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?
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.
Read more: Selfie is not a dirty word
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.
‘Selfie gaze’ tourists
These so-called “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” and positive comments.
The perception that those taking the selfie are being widely viewed 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 touristic photography – they also artificially create it. One example of this is the infamous “duck-face” photo that so frequently appears in social media feeds.
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.
Instagram hosts more than 220 million photographs hashtagged with #selfie and more than 330 million hashtagged with #me. People go to such trouble to get the perfect picture of themselves — creating at least a moment that is artificial – in their quest for an image of authenticity.
EU countries have banned selfies at major landmarks such as Eiffel Tower, while attractions and museums ban the use of selfie sticks for the physical protection of other tourists.
In the quest of self-promotion and the search of an idealised tourism experience, my research shows how 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.
Although this deviant online behaviour biases and dilutes 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 has been estimated as having a value of US$10 to US$15 billion in 2017.
More than one-third of marketers now spend more than US$500,000 a year on it, and influencer posts on Instagram alone are worth US$255 million a month. Another recent survey of marketers found that almost half (48%) anticipate their influencer marketing budgets will rise 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 lead 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. But 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.
This article has been amended since its original publication. Several references have been changed to include more accurate references and links. Some phrasing has also been changed to distinguish it more clearly from that of the reference it draws on.
Big cities and places with internationally renowned attractions have long been the most popular tourist destinations. Even today, Chinese tour companies in Australia, for instance, mostly focus on the biggest cities – Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane – and landmarks like Uluru. But modern tourism is starting to take a slightly different path, regional travel, which creates economic benefits for towns and also leaves tourists with a better impression of a country.
Unpublished research undertaken by one of us (Elizabeth Turenko) while working as a tour leader in Ukraine in 2013-2014 confirmed this. Feedback from guests travelling on a group tour to Europe showed 80% preferred to visit “well-known” large cities, mostly capitals, when it came to choosing a tour.
Most of the time, though, these tourists were disappointed because the cities did not live up to their expectations. But, the study revealed, 75% of tourists enjoyed travelling to smaller towns when they did decide to visit them as part of a tour.
Big cities are losing their local flavour
There is no doubt the major cities are attractive and are still perceived as the essence of a country for many tourists. Yet the question remains: are these cities actually showing the “real country”? At a time of globalisation and global cities, to what extent do the larger cities still give tourists “the taste” of local culture.
In the past five years tourism has seen some big changes. Large numbers of travellers have lost interest in cookie-cutter restaurants, lodging and attractions. Instead, they want local food, local attractions and connection to the lifestyles of local people.
The best places to experience that are often small local towns and villages. Here life hasn’t yet been adapted to tourist needs and the authenticity feels right.
Turenko also investigated the tourists’ preferences during a group bus tour in Europe. The main program involved a one-day visit to Amsterdam and a second day on which tourists could spend their free time in Amsterdam or go on a group trip to Volendam, a small town 20km away. The 90% of the group who opted for the town visit were very satisfied with their decision.
So, was there anything special about Volendam? Not really.
Much like many small towns in the Netherlands, Volendam has limited tourist attractions, these being mostly its built heritage (wooden buildings) and cultural assets (a museum and a cheese factory). When surveyed, the visitors explained they enjoyed the glimpse into the local culture and the routine life of the locals.
The tourists appreciated going to local shops and eating at local restaurants far away from standardised brands and international franchises. They felt they could feel the “soul” of the country.
At the time of this 2014 survey, cities and holidays at the coast were the main attractions for visitors to the Netherlands (36% and 22%, respectively). But interest in the countryside and touring the Netherlands (12% and 10%, respectively) has been increasing.
Finding a local tourism niche
Let’s be frank: smaller towns and villages have not been dormant, and many have jumped at the opportunities offered by tourism. We all have heard about farm holidays, horse riding, wine tasting tours, nature guided walks and so on.
Building on this, innovative regional tourism practices have been recognised worldwide for displaying a breadth of approaches and end products. A good example in Ireland is Ballyhoura, “a world where the little pleasures of sharing everyday things with the locals in Ballyhoura – talking with them, walking with them and sharing a joke – is possibly the greatest attraction of them all!”
Despite a lack of outstanding tourism resources, the area became a successful tourism destination thanks to a very personalised marketing method. Visitors even received a welcoming letter. The focus on “promoting a genuine rural experience and warm welcome” creates an incentive for more local start-up enterprises and for a co-operative, closing-the-loop process of quality control.
