Influencers during coronavirus (COVID-19) travel restrictions: Social media stars pivot while stuck at home

When Jorden Tually returned to Australia in mid-March, he was stunned.

The travel blogger's sponsored trip to Japan had just been cut short as the COVID-19 pandemic gathered pace. A week later, Australia banned overseas travel.

After five years abroad making a living by posting photos and videos of his globetrotting adventures on social media, Mr Tually returned home to Newcastle and moved back in with his parents.

"For someone who's usually travelling to a new country most weeks, it's been a weird change," he said.

Since turning travel into a career, Mr Tually has built a large social media presence with nearly 180,000 followers on Instagram and almost 50,000 subscribers on YouTube. His influence online means companies and foreign tourism boards pay him to travel and promote places and products.

But stranded in lockdown, Mr Tually turned to TikTok and began building a new empire from his bedroom by repackaging his travel content. In five months he amassed 1.6 million followers.

"I was posting three times a day every day for months mainly just because I had nothing else to do. It was the only thing I could see to use my time the wisest during the lockdown situation," he said.

"I definitely wouldn't have pushed it as much if I wasn't stuck in a room."

Mr Tually estimates he's lost up to $40,000 in earnings due to cancelled trips from COVID-19.

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"The money doesn't faze me too much," he said. "For me it's just the experience of going to a different country and meeting different people and experiencing a whole range of different things I'm missing the most. I can't put a dollar value on that."

While bunkered down in his bedroom, Mr Tually neglected his Instagram and YouTube engagement. Yet those audiences have grown more than ever with many TikTok followers bleeding across onto his other platforms. He hopes that provides a long-term benefit when travel is possible again.

Another couple forced into a rethink are travel bloggers Jarryd Salem and Alesha Bradford who until March spent most of their time overseas.

The Sydney couple runs the NOMADasaurus website and were meant to be in Tajikistan right now running an adventure tour.

Mr Salem said the pandemic had ground their business "to a large halt".

"Most of our business has taken a severe downturn in income, but it hasn't completely dried up," he said.

In good times, the couple earned up to $30,000 a month in revenue from advertising, affiliate marketing, ambassadorships, tourism campaigns, public speaking and content marketing. But most of that collapsed in March.

"We just flew back from Kyrgyzstan before lockdowns happened, and we had contracts for the rest of the year cancelled in a matter of days."

Now, the couple is living the van life in Queensland in a motorhome they purchased. "We have pivoted to focus more on Australian content and destinations in our social media and blog content," Mr Salem said.

"Confidence in international travel will take a long time to rebound, and for us that will mean potentially less overseas work. We're lucky to call Australia home though, and after more than 12 years travelling internationally, we're excited to spend more time here and promote this beautiful country."

Jess Parry-Valentine and her husband Stephen are another couple who have reinvented their online presence. Their Flying the Nest accounts have 890,000 YouTube subscribers and 280,000 Instagram followers.

Mrs Parry-Valentine recently had a baby so their channels now focus on home videos.

"Thankfully with the switch to lifestyle [content] we have had more collaboration enquiries sent our way than before. We have been working harder now than during our travels." she said.

"Our engagement with our audience has increased dramatically as they are following our journey as people not necessarily for the countries we were visiting, which we feel so thankful for."

Meanwhile back in his bedroom, Mr Tually is plotting his next move. Because he's spent so much time overseas recently he has secured an exemption to leave the country, but departing is a risk.

"I'm tossing up going overseas but I don't want to get stuck in a place that's worse," he said. "I'd love to have Christmas in Australia because I'd love to see my extended family after such a weird year. [But] if I do leave I probably won't be back until the borders are open again.

"I've got a few options but it's all over the place."

See also: Why aren't Australians angrier about being banned from travelling?

See also: Surf's up as Aussies head north to work remotely from the beach

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