Facebook, Instagram and dreaming. How the UK’s top travel journalist is firefighting in a pandemic

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A chance to reflect? Simon Calder hasn’t got time for that. He’s trying to respond to Brexit, he’s attempting to decipher the latest international quarantine rules and he’s hoping to file some copy for The Independent whilst appearing on a string of TV, radio and podcast shows in bid to help consumers.

“I’m responsive,” the London-based journalist, in an early contender for understatement of 2021, told FN. The truth is that there almost isn’t a platform where Calder is addressing the ever-changing trials and tribulations of the UK’s travel industry, which is now amid its third lockdown since Boris Johnson’s government first advised against non-essential travel last March. Before that moment Calder was receiving up to 15 queries per day via email. Then it all kicked off. 

“Within a week or so it went from 10 or 15 emails to five or six hundred and it became impossible to deal with,” he said.

Calder first turned to Instagram near the end of that month so he could quickly reply to questions, concerns and understandable worries around the travel restrictions and their impact.

He would later host a daily live stream on Facebook with The Independent, lasting until October when the UK government introduced its then three-tier approach across England. That’s when the Instagram and Facebook advice sessions were moved to the weekends.

“I can’t tell you how demanding it was,” he said. “For a while there were no weekends. I don’t know if it will come back on a daily basis, we shall see – it all depends on what happens next.” 

Calder, a former airline cleaner and security officer who does not accept free travel facilities, tries to draw out common elements to the questions and basis some of the answers on whatever the current rules or regulations are. He also relies on industry bodies and private companies for other sources of information as well as the different departments of the UK government, a body he’s had far more dealings with in the past month than his 27 years since working at The Independent. 

“[The UK travel sector has been a] fantastic industry that for decades just got on with being brilliant,” he said. Calder’s now “desperately, desperately” concerned about the people working in the sector as well as the tens of million of people who, as he puts it, “simply want a break and want something to look forward to”. 

He has no complaints about his own “rich” 2020, which included a trip around the so-called ‘Corona Curtain’ of Germany, hitch-hiking in the back of Greek pickup trucks (where you present no Covid risk, apparently) and a long-haul flight to Florida. Gibraltar, The Rock, also gave Calder 48 hours of sun in December due to its status as a British Overseas Territory, thus being one of the few places where UK travelers could visit at the time.

For now, however, Calder hasn’t got any trips booked for 2021. He was bitten a few times last year due to changing Covid-related restrictions and he’s not currently recommending that people start booking Easter ski holidays or any other overseas travel for that matter. 

“I just don’t know if it is fine,” he said. “As consumer confidence has eroded, much to the detriment of the travel industry of course, at least there aren’t that many people with holidays booked at the moment so there’s less disappointment, stress and anxiety.” 

He hopes that others are following his lead by “dreaming, planning” and writing up a wish-list of places to visit when restrictions lift. “Put together trips which are far more coherent and have less impact on the planet,” he advised. 

As for the future of travel journalism, what are Calder’s predictions? “It has always been about the same things: information, inspiration and entertainment.”

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