people who are looking for nature or cities with unique vibes and things like that. So I think it's great to go abroad, but if people have the opportunity to see their own country, wherever that may be, then go for it, because there's a lot to see and do there as well. You really got to learn to find those opportunities close to home.
Kim: Now, I don't want to do that whole please lay down on the couch and tell me how you feel, but how are you doing?
Hanna: Just now with everything? I'm okay. It's been hard for us because we moved back to the states in January after seven years abroad, our whole adult lives abroad. And it's hard now because we're with my parents. We're in New York. It's not the best environment for us. So there are other factors to it. So we're just trying to keep it together and stay positive and do what we can to make it through, as many people are.
Kim: To say it’s a tough time for anyone in the travel industry is an understatement. To share your story get in touch by emailing [email protected] and don’t forget to tell your friends about us.
Phil: Yes, through our podcast we are continuing to engage with the travel community by reflecting the way you are experiencing the coronavirus.