By Sanjana Idnani, Travel Sub-editor, Tom Marland, 3rd Year Politics and International Relations Student
The Croft // In a post Covid-19 world, the future of travel remains uncertain. Whilst the gradual opening up of borders spells good news for hopeful holidaymakers, the myriad of travel restrictions continues to play havoc on the logistics side of travel planning.
Luckily, Tom Marland, a third-year Politics and International Relations student - noting the lack of guidance about Covid-19 travel online - clubbed together with five friends to launch a website designed to make trip planning easier. The result was Lockdown Index : a database full of up to date travel information. We reached out to Tom to learn more about this venture.
Elaborating on the main function of the site, Tom told The Croft that ‘the premise of Lockdown Index is to provide British Travellers with the essential information they need when looking to travel abroad during this era of coronavirus.’
He emphasised that he and his team wanted to make information accessible and digestible: Lockdown Index notes whether a country’s border is ‘open’, ‘restricted’ or ‘closed’, and then provides further information on whether galleries, beaches, bars etc. are operating as normal. The use of a five-star ranking system allows for further comparison between destinations.
We asked Tom about how he and his team set about getting the site up and running within the three weeks that it took to take Index from concept to reality.
In those first few Index days, Tom told Travel, the whole team was focused primarily on research: gathering what the Bristol student deemed an ‘initial set of data on every country in the world’. Once the nuts and bolts were sorted, Tom and his friends ‘established clearer roles.’ The team provides its own marketing, tech, press management and API sales - with 1-2 people working on each department. Now, alongside updating information for 5-6 counties, Tom tells us he is mainly ‘responsible for the financial side of things.’
The Lockdown Index’s website is navigable, quick, and has some interesting features, including the interactive map with which any visitor to the site is first presented, which Tom told us was mainly down to his friend Jake Blumenow, a student at Aston University.
Tom emphasised that he and his team wanted to make information accessible and digestible
‘[Jake] has been great in getting the site up and running as well as dealing with any issues we have faced. We have only had to outsource limited amounts on the tech side and this mainly when we were getting the site set up.’
Lockdown Index has been a great success, gaining 14000 visitors in its first week and 18000 in its second week. When asked if he had any tips for students looking to set up their own website, Tom recommended that ‘when trying to get in touch with other companies, media outlets or potential clients who can assist in the growth of your company, don’t be afraid to call up and ask, go beyond just emailing/messaging them and try talking to someone. If your product/service is good enough, they will want to listen and likely be able to help your business grow.’
When discussing the future of Index, Tom said that they were ‘looking into selling our API to other travel companies and agents who may want to use our data on their website [...] This will allow us to remain free from advertisements and allow users to get the best possible experience on our site.’
The team also want to expand the blog feature , which currently elaborates on what each country has to offer and provides answers to any FAQs. In the future, they are looking to ‘take on submissions based on individual first-hand experiences.’
Tom is also keen to keep up the Lockdown Index’s partnership with Student Travel Tips; set up by fellow Bristol student Alfie Laurence, Tips provides travel advice for students going on a year abroad like Tom himself.
We were curious to know if Tom is concerned about the uncertainty surrounding the sector, his view on the future of UK travel - and if taking on a project has helped him through his own experience of lockdown. Responding to the sudden news that British travellers returning from Spain would have to quarantine for 14 days, Tom said: ‘Spain is one of the most visited countries by UK tourists, so we update it daily due to the ever-changing nature of the virus. We are all following the news and checking government websites across the globe to ensure we remain up to date. One useful part of the site is that users are able to suggest a change if they believe the information on a specific country may have changed.’
Tom admitted that the newly announced quarantine measures post travel to Spain have somewhat dampened his optimism about the future of travel, commenting that the way ‘it was suddenly implemented will cause an increase in uncertainty over whether to travel or not.’ However, he will be moving to Copenhagen in three weeks and is trying to stay positive: whatever the near future holds for Denmark’s capital, Tom plans on blogging about his experience of it.
When talking about what this project meant to him, Tom told us he ‘had direct family suffering badly from the virus [and that] this has been a great way to channel my efforts once my uni work was finished and give some sense of structure to my days.’
Tom didn’t end up going away on a trip for himself this summer because he was busy managing the website, but tells us he is happy that he can keep travellers ‘well informed about where they can go’ and ‘help others plan their own trips this summer.’
Featured Image : Lockdown Index's homepage / Epigram