Telum Talks To... Chester Chin, Journalist, Features, The Star

Telum Talks To... Chester Chin, Journalist, Features, The Star

As a journalist who dives into travel beat, what brings you joy in covering the beat?
Travel brings joy to many people, so it might seem like I have the most fun job in the world. But the reality is, I do not travel that much. In my role, I try to pursue more issue-based stories related to travel, tourism and hospitality. I have written feature stories about travel for the visually impaired, how holidays boost our mental health, the growth of Muslim travel, how hotels can better cater to healthcare travellers, the need for centralised vaccination passports, and balancing heritage tourism, just to name a few. They are all still inherently travel stories, despite the fact that they are not your usual destination pieces. I get a sense of joy in giving readers a different perspective when it comes to travel.

Getting recognised for your work is a good feeling, and I was fortunate to be awarded for my medical tourism reporting twice at the Medical Travel Media Awards by the Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council (MHTC). That being said, my travel assignments over the years have been pretty amazing too. From staying at a haunted hotel in a small town in Louisiana, United States, snorkelling in Palawan's El Nido to exploring an active volcano in New Zealand and going on a sunrise hot air balloon tour in Australia's Gold Coast, my job has exposed me to some truly life-changing experiences.

How would you plan your content for The Star's travel section on a weekly basis?
The past two years amid the pandemic and various phases of the Movement Control Order (MCO) have been especially taxing. Although travel was at a complete standstill, so many things were happening too — stranded travellers, tourism bubbles, the reopening of tourism (and subsequent closure following a spike in COVID-19 cases), sanitised travel, vaccination passport, multiple hotel closures, to name a few. On the reporting front at least, I had to constantly be on alert, which was made even more challenging by a very fluid situation. Planning travel-related content amid a pandemic was incredibly tough, but it was also a great learning curve for me as a journalist. I am fortunate to work with my editor who has always been very receptive to my ideas. Now that travel has resumed again, we have started highlighting destination stories. But it is still early, and we are continuously monitoring the travel landscape.

                                        One of Chester Chin's victory at Medical Travel Media Awards 2019
                                                     One of Chester Chin's victory at Medical Travel Media Awards 2019

What are some of the important elements that you would consistently incorporate in your travel pieces?
It is easy to assume that travel writing is all about descriptive prose and top holiday tips. A good destination feature, in my opinion, is more than just recommending the best places to go or things to do. That is drafting an itinerary, which readers can find in many other travel apps or guidebooks. When it comes to my travel pieces, I make it a point to incorporate people and unique experiences. I think it is always good to talk to the local community to get their perspectives too. And of course, travel is very experiential. I am always looking out for that 'Aha!' moment when I travel to share with readers. These could be discovering the "God Light" phenomenon inside a cave in Dabong, Kelantan, or travelling up the hilly terrains of Doi Pha Mee in Chiang Rai, Thailand to observe the age-old traditions of the local tribe.

Given that Malaysia has fully reopened its interstate and international borders, what are some of your observations in terms of trends and patterns of our travellers as we enter the endemic phase, in contrast to the pre-COVID era?
Based on my conversations with avid travellers and local tourism stakeholders, post-pandemic travel in the near future will still be stifled by ever-changing travel rules. There is still no uniformity in global travel, with travel requirements differing from one country to another. These include things like pre-departure and arrival testing as well as COVID-19 insurance coverage. All these lead to added costs for travellers. Granted, many countries are beginning to relax these measures now.

Personally, I have travelled twice in the past six months (Bangkok / Ayutthaya in December last year and Manila / El Nido last month). Going through the pre-departure process of ensuring I have all the right documents (vaccination cert, negative COVID-19 result, to name a few) and triple-checking travel requirements were frankly quite stressful.

That being said, there is a lot of pent-up demand among Malaysians for international travel. The good news is that travel rules were further eased recently in Malaysia as the country moves forward to the endemic phase. But until more uniformity is achieved in international travel, domestic tourism seems like the safest bet for many.

How can PR and comms practitioners play their role in supporting travel journalists and boosting the tourism sector better?
It boils down to newsworthiness. If you give us something exciting to report on that could give added value to our readers, chances are we will develop that story.

                                        
                                        One of Chester's experiences as a travel journalist: working at a paddy field in Thailand

What are some rising tourism trends that more brands and organisations should keep an eye on?
Sustainability will be a driving force in tourism and hospitality, with travellers (especially Gen Zs) being more conscious of their impact on the environment. Many big travel and hospitality companies have jumped on this bandwagon of sustainable travel. But at the same time, there is this notion that only the affluent globetrotters can afford sustainable travel. Moving forward, the challenge for travel organisations is to make sustainable travel attainable by all travellers. The past two years of travel restrictions have encouraged many of us to reflect and find a deeper purpose. Now that we can travel again, many people would want to have meaningful holidays that have a positive impact on the community and destinations they visit. And really, travellers should not have to pay more to do better for the world.

What is your most favourite travel piece so far, and favourite travel destination that you have conquered or about to visit soon?
I treat all my travel pieces with a sense of care. But I would say the issue-based stories that are more in-depth (I call these stories my reporting bonanzas) are the ones I'm most proud of. The Star is home to many great reporters, and I am always motivated to perform better when I see them uphold good journalism. I am thankful to have seasoned reporters who have mentored me. Moving forward, I hope to be in a position where I can provide mentorship to younger writers.

As for my favourite destination, I suppose you can read all about it in The Star, or connect with me on LinkedIn to find out more.

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  • Chester Chin
  • The Star
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  • The Star StarLifestyle
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