As a result of COVID-19, countries around the world have put in place heavy travel restrictions to help stop the spread of the virus.

However, these restrictions aren’t just affecting tourists; they’re also affecting people who work in the tourism-promoting industry. While some people see travelling as a luxury and non-essential, the people who devote their lives to that industry have been left jobless and/or hopeless – causing depression and anxiety. 

Keith Dobson, a clinical psychology professor at the University of Calgary, said the rates of both disorders have skyrocketed in the last year.  

“The psychological issue is mostly one of loss,” he says. “Either the loss of earnings, in some cases lost social contact, like friends that you can’t go and see and family you can’t go and see.”

Those feelings can be more acute for individuals for whom international travel is an everyday part of their work. 

“We see people who have lost opportunities, lost experiences and the loss of hope. In the short term, the ability to travel and the normal psychological response to losses is becoming sad and depressed,” said Dobson. 

This past year has also forced many of those individuals to find new jobs and branch out. The Calgary Journal sat down with several promoters to discuss what these closures have meant for not only their careers but for their mental health and what they’ve been doing to adapt to such major changes. 

Colin the creator 

Colin Dougan, 25, has been working as a content creator for five years. 

After briefly attending university he decided he would rather work and, before he knew it, he was succeeding at doing something he truly loved. In March 2020, when the pandemic hit, his whole world fell apart and Dougan was forced to shift his career and try new things.  

Over the years, Dougan has worked for festivals, tourism boards and as an ambassador for Canon. In the days before the pandemic, Dougan was always busy.  

“There was always stuff going on. Because I had experience in multiple industries, I was able to not only just jump from a commercial gig to a music festival to leaving the country but also going and doing tourism,” said Dougan.

In March, Dougan moved from Ontario to Alberta. That was supposed to be just a stopover before he moved to Hawaii for work. But, when the borders closed, he decided to make Calgary his home. 

“I didn’t know what to do for the first two weeks. I was really lost,” said Dougan. “I’d already risked so much to become a creator, and then for everything to just kind of fall apart right away was really devastating.” 

Realizing that attending shows and travelling the world was not going to be an option for a while, Dougan decided to focus his energy on new projects. 

“I realized I did have the potential to still help people. I figured there’s probably a lot of people feeling the exact same way I was. After the first shutdown, I managed to pivot it into a new challenge to see if I could make the most out of things.”

Instead of doing promotional work for brands, he focused on making “how to” videos and posting them to his social media accounts — something he had started doing just before the pandemic.

His YouTube channel now contains dozens of instructional videos, which includes how to take and edit photos, how to use Adobe programs and how to get Instagram followers.  

Dougan spent hundreds of hours developing content for his channel in the hopes Youtube would monetize it, meaning he would get paid when people watched his videos. To do so, a creator must have 1,000 subscribers within one year and at least 4,000 hours of watch time on their channel. 

It took him just over two years but Dougan finally got the pay off he’s been looking for. 

“I’ve been spending hours and hours, for free, as much as I can afford, in order to get my YouTube going in order to create a passive income,” he said. 

Despite that income, Dougan found himself sinking. He was making less than half his regular income, and even with the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, he was struggling to pay rent. 

“Right now I’m just kind of scrambling to figure out what I can do for work, so I can make sure I pay my rent. I’m doing my best to stay afloat and create opportunities for myself,” said Dougan. 

After months of being in physical pain, he went to the hospital and had X-rays done. In the end, it turned out that pain was a buildup of stress and anxiety that he’d been holding onto for so long.  

 Colin Dougan eyeing up the camera while getting some stills for his social media accounts in Jasper, Alta. PHOTO: SCOTT BAKKEN

“It was a wake up call that I was probably storing a lot of stress that I just hadn’t come to terms with.”

Despite not being able to travel from country to country like normal, Dougan has been exploring new places in Canada and says he’s grateful for the Alberta landscape. Most of his recent social media posts have come from exploring the mountains and lakes. 

Just when he thought there was no travel in sight, Dougan was offered a job in Mexico to promote diving. While he knew there were some risks involved with travelling, he said the opportunity was too good to pass up.  

“As soon as I decided that I would go, the rapid testing got announced, which was amazing, such a blessing,” he said.

Miss Wanderlust 

Karlie Marrazzo, 35, started her travel blog Miss Wanderlust when she was 28 years old. 

The blog began after she made it her goal to visit 30 countries before she turned 30. Marrazzo quickly beat her goal, visiting 32 countries before her 29th birthday. 