Longreach and Winton are Australian towns that have taken advantage of distinctive local histories and features such as old mines and fossil beds. Longreach has the Australian Stockman’s Hall of Fame and the Qantas Founders Museum, while Winton’s Australian Age of Dinosaurs Museum offers “products” of the natural environment such as dinosaur stamps and bones.
Yet all attempts have not been met with success. Many smaller towns are slowly disappearing in Australia. Main streets with closed shops and abandoned business are not uncommon.
The combination of lack of employment and population ageing and loss is a chicken-and-egg situation. The various levels of government are acutely aware of this, and tourism offers a possible way out of the dilemma facing these towns. Several recent initiatives have shown how tourism can contribute to the development of these areas when innovation, expertise and community participation are brought together.
Charleville in far west Queensland offers a great example of this, with the outback town working on making the most of its clear nighttime skies, far from the city lights. An extension to the Cosmos Centre and Observatory, funded by state and local governments, has boosted visitor numbers in just one year. The extension displays fun and serious facts about planets and life in space, enhanced by interactive media.
For the town of fewer than 4,000 people, the growth in tourism is like a nice spring rain after a long dry season. It’s another reminder of why rural tourism can be “the perfect small town business idea”.
Native species are particularly vulnerable on islands, because when invaders such as rats arrive, the native species have nowhere else to go and may lack the ability to fend them off.
The main characteristic of an island is its isolation. Whether just off the coast or hundreds of kilometres from the nearest land, they stand on their own. Because of their isolation, islands generally have a unique array of plant and animal species, many of which are found nowhere else. And that makes all islands one of a kind.
However, islands, despite being geographically isolated, are now part of a network. They are globally connected to the outside world by planes, boats and people. Their isolation has been breached, offering a pathway for introduced species to invade.
The Galapagos Islands, 1,000km off the coast of Ecuador, provide a great example. So far, 1,579 introduced species have been documented on the Galapagos Islands, of which 98% arrived with humans, either intentionally or accidentally.
More than 70% of these species have arrived since the 1970s – when Galapagos first became a tourist destination – an average of 27 introduced species per year for the past 40 years.
Introduced species – plants or animals that have been artificially brought to a new location, often by humans – can damage native fauna and flora. They are among the top threats to biodiversity worldwide, and one of the most important threats to oceanic islands. The Convention on Biological Diversity has a dedicated target to help deal with them and their means of arrival. The target states that:
by 2020, invasive alien species and pathways are identified and prioritised, priority species are controlled or eradicated and measures are in place to manage pathways to prevent their introduction and establishment.
The Galapagos Islands are home to giant tortoises, flightless cormorants, and the iconic Darwin’s finches – species that have evolved in isolation and according to the differing characteristics of each of the islands.
However, the Galapagos’ natural attributes have also made these islands a top tourist destination. Ironically enough, this threatens the survival of many of the species that make this place so unique.
Humans on the rise
In 1950 the Galapagos Islands had just 1,346 residents, and no tourists. In 2015 more than 220,000 visitors travelled to the islands. These tourists, along with the 25,000 local residents, need to have most of their food and other goods shipped from mainland Ecuador.
These strengthening links between Galapagos and the mainland have opened up pathways for the arrival and spread of introduced species to the archipelago, and between its various islands.
Plants were the most common type of introduced species, followed by insects. The most common pathway for species introduction unintentionally was as a contaminant on plants. A few vertebrates have also been recorded as stowaways in transport vehicles, including snakes and opossums; whilst others have been deliberately introduced in the last decade (such as Tilapia, dog breeds and goldfishes).
The number, frequency and geographic origin of alien invasion pathways to Galapagos have increased through time. Our research shows a tight relationship between the number of pathways and the ongoing increase in human population in Galapagos, from both residents and tourists.
For instance, the number of flights has increased from 74 flights a week in 2010 to 107 in 2015; the number of airplane passengers has also increased through time with about 40% being tourists, the remainder being Galapagos residents or transient workers.
Global connections between Galapagos and the outside world have also increased, receiving visitors from 93 countries in 2010 to 158 in 2014. In 2015 and 2016, the Galapagos Biosecurity Agency intercepted more than 14,000 banned items, almost 70% of which were brought in by tourists.
