- The spread of the coronavirus and an influx of travel bans have left YouTube content creators and their channels grounded as air travel falls out of favour with the public.
- Vloggers expressed their concerns as viewership is down and the crisis has prevented most from booking flights and creating new content for their channels in interviews with Business Insider.
- Established and growing channels alike have experienced a decline in viewership and revenue as the public’s fascination with aviation is temporarily put on hold with smaller channels the most vulnerable.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Some travellers love to fly, some hate it, and for others, it’s not a bad way to make a living or lucrative side hustle.
No matter how you view it, the airline industry will always remain a constant source of fascination for even the most infrequent of flyers thanks to the spectrum of offerings from airlines around the world.
Documenting these offerings is a growing subset of YouTube vloggers dedicated to showing the world the very best and worst of the airline industry. Differing from blogs that provide photo-based flight reviews, most airline vloggers are personalities who are as much in front of the camera as they are behind it, creating followings that can result in hundreds of thousands of subscribers and millions of views.
They’re all passionate aviation enthusiasts, also known as “avgeeks,” who have turned their passions into revenue-generating YouTube channels. For them, each flight is an opportunity to grow their following while sharing their passions.
The spread of the novel coronavirus across international boundaries, however, has resulted in a steep reduction in the demand for travel and it’s affected the YouTubers who rely on the public’s endless fascination with air travel to grow their channels and earn revenue.
Views have gone down across most Of these channels since the virus began impacting global travel in late February and early March.
“The tipping point was Italy closing its borders and the general fall in numbers has continued since then, plateauing in the last few days at 30-40% below expectations,” Paul Lucas, who runs the channel Wingin’ It! Paul Lucas on YouTube, a five-year-old channel, said.
Lucas’ channel, which has 186,000 subscribers, is his main source of income and the month of March has seen similar decrease in percentage of revenue as in viewership. The UK-based jet setter isn’t alone.
“Fewer people are watching the videos we make,” Jeb Brooks, founder of Jeb Brooks Flies with a subscriber base of 148,000 people, said. “According to [YouTube] data, our channel ordinarily gets more than 1 million views in a four-week period. That’s down to 675,000 for the last four weeks.”
The crisis creates a vicious cycle for the vloggers, who are sceptical about booking future flights but need to produce more content for the channels.
“We have cancelled all of our trips until and including the month of April,” David Pauritsch, who co-runs Simply Aviation, the second largest airline-focused YouTube channel with nearly 400,000 subscribers, said. “We continue to evaluate the situation as to whether our trips in May should be cancelled too.”
Without new content keeping channels fresh once the backlog runs out, the YouTube creators risk losing following and falling behind other channels. Larger channels with more frequent travels and greater backlogs can better weather the storm than smaller channels, but still expect to take a hit without new videos.
“We can continue to publish three new videos per week until at least the end of 2020 before running out of content,”Pauritsch said.
Many worry about being quarantined or having travel plans disrupted by a border closure or travel ban if they choose to take a trip.
Many countries have already closed borders to foreigners in one form or another with nations such as the USA and Canada, as well as the entirety of the European Union restricting who can come in.
Lucas said it’s not the fear of the virus that keeps him grounded, but the growing travel bans.
Most of the YouTubers are savvy travellers who, through a lifetime of travel for work or pleasure, have found ways to travel at a discounted cost whether it be through credit card perks, racking up points, or piecing together flight deals.
In the event of quarantine or situation where they find themselves stranded, some smaller or creators of lesser means may find themselves with unsalvageable trips and limited resources.
In the Southern Hemisphere, some creators are waiting months before they travel again as winter will soon be setting in below the equator.
“August,” Australia and Hong Kong-based Jayden Wong, founder of One World Flyer on YouTube, said when asked when he’ll fly again. “Winter is coming soon in Australia. I wouldn’t be surprised if the situation here gets worse.”
Wong’s channel has a subscriber base of nearly 37,000 but growth has stagnated in recent weeks as countless flights have been cancelled and travel bans take effect.
“New [subscribers] are significantly less, from 70-100 a day to 10-20,” Wong said, adding that he has a backlog that can only last him two to three months.
Vloggers are also torn on whether to continue posting at all as air travel has temporarily fallen out of favour with consumers and industry employees are laid off.
“I wouldn’t feel right uploading anyway because of my industry role while so many of my colleagues are hurting and soon likely to be losing jobs,” Dennis Bunnik said. He runs DennisBunnik Travels on YouTube with nearly 100,000 followers while also co-owning a group tour company that’s similar been affected by the crisis.
Recognising the entertainment value, some creators view their channels as a way to keep the public in good spirits during the crisis as well as continue to promote the spirit.
“I decided the world needs more joy and some people seem to enjoy my videos, so I decided to continue posting,” Brooks said. “What happens when I’m out of content if we’re still unable to travel? Well, time may tell.”
The crisis has also affected new channels with entrants concerned about the drop off in viewers affecting how YouTube promotes videos.
Julius Opaschowski runs Fly Around on YouTube and has been regularly uploading videos for the past three years. The college student only has around 3,200 subscribers and is concerned that the drop in viewership combined with a lack of planned future travel due to the uncertainty of the spread of the virus will bury his channel.
“As a smaller and still growing channel, it is vital to upload consistently to ensure that YouTube is not leaving you behind,” Opaschowski said. “If we can’t continue to travel and to record more videos, there is an excellent chance of being left behind.”
Opaschowski doesn’t know when he’ll resume flying as the COVID-19 crisis continue to rage and that’s he’s stopped looking for flight deals altogether.
Some creators were just starting to hit their stride as the crisis set in and experienced crippling hits to their growth.
The beginning of the year was looking positive for Blake Edgington, founder of Blake Edgington – Airborne. The aviation enthusiast started his channel in 2018 with reviews climbing consistently into the thousands.
“I experienced a surge in views with a 69% increase [in January and February] when compared to the preceding two months and reached the 5,000 subscriber milestone,” he said. “March has been difficult for my channel’s performance. I have seen a 20% reduction in views compared to the previous month which is something that my channel has not seen before.”
While continuing to post videos twice-weekly since the beginning of the month in the hopes of regaining that momentum, Edgington said he will have to resort to posting once every two weeks to preserve a steady flow of uploads for as long as possible.
Flight reviewers who also dabble in destination-focused videos have experienced some reprieve.
Andy McGinlay, founder of WeCanFly777 on YouTube, said that while his airline-focused content has experienced a downturn, his destination videos have been experiencing an increase in views.
“People are not searching for my flight reviews, rather my land blogs,” McGinlay said. “Videos about destinations, sights, and sounds are on the increase.”
Despite around 10,000 monthly views on average since the start of the virus, McGinlay says that his destination videos are doing better as people are cancelling trips but still want to “imagine the places they can travel,” without the flying aspect.
The creator, with nearly 24,000 subscribers, continues to book flights for the future but has held off on travelling as the virus spreads.
While most of the YouTubers have reduced their bookings, some of the flight deals caused by the COVID-19 downturn have been too good to pass up.
“I have booked one flight [since], a bargain Budapest to Honolulu trip for Jan 2021 [for] £450 return in business,” Lucas said. “But have no immediate plans to make any travel arrangements for the future.”
Most agree that this is a temporary crisis and that aviation will rebound once the virus has disappeared.
“I know aviation will come back,” Brooks said.