Photo we need to stop taking on holiday
TECHNOLOGY has changed the way we travel. Smartphones, travellers' comments and photos, search engines and algorithms can all inspire and empower us to plan complex journeys all over the globe within minutes.
Planning and booking trips has always had an element of risk. One has to commit upfront - there is no sample to try before you buy, and no returns policy. It is not surprising that people increasingly rely on social media and networks to identify, evaluate and select their preferred destination and suppliers.
But it has evolved to the point where many social media users will ask themselves a set of new questions. Is it the trendy and fashionable place that you want to be "seen" travelling? Is this a place you won't be embarrassed to share with your followers?
IN TRIPADVISOR WE TRUST
Increasingly, TripAdvisor is the starting point for information (photos, videos, comments, blogs) for choosing a travel destination, particularly among millennials.
Travel inspired by social media has gained popularity because it saves time and reduces the purchase risk of travellers when searching for travel information and planning their trip.
The universal penetration of smartphones has created the "always switched-on" tourists, who use their devices to share travel experiences on the spot and in real time.
For many people, mobile phones have become their external brain when on the road. However, in some cases, continuous mobile phone use on holidays has led to tourists anthropomorphising their devices, seeing them as personal travel companions.
'SELFIE GAZE' TOURISTS
These "selfie gaze" tourists see and experience the destination largely through their cameras and the comments and feedback they receive on their posts.
In this sense, their satisfaction does not depend on the quality of the destination and experience, but on how well they manage impressions and attract "likes".
The perception that "everyone is watching me" has also changed the way people consume places and what they see and how they behave at a destination. This is because online profiles and posts have to be carefully managed by tourists to highlight positive attributes, socially desirous experiences and present a more idealised self.
Selfie-gaze tourists do not only participate in tourism photography - they also artificially create it. Such tourists engage in the performance of various intimate relations (hugging family members) and facial expressions to externalise emotions (duck face).
Thus, gone are the days that destinations had control of their image making and communication. Once used as a travel memory, social media has converted personal photography to a significant source of travel inspiration and the most popular way of online communication, self-expression and identity formation.
More than 220 million photographs on Instagram carry the hashtag #selfie and more than 330 million with #me. People go to such trouble to get the perfect picture of themselves, but in their quest for an image of authenticity, it ends up being created in a moment that is artificial.
Tourists get killed, condemned by priests or arrested by police for insulting local culture and people, or they disturb local nature.
Attractions around the world, including all Disney sites, Buckingham Palace and New York's the Met, have banned the use of selfie sticks for the physical protection of other tourists.
In the quest of self-promotion, tourists share fake and unrealistic information. This could include "checking in" to places they haven't been or pretending to be happy despite staying in terrible conditions.
While this online behaviour biases others in their travel decisions, tourists continue doing it believing it doesn't harm anyone. But it can distort the real travel experience and give people false expectations about destinations.
Tourism marketers spend more and more of their marketing budget on influencer marketing, a strategy referring to the use of celebrities and online opinion leaders to post favourable content for a brand.
The influencer market is now a multibillion-dollar industry. Over one-third of marketers now spend over $640,000 a year on influencer marketing and $326 million is spent per month just for Instagram posts by influencers. Almost half (48 per cent) of recently surveyed marketers expect their influencer marketing budgets to increase in 2017.
Research shows that it is not age, but the dark triad of personality traits - narcissism, Machiavellianism and psychopathy - that push people to pursue selfie glory regardless of the result.
Selfie-gaze tourism also leads to conspicuous consumption in which tourists travel to destinations and perform experiences in front of the camera to display economic power and attain or maintain social status.
DEEPER TOURISM EDUCATION NEEDED
Obviously, it's not useful to rail against basic human needs or deny the functional benefits of technology. What we need instead is a serious education of tourists and citizens for a mindful use of social media before and while travelling.
This is an area of research that urgently needs to be explored to ensure technology use does not negatively influence travellers' psychological, mental, emotional or even physical wellbeing.