We think it likely that intentional introductions of alien species will decline when biosecurity is strengthened. However, with tourists as known vectors for introduced species and with tourism much the largest and fastest growing sector of the local economy, unintentional introductions to Galapagos will almost certainly increase further.
If islands are to be kept as islands, isolated in the full sense of the word, it is of high priority to manage their invasion pathways. Our research aims to provide technical input to local decision makers, managers and conservation bodies working in Galapagos in order to minimise a further increase on the number of available pathways to Galapagos and the probable likelihood of new arrivals. Our next step is to evaluate how local tourism boats are connecting the once isolated islands within Galapagos, as a way to minimise further spread of harmful introduced species to this UNESCO World Heritage Site.
New Zealand is one of 36 global hotspots for biodiversity. Its unique wildlife is a major draw card for tourists.
About three million international visitors arrive in New Zealand each year, adding NZ$15 billion to the economy. At least half explore a national park or protected area (PA), but they contribute very little to these conservation lands.
Government policies implemented since 2009 as part of a “conservation economy” vision aimed to stimulate economic growth by opening up business access to national parks.
Contracts have been granted with an expectation that businesses that benefit from New Zealand’s natural capital would bring environmental and infrastructural gains. My research finds no evidence of such improvements. Here I propose how businesses could help to make nature tourism more sustainable.
Challenge of saving threatened species
Globally, biodiversity is in crisis. Experts agree that the world is undergoing its sixth mass extinction.
In New Zealand, a third of the land area is protected. Many animals and plants are found nowhere else, but 80% of the country’s native bird species are in trouble.
Biodiversity conservation in PAs is funded primarily from the state budget. Historically, the appropriations for the Department of Conservation (DOC) have been too small to tackle the challenge of protecting some 2800 species considered to be endangered, at risk of extinction or vulnerable.
The contribution of tourism to DOC’s budgets has so far been below 9%. This includes concession fees from tourism operators approved to access PAs, user fees for huts and other facilities, donations and sponsorships.
Conservative budgets for protected areas
Funding cuts are reported around the world, particularly under neoliberal or conservative governments. Stagnant or diminishing budgets sometimes occur despite growing visitor numbers and ambitious tourism growth targets.
The previous New Zealand government aimed to lift the contributions from natural resources to 40% of GDP by 2025. DOC has been asked to prioritise spending on tourism-related operations over biodiversity spending such as pest control and species recovery programmes. This is inconsistent with the agency’s legislative mandate.
New Zealand law does not allow charging entry fees for PAs. Attempts to change that have been met with opposition from recreation groups and some tourism businesses. Tax instruments are generally opposed by the tourism industry.
Regulatory options for sustainable tourism
Concessions and planning are powerful tools for an ecologically sustainable use of PAs. Several regulatory approaches could help reverse biodiversity decline, while enhancing the environmental performance of tourism.
Concession contracts could include responsibilities that reflect the latest developments in conservation practice. Such contracts would need to be followed by adequate monitoring and enforcement. This has been used for some time in several countries, including Australia, Canada, Chile, Rwanda, South Africa and the United States. In these countries, concession contracts are also regularly revised to ensure businesses keep apace with environmental innovation, new ecological threats and changing pressures from visitors.
Concession applicants could be selected for their environmental track record and the most deserving environmental design of tourism services. Options here are tenders or auctions, which are already used in the countries mentioned above. Other methods should be used in parallel to ensure that small businesses are not disadvantaged. In the United States, the legal framework for concessions has been revised in 2010 to ensure this doesn’t happen.
The planning of tourism development needs to be sufficiently specific to the ecosystems in each zone. Under a concession plan, authorities determine the ideal location of particular tourism activities and maximum numbers of tourists and tourism operators. Recently, authorities have restricted the number of tourism operators allowed to operate in the Haleakala National Park in Hawai’i to only four, based on a concession management plan aiming to ensure environmentally and culturally acceptable tourism.
Such planning is already practised in many countries, including Australia (Queensland, Western Australia), Canada, Rwanda and Argentina.
Best practice for doing business
Currently, New Zealand is not using best practice in regulation and planning. Concession contracts are designed on a “do no harm” approach. The culture has been that if concessionaires rectify and mitigate environmental effects, then all should be fine.