Despite doing so, she kept her blog going, adding to it whenever she was able to take time off her from her office job. Marrazzo said she really missed travelling and having to cancel a big trip to Italy last April was a huge disappointment. 

“When I travel to Italy, it’s more for the ancestral pull within me. I travel there more so to explore my heritage,” said Marrazzo, whose 2016 trip there included visiting her ancestral village Donnici Superiore where her nonna was born. “I have been to Italy four times, and being in touch with, and further discovering, my heritage is very important to me.”

Karlie Marrazzo, otherwise known as Miss Wanderlust, on a quintessential Alberta road trip. PHOTO: KARLIE MARRAZZO

Since she wasn’t able to travel internationally last year, Marrazzo took full advantage of her surroundings.  

“I’ve always been a big supporter of travelling locally in Alberta; I love taking road trips. I don’t think you have to travel across the world to find something amazing,” said Marrazzo.  

However, her end goal is to get back to international travel. 

“Traveling is a privilege so I don’t complain about it, and I don’t whine about not being able to travel but it definitely sparks my soul to travel. It’s definitely hard to not have something to look forward to,” she said.  

Marrazzo said not being able to book a trip or write for her blog has affected her mental health.

“I’m a bit of an anxious person and now I’m stuck in my home where I live alone,” she said. “It’s definitely hard to not have something to look forward to or to have a very vague comprehension of when this will all end.” 

Marrazzo said she’s been focusing on local places to write about, just to keep her occupied while borders remain closed.

The part time travel photographer

Ananaya Ray, 30, used to spend all her vacation time travelling the world as a photographer. She found herself working as an ambassador for Sony cameras and was able to work on multiple assignments for tourism boards. But all that came to a halt when the pandemic forced almost all international borders to close. 

In her day job, Ray works full-time as an accountant. She added a side gig to that after a tourism board in Norway messaged her about doing some freelance work for them.

Not only was photography job a great way to make a secondary income, but it also funded her passion for travel.

Before the pandemic, Ray fielded offers from many companies and chose whether to take them based on their pros and cons, such as the length of the trip and the costs to her personal expenses. Because travel photography was her side job, she had to choose carefully which opportunity was best for her. She had no idea that picking the right job wouldn’t be an issue for much longer. 

Back in February 2020, Ray visited Puerto Rico to promote local hotels and said it was hard to accept the idea that it was going to be her last trip for a while. 

She had a trip booked to Kyoto, Japan, for October 2020, but it was pushed back due to the pandemic. As of right now, she said she’s waiting to hear if she can go this year.  According to Ray, the inability to travel has not only affected her income but also her mental health.  

“I find that travelling you just have so much freedom, you can do so many things. I miss that so much, it’s definitely affected my mental health,” said Ray. 

Despite the struggles and disappointments of 2020, Ray said she does see some possible good coming from the changes implemented due to Covid.

Ray said she feels airplanes and travel hubs are more likely safer now with the new rules.

“Normally, I find it to be kind of grungy [travelling on a plane]. But, now the fact that they sterilize everything makes you feel a little bit more comforted,” she said. 

Thanks to her travels, Ray is no stranger to quarantining. 

Overlooking an iconic spot in the Faroe Islands. PHOTO: ANANYA RAY

During a visit to South Africa when the Ebola outbreak was taking place, Ray was required to get vaccinated and quarantine and said she appreciated the precautions. 

“I honestly didn’t have a bad experience during the Ebola outbreak. They were really, really cautious, and I appreciated that because they were not only trying to make the citizens safe but also the people who were landing safe,” said Ray. 

With that said, Ray acknowledges the challenges that accompany the new quarantine rules and said she doesn’t think it’s feasible to travel at the moment. 

“If I’m travelling half the time and quarantining the other, it kind of seems like a waste of a vacation,” said Ray.  

She’s fearful that travelling will become even more challenging as global restrictions continue to change.

Not everyone understands the importance put on travel but, for people like Ray, it’s about living and making the most of life while they have the chance. After being able to make money off of doing something she truly loves, Ray said she feels extremely thankful and has been reflecting a lot on her past trips. 

Looking back, she said she’s glad she made spontaneous decisions to travel because she has no idea when she’ll be back to doing what she loves. 

Back in 2019, Ray took a last minute trip to Australia for New Year’s Eve, and it was one of the best decisions she’s ever made.  

“I wasn’t even gonna take the job because I was thinking it’s gonna suck like it was a really short job. But in the end it was so dope, and like this year’s New Year’s (2020) I was sitting at home with people playing zoom games.”

This story appears in our March/April print issue. You can find the Calgary Journal at newsstands across the city or you can check out the digital version here.