Selfie tourism is changing the experience of traveling for many people – and not necessarily in a positive way. Shutterstock
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 tourism has always had an element of risk. One has to commit upfront – there is no sample to try before you buy, and no return policy. It is not surprising that people increasingly rely on social media content and networks to identify, evaluate and select their preferred tourism destination and suppliers.
But even if the final destination is beautiful, many social media users will now ask themselves a set of new questions. Is it the trendy and fashionable place that you want to be “seen” travelling? It this a place won’t be embarrassed to share this with your peers and followers online?
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 tourism experiences on the spot and in real time. Identifying, searching and sharing tourism experiences and information have been identified as the two top major ways in which social media has transformed tourism.
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, by attributing them human characteristics and perceiving them as personal travel companions.
These “selfie gaze” tourists see and experience the destination largely through their cameras and the comments and feedback that they receive to 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” and positive comments.
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.
A tourist takes a selfie picture at Times Square in New York. Reuters
Selfie gaze tourists do not only participate in touristic 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.