The 1987 Conservation Act enables DOC to insert environmental responsibilities and requirements. However, the analysis of 30 concession contracts and tens of official documents reveals that compliance with more generic environmental regulations is typically deemed sufficient. In addition, DOC’s performance on monitoring and enforcing concessions has raised many complaints, even from tourism operators.
Even more problematic is that DOC mostly uses the non-competitive “first-come first-served” method to allocate concessions in PA plans that do not use visitation quotas, except for a few tracks and sensitive sites, such as caves or wetlands.
The cumulative impact of approved concessions has led to a number of tourism hotspots in several national parks. For example, helicopter landings have increased dramatically in the Fiordland and Westland National Parks. The famous Tongariro Crossing track is now used by thousands of visitors on any day with reasonable weather.
However, DOC views this as a social carrying capacity issue. The government needs to demonstrate concern by implementing innovative regulatory and planning instruments with proven effectiveness. If a government cannot ask businesses that profit from access to a country’s most precious lands to use the best available environmental practices to manage biodiversity, then who can it ask?
In my American youth, there was a rude phrase describing kids acting up: “showing your butt”. It seems some tourists are now taking this literally.
Recently, tourists have been stripping down and photographing themselves at the world’s iconic locations to the bewilderment of some and the disgust of others. Social media is abuzz as tourists get snaps of their uncovered backsides at national parks, on top of mountains, and at World Heritage sites.
The desire to reveal one’s naked glory is not a new thing, as streakers at sporting events and the devotees of nude beaches and nudist camps demonstrate. But this trend of “naked tourism” reveals something more than just bare bottoms – and it may call for some active interventions.
Exposing the reasons for baring it all
In 2010, a French-born exotic dancer filmed herself stripping on the sacred monolith Uluru in central Australia. Some labelled this a “publicity grab”.
In early 2015, three young Frenchmen were charged with public exposure and pornography, given suspended sentences, fined, deported and banned from visiting Cambodia for four years after stripping down at Angkor Wat.
Lest we think this is a French thing, North Americans and Australians have bared their backsides at Machu Picchu in Peru. This led CNN to warn tourists to “watch out for bare butts”.
In the selfie era, attention-seeking and shock value are clear individual motivations. But perhaps there is more to it.
Social media is certainly encouraging the practice. A good example of this is the Naked At Monuments Facebook page, which describes its purpose as “we get naked around the world”. There is also the My Naked Trip blog. Together, these indicate naked tourism may be an emerging trend rather than an oddity.
Insulting the host community
Some travellers may forget that where they travel is not their home, and that cultural sensitivities may differ greatly.
While some cultures view revealing the body and its parts as an act of appreciation, others have quite different views. When tourists insist on imposing their values against their hosts’ wishes, profound emotions can be sparked. These may included anger, dismay and hurt.
In response to the stripping performance on Uluru, Aboriginal performer Jimmy Little communicated the hurt such a disrespectful act can inflict:
We are a proud race like every race in the world. We have sacred sites and we have deep beliefs that if people cross that line, they’re really almost spitting in your face, or slapping you in the face and saying ‘I can live my life the way I want to’.
In the Angkor Wat case, local authorities acted with some anger at the insult to the ancient, sacred temple complex. A spokeswoman for the Apsara Authority, the agency that manages Angkor Wat, said:
The temple is a worship site and their behaviour is inappropriate. They were nude.
How to (ad)dress this issue
The first line of defence is regulations with penalties that are enforced.
In the Angkor Wat case, the governing authorities enforced strong penalties on the young men for their actions. But for countries dependent on tourism, it takes considerable will to go down this path. The ongoing tolerance of bikinis on beaches in Muslim countries – albeit sometimes on restricted sites such as gated resorts or islands – attests to this.
Tourism between cultures is a moral space as much as it is a commercial one. The question is: in a time of creeping commercialism, individualism and me-oriented cultures, how can we ensure the cross-cultural encounters of tourism are respectful of the host’s cultures and values?
Codes of conduct are one tool for consumer education of travellers. The authority governing Angkor Wat responded to the naked tourists by updating visitor protocols in multiple languages.
Few know a Global Code of Ethics for Tourism exists. It claims:
Tourists have the responsibility to acquaint themselves, even before their departure, with the characteristics of the countries they are preparing to visit.
Tourism is based on hospitality, and this requires respect for hosts. They want visitors to voluntarily display respect.
Climbing Uluru is a great example of this. The Anangu traditional owners do not want visitors to climb this sacred place, but still do not ban it outright. One reason is deeply spiritual: the Anangu want visitors to respect their values and choose not to climb.
Such an approach has much to teach us about the meaning of travel between cultures. While today’s tourists travel freely to enjoy the world’s treasures, it does not mean such travel should be completely uninhibited.
Different cultures hold different values, and the joy of travel should come from engaging with these differences and learning from them. Responsible tourism built on respect ensures a warm welcome.
Should your next holiday include a safari, whale watching, or a trip to a tiger temple? Ecotourism has recently been in the spotlight. For instance, we’ve seen claims that tourism helps conserve tigers and that it has been linked to wildlife trafficking.
But how can we tell if ecotourism is good or bad for threatened species? In our research published today in PLOS ONE we looked at nine different species, and found that overall, ecotourism is good for wildlife. Great green macaw in Costa Rica, Egyptian vultures in Spain, hoolock gibbons in India, African penguins, African wild dogs, cheetahs, and golden lion tamarins in Brazil all benefited from tourism.
What is ecotourism?
“Ecotourism” is a very broad term. It may include visitors to public national parks, volunteers for community projects, or adventurous expeditions to remote regions. Some may even include hunting safaris.
Ecotourism has both positive and negative effects. It can contribute to conservation, or impact wildlife, or both. Some effects are small, others large; some direct, others indirect.
Attitudes of local communities towards native wildlife, for example, influence whether they support or oppose poaching. Furthermore, income from ecotourism may be used for conservation and local community development projects, but not always.
We also need some way to measure ecotourism effects on wildlife? Many ecotourism measures are social or economic rather than ecological. It’s often difficult to compare positive and negative impacts on a species. Therefore, quantifying the net effect of ecotourism is challenging.
For species at risk of extinction, such as those in the International Union for the Conservation of Nature Red List, it is critical to be able to assess how various threats, including tourism, affect their survival. So we wanted to develop a way of measuring how ecotourism affects the risk of extinction for these species.
Previously when considering ecotourism researchers looked at revenue to parks, and how much of a species’ global population was protected by these parks.
This approach showed that tourism funding is significant for many IUCN Redlisted mammals, birds and amphibians. But it doesn’t tell us whether ecotourism will help or harm a specific species or population.
Our new approach uses population analysis (specifically population viability analysis). This sort of analysis is the gold standard for predicting future population trends, and probable time to extinction, for threatened species.
We looked at how populations changed over time in response to threatening processes, by simulating births and deaths one generation at a time. We do this thousands of times to estimate extinction risk. These methods are well-tested and widely-used in practical wildlife management.
To do this we need to know a couple of things about the species we are looking at: habitat area; population size and age. We also need to know the birth and death rates for different ages as well as migration patterns. This information exists only for some threatened species such as those used in our study.
We also need to be able to convert ecotourism effects into these measures of species performance. By looking at how ecotourism affects these aspects we can compare ecotourism to other threats such as poaching, logging, or fishing.
Winners and losers
For seven of the species that we looked at, ecotourism provides net conservation gains. This is achieved through establishing private conservation reserves, restoring habitat or by reducing habitat damage. Removing feral predators, increasing anti-poaching patrols, captive breeding and supplementary feeding also helps.
But for orang utans in Sumatra, small-scale ecotourism cannot overcome the negative impacts of logging. However, larger-scale ecotourism yields a net positive outcome by enabling habitat protection and reintroduction of individuals from captive situations.
Unfortunately for New Zealand’s sea lions, ecotourism only compounds the impacts of intensive fisheries, because it increases the number of sea lion pups dying as a result of direct disturbance at haul out sites.
Our research highlights three key messages. The first is that to predict how ecotourism affects wildlife, we need to know basic things about them: ecotourism needs biologists as well as social scientists.
The second is that the effects of ecotourism are not universal: whether ecotourism is good or bad depends on the species and local circumstances.
The third, and perhaps most important, is that ecotourism, at appropriate levels, can indeed help to save threatened species from extinction.
Guy Castley, Senior Lecturer, Griffith University; Clare Morrison, Research Fellow – Academic Editor, Griffith University, and Ralf Buckley, International Chair in Ecotourism Research, Griffith University