The COVID-19 crisis has paralyzed the tourism industry. The World Tourism expects a staggering 100 million jobs in tourism to be lost, many airlines are in big trouble as they are expected to fly 50% lesss and not fully recover until 2022.
Friends in the industry had to make big decisions, to please their shareholders. Airbnb cut 25% of its jobs, Lonely Planet laid off staff and closed closed its two main offices and the ever “forever free” Couchsurfing has started charging all its users, in order to survive. We expect a lot more bad news soon.
We’ve lost much of our income, but are optimistic
Also for Spotted by Locals as a “business” it’s a difficult time. Since the start of the COVID-19 crisis traffic on our website has collapsed.
Income (app sales & advertising) have also dropped with about 80% compared to last year. This is an overview of sales in the last year on the Apple app store:
Before the crisis hit, we started the most expensive project we’ve ever executed: a total “from the ground up” re-engineering of the core systems the Spotted by Locals website and apps run on. Also, we keep on expanding to new cities. Our Tashkent city guide was launched in July.
While many companies are laying off people, and postponing projects, we are investing more than ever in the future. It may be counter-intuitive, but we are doing it because we are confident that we will survive this crisis.
So why are we so optimistic?
1. Our community is thriving as never before
Our community of local storytellers (“Spotters”) in 81 cities, is fully behind our mission. After we sent out an email to most of our Spotters to update them on our financial situation and outlook on the future, we got really amazing feedback that will keep us “high” for months to come. Just a few abstracts:
“Thanks very much for your thoughtful message. It means a lot to me to receive such consideration at the moment! I’m really admirative of what you’ve done with Spotted by Locals, and I am totally in phase with your ideas on tourism. I’m convinced that the world will change after this ‘crisis’, and it will move in your direction. Tourism and travel will be different – slower, more local, more sustainable, and Spotted by Locals will have a big role to play.”
“In these times Spotted by Locals is more visionary than ever. Remember that!”
“Now more than ever, I miss being around people from the big Spotted by Locals family. As soon as the clouds clear, be prepared for a rush of photos from spotters meeting each other around the world!”
We really feel that our team of 520 Spotters in 81 cities is behind us, and motivated to keep going.
Actually, the community is thriving as never before. Early March, we set up a weekly Thursday night chat, to make it possible to be together with awesome fellow human beings all over the world and exchange thoughts & tips. For us (founders Sanne & Bart) this weekly chat has been a major inspiration to carry on and work hard preparing for better times!
Some Spotters also have the opportunity to meet in person during this crisis. Read this report about a recent trip by Spotters from 4 countries.
We just announced a series of “Digital Spotters meetings” where Spotters tell us about something happening in their country. The goal is to learn more about each other, in line with the Spotted by Locals mission to increase understanding between different cultures.
So far we have sessions planned about the Belarus uprising (live from Minsk), British street art (live from Manchester) and the current war in Artsaksh (a.k.a. Nagorno-Karabakh) – live from Yerevan.
2. We are self-funded and financially flexible
Spotted by Locals was launched with the personal life savings of founders Sanne & Bart. We’ve never been financed by outside investors. Sometimes it’s hard not to be able to grow as rapidly as we want due to limited financial resources, but it feels so good to make big decisions fast and start executing them immediately. Especially in these times of crisis we feel very blessed to be 100% independent.
Our expenses are flexible. Sanne & Bart are the only “employees”. We work with freelancers for everything that we can’t do ourselves (which is a lot: creating content, editing, design, development…). We pay our writers a fixed percentage of the income, so less income also means considerably less expenses to Spotters.
Spotted by Locals has operated on a shoestring budget since 2008 and is run by owners who don’t care much about money and who live a low budget life. We have relocated to a cheaper place, sold some of our possessions and have saved for these rainy days.
The time is right for local travel
We think the COVID-19 crisis will make people want to travel to the type of cities that we have been focusing on: cities that are as amazing as the touristy cities, but way less crowded with tourists.
We think many people realized in this crisis that it feels so much better to spend your money at the locally owned spots that are having such a hard time nowadays (and who also pay taxes, while many multinationals like Starbucks do not).
As we are one of the few city guide networks focused on undiscovered cities, with always up-to-date tips and a “no international franchises allowed” policy, we think the time is right for Spotted by Locals. We’ve been ready for this moment since our launch in 2008!