If you listen to one travel podcast this week, this is it.
Gary interviews revered Bali-based publisher and inveterate traveller Stuart McDonald, co-founder of Travelfish, who is on electrifying form.
The diverse discussion veers from COVID-19 and health tracking for air passengers to over-development in SEA and a vicarious daily service for couch travellers.
We also touch on small communities in South East Asia being hit by travel lockdowns, and indelible memories of the 2004 tsunami in Sri Lanka. Compelling stuff.
01:11 How travel became part of Stuart’s life
02:46 Experiencing the Boxing Day Tsunami’s after-effects whilst they were on holiday in Sri Lanka
03:50 Stuart’s original aspirations for Travelfish when it launched, from being simply a collection of favourite places in Thailand
“Then we realised that perhaps it [Travelfish] could be something more than a hobby.”
05:00 The rollercoaster of Travelfish: from the age of paper guidebooks to the online world of Tripadvisor and low cost carriers opening up the region
“When we first started, the idea of being in Kuala Lumpur and going to Phnom Penh for the weekend was like, forget it!”
06:22 Why Travelfish covers the more obscure, off-the-beaten-track places that few people were writing about in any depth - and how that had to expand to cover the more well-visited places too
“The website is a reflection of how I like to travel.”
“Last year I went through KLIA2 37 times last year: which I don’t recommend!”
08:49 Stuart’s take on his upfront honesty, freebies and the travel media
“I do speak my mind, and I think that travel media has often been hobbled by the travel PR.”
09:40 The Travelfish readers are much older than Stuart’s originally expected 35-45 years old, with the average age at 65
“There is a subset of readers who prefer the travel guide style, which is close to what we do […] They don’t want bite size content, they want more of an authoritative guidebook-style product.”
11:52 What surprised Stuart in his recent readership survey results
12:17 The decision to suspend updating coverage of Myanmar due to its human rights violations and the controversy that caused amongst his readership
13:54 Couchfish: their new product for the lockdown
“It was borne out of my frustration, really.”
“I figured there had to be a bunch of people who were stuck at home on the couch, and wanted to travel but couldn’t.”
“I wasn’t sure if there would be a lot of pushback about trying to make money out of a crisis, but I put it out and my emails just exploded.”
18:00 How Couchfish (and Travelfish) gives a place for locally-run businesses to shine and for travellers to give back
“Our focus has always been on family-run, locally-run, sustainably-run businesses that don’t get featured in the travel media.”
“The mom and pop businesses are getting totally hammered.”
19:44 Stuart’s pessimistic view about where travel was headed before COVID-19 hit
“Before the virus was here, I was fairly pessimistic about where travel was going. I was finding that more and more. I hate to be that guy […] but more and more I was going to destinations and thinking “Good god, I never want to come back here again”.”
“Way too many people going into too restrictive a number of destinations.”
21:33 The future of small businesses post-pandemic: forget about the damage to the Marriotts of the world, it’s the local people who are hurting.
“When people talk about “Oh yeah, it’ll be back to business as usual,” it’s like, ”No way!”.”
“Once places close, like in Bali […] if you lose your job, you’re not going to stay there, you’re going to go home. When that place reopens, if it ever does, they’re going to have to rehire staff, people are going to have to move back… that kind of restarting infrastructure just doesn’t happen overnight.”
“I think we’re looking at at least 2 to 2.5 years from today before any kind of substantial recreational tourism restarts.”
25:45 Travelling (or not) responsibly during a pandemic
“You have to assume that you already have it. So how do you behave to make sure you don’t spread it? That’s the mindset that needs to inform all travel.”
“If you’re willing to travel without knowing whether you’re going to be making people ill or not, then that’s the epitome of irresponsible travel.”
27:32 How people will respond when they get let out of lockdown
“People are still figuring it out. It’s a very steep learning curve”
28:13 Stuart’s plans for travel - a trip for the big 5-0 in July?