Brands That Hire Influencers For Inauthentic Insta-Tourism Do Disservice to Customers
Today's hyper fluidity of travel, connectivity and social media sharing make living the millennial dream of international and exotic travel experiences an easy reality. Unfortunately, a deeply troubling facet has emerged from that world that I can no longer be silent about - called Insta-tourism. And yes, I can legitimately complain about this, because I myself am a millennial.
Let me explain. Recently, a friend and I embarked on a trip to Southeast Asia, and in planning the trip, we did what most millennials these days do - we built our itinerary by hunting for the most popular geotags and added them to our extensively-tabbed and color-coded Google Doc. Full disclosure: the Google Doc had nothing to do with being millennials; it was because of my extremely detailed personality.
With our AirBnB's booked, my new shiny Away luggage packed, we were ready to depart for Singapore and Bali. As quintessential millennials, we preplanned Bali and Singapore clothes, figured out our Sim card situation to stay connected, and purchased travel necessities from the latest in direct-to-consumer brands.
But then, Day One of vacation, sitting drinks-in-hand poolside and beachside at the popular beach club Potato Head, it began. I noticed hordes of people snapping shots in the same pose for more than an hour until the perfect photo was captured. It became immediately clear that these types of destinations actually tailor their environment and atmosphere to appeal to social sharing. I began asking myself "Why do people do this? What is the appeal?" I quickly found myself not wanting to be that person.
A few days later, we visited Lempuyang Temple - also known as the Gates of Heaven, which certainly lives up to its name. However, what you don't see from all of your friend's social posts is two things - the less glamorous side of a 230am wake up call to get there, and more jarring, our realization that most of the amazing Instagram photos and posts at the temple are actually faked using a mirror held beneath the glass to mimic the appearance of water beneath the stone. The method is even chronicled in an article in The Telegraph.
From that point on, we simply couldn't take it anymore. Since we arrived in Bali, it became abundantly clear