A packed house for my first presentation of 2020 at the historic El Garces in Needles, California.

How do you responsibly promote tourism during a pandemic? If you have a travel network how do you write about tourism and not note event cancellations or rescheduling, travel restrictions, surges in COVID 19 numbers in locations or business closures? If speaking engagements and book signings are an integral part of your travel network, how do you schedule and promote future presentations not knowing if the venue will be open or if it will be safe for an audience to attend? If your business is to assist tour companies, what do you do if tour companies are not operating and do not plan on resuming operations for six, twelve or even eighteen months? How do you develop a long term, or even short term strategy, when literally everything is subject to change by the hour. This is but one facet of the conundrum that I have been facing this year along with countless travel writers, tourism officials and tour company owners.

And to compound the challenges of attempting to address these problems there is the worrisome trend toward abandonment of respective conversation, people filtering the world through the lens of conspiracy theory, and outright hostility to, well, most everything. Post an article about pending restrictions on European travel and receive notes, email and social media postings that range from “you are going to loose followers for this focus on the negative” to “I never thought of you as a liberal socialist anti-American” and “thank you, it is refreshing to have an honest source of nonpolitical information.” Post a link to an article for a book about the Titanic, note a few of the things that caused the sinking and receive a note that says, “The thinly veiled attempt to say that President Trump is the reason for the COVID 19 pandemic is disgusting. You should be ashamed.”

So, how is a travel writer to survive during these tumultuous times? How can a travel network remain solvent, or even thrive, in a year plagued with pandemic, societal unrest, and political upheaval? I am still trying to find answers to all of these questions and many, many more. In the process I have learned that there is opportunity in crisis IF a person is able to adjust expectations, to change direction on a dime, and is willing to learn. I have also rediscovered that the desire to continue eating on a regular basis will provide a great deal of incentive as well as flexibility and more realistic expectations.

So, I launched Coffee With Jim, a Sunday morning live stream program on our Facebook page that is then added to the YouTube channel. This provides a promotional venue for Jim Hinckley’s America as well as the crowdfunding initiative that is integral to all that we do at this time, and it adds value for advertising sponsors. Likewise with the weekly 5 Minutes With Jim audio podcast. I write feature articles for MotoringNZ and blog posts for MyMarketing Designs (how many words can a person write about kites? I am going to find out). Now I am working to offer presentations such as the one about the National Old Trails Road in Needles at the first of the year as a pay per view program. The test run on Facebook was less than ideal so now we will be trying Vimeo. Stay tuned.

The White Cliffs wagon Trail near Kingman, Arizona

There is still the matter of promoting travel destinations and events. There is more to consider than just the fact that the announcement of cancellations, such as the balloon festival in Albuquerque, are happening with stunning rapidity that can render articles irrelevant in less than a heart beat. There is also the moral responsibility. And so the focus has been shifted to camping, to hiking, and to outdoor attractions.

Today I attended a meeting of area museum representatives at the Mohave Museum of History & Arts (respectful social distancing but limited use of masks). It was a networking opportunity that tentatively netted five speaking engagements/book signings for this fall IF…. This event sort of summed up the entire year and the challenges currently being faced.

The current crisis has exemplified the importance of having an online presence, especially for the small business owner and the writer, travel or otherwise. Because they had an online store several writers and business owners that I know sold more merchandise than during non pandemic times. And there is a need for content, and as a result, income derived through blog writing. It isn’t glamorous (how many damn words can I write about kites!) and it doesn’t pay well but it does pay.

Will Jim Hinckley’s America weather the storm? You bet. We are durable. We are flexible. It might look a bit different next year than it has in the past but we have been telling people where to go since 1990. And we will be telling people where to go for years to come. However, the places we tell you about might just be a bit empty, a bit quiet. But that is where we thrive. We have always shared the empty places. It is the dawn of a new old era.

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