Time to travel again?

The travel industry has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. We aren’t out of the woods yet either, but at some point we will start to travel again. Is now the time for travel photographers to venture beyond their own borders?

Photomouth two – The ramblings and rants of an opinionated photographer raising photography-related issues – hopefully thoughtfully and sometimes controversially. It is one opinion, which will hopefully resonate or entertain, but is only one viewpoint. Feel free to disagree!

Is it time to travel again?

travel, chiscoe
Camel rider against the sunset at Giza near Cairo in Egypt silhouetted against a golden sun © Chris Coe

Oh, how I long to travel again! Back at the beginning of 2020 who would have thought the world would have seen such big changes and that travel would be one of the biggest victims?

We’ve come to take both the ability to travel and the ease with which we do it somewhat for granted for several decades. Take it away and suddenly we start to appreciate how much it has become ingrained in our society and cultures. 

Almost two years later, cross-border travel is returning, but slowly, and not without its trials and tribulations. I’m enthusiastic about travelling again. My travels have been confined to my own country and in the relative comfort and safety of my campervan, Monty. I should add that has been an amazing experience and I’ll be doing much more of that both this year and in the future.

However, my world as a travelling photographer is bigger than the UK and soon I will be back in the air again. Ironically, it’s not the flight which particularly bothers me, it’s the bit at each end. I’m not looking forward to the airport transits and passport control queues. In-flight, seven hours in a mask also doesn’t fill me with excitement but needs must and this is one of the necessary precautions if we are to get our lives back and be able to travel safely again.

I’m lucky enough to be triple vaccinated now so my personal risk is limited and proportionate. If I wasn’t I’m not sure I’d be quite so relaxed about it, and I wouldn’t be flying. As we lament our lost or restricted travel it’s worth remembering that it has been a relatively small price to pay to keep the already high global death toll lower. And, of course, it’s not over yet. Here in the UK the equivalent of a passenger jet full of people are still dying most days… and it barely even makes the news now.

Back in November I went to the World Travel Market in London – a trade show for the travel industry. The show was cancelled in 2020, due to the pandemic and restrictions on public gatherings, so it was almost a first opportunity for the travel industry to get together again, in the UK at least. Amongst colleagues there was both excitement and apprehension. Not surprisingly the event was much quieter than normal, but what did surprise me was the number of stands manned by a person sat there looking at their phone, not engaging with visitors. There were even stands where I wanted to talk to someone but got a disinterested response from the phone holder! And I thought the travel industry was struggling and would have been more enthusiastic to engage with someone interested in their destinations or products. A number of the exhibitors, in my opinion, paid less that attention to social distancing and visitor safety than I would have expected. With the travel industry being hit so hard, I expected better, with a bigger effort being made toward safety and transmission prevention to stimulate confidence in travel. Come one everyone, it doesn’t take much effort to do the basics to make people feel safe.

Travel photography, of course, covers many genres. Aside from the actual travel considerations, shooting something like landscapes or wildlife gets you out in the great outdoors and away from other people. So, these present no real problems to resume shooting. In some ways the current state of play may well allow us to give more time and focus to these types of photography. However, once we move into crowded spaces things become more problematic as we are moving into an environment where everyone is more vulnerable to catching or spreading COVID-19. That’s not to say we shouldn’t do it but we need to be taking precautions, both for ourselves and others. 

Around the world the current rules on both travel and socialising vary from country to country and region to region, so it’s worth checking what you can and can’t do before you set off on your next journey. As a former physiologist, with some knowledge of disease transmission, I have been and remain more cautious than many people. To date I’ve avoided catching COVID-19, or spreading it to friends and colleagues. I will remain cautious as I start to travel more and, with a degree of protection from the vaccine, hope I stay virus-free. My thinking is much more in line with the WHO advice, that it’s not over and won’t be for some time, rather than that of my own government which, in my opinion, has been cavalier throughout. Slow to act and too quick to unlock, contrary to what history has taught us through past pandemics. The statistics aren’t good for the UK with some of the highest infection and death rates in Europe. Thank goodness they did a good job with the vaccination programme or it would have been truly horrific.

The messages from the leaders of the world have been varied throughout. If ever the world needs to come together and show unity of action it has been these past two years but, as ever, self-interest rules the day. As we think carefully about travelling again our options are still limited by our chosen destinations and, increasingly, by cultural attitudes to ‘foreigners’. That’s the sad reality as the world becomes more fragmented than united, and fearful of the unknown.

As we all consider our options to travel with a camera again, it’s worth casting an eye towards China where it all started. As they prepare to host the Beijing Winter Olympics in the coming weeks they are doing so against a zero-tolerance policy which has, until now, largely kept the Omicron variant in check and out of mainland China. Keeping it that way as they welcome visitors from around the world is a huge challenge which they have grasped by creating ‘bubbles’ to keep these visitors and the athletes away from their own citizens. Will it work? Time will tell but the fact that they are going to all this trouble and expense should tell us something. I just hope they don’t know something which we don’t!


By Chris Coe

Chris is a professional photographer, and the founder of Travel Photographer of the Year. He has been working as a professional photographer since 1992, shooting both editorial and advertising photography, and has published over 50 books. He lectures on and teaches photography, mentors and is a competition judge.