Among this summer’s slew of stories about overtourism, one took a slightly different angle. In an article titled 10 tourist destinations ruined by Instagram, the Independent reported how “the rise of social media means that even the most hidden of hidden gems doesn’t remain so for long,” followed by a standard catalogue of images of overcrowded (and not very hidden) destinations – Machu Picchu, Leaning Tower of Pisa, Great Wall of China etc. A more in depth article on The Ringer, Loved to Death: How Instagram Is Destroying Our Natural Wonders, looked at how social media doesn’t only impact upon the world’s best loved sites, but also draws crowds to supposedly secret, off the beaten track places too.
According to Tnooz, the images we take on our holidays represent the most shared form of content on social networking sites. And not just the photos, (of which 350 million or so are added to Facebook each day), but the stories too. Facebook research in 2012 (admittedly basically a generation ago in social media, but these are most up to date I can find) claimed that travel experiences were the topic of 42% of stories shared by users of the site.
Along with the Tripadvisor reviews, snarkey tweets, instagram poses and more, this mass of user generated content represents the largest – and ever-growing – database of tourist opinion assembled. According to a recent article on Entrepreneur, “97% of millennials share photos and videos of their travels online, building an influential web of peer-to-peer content that serves to inspire potential guests”, with “89% of millennials plan travel activities based on content posted by their peers online”.
Around the world, various researchers have been trying to work out how to put all this content to good use. For example, the Nature Conservancy is creating the online Atlas of Ocean Wealth by combining more traditional academic research with social media posts in order to work out how much the presence of healthy coral reefs countries to the countries and regions where they are found around the world. Hotel locations are mapped alongside photos shared from a location, and photos of dive-sites and underwater photographs are measured and compared alongside tourism activities that indirectly benefit from the presence of coral reefs.
In Australia, Griffith University is analysing Twitter to measure the health of the Great Barrier Reef. Having downloaded almost a year’s worth of tweets sent from the area along the Great Barrier Reef, they selected potentially useful tweets that contained keywords such as “fish”, “coral”, “turtle” or “bleach”, 61% of which were geotagged, meaning researchers could match opinions with locations – and because tweeting is generally an instant response, the researchers could be fairly sure the vast majority of tweets referred to the location from where they were sent. It’s still early days, but the type of trends researchers were able to pick out included several tweets expressing concern over the welfare of dugongs.
This is an extract from my fortnightly blog for World Travel Market. To read the full post, click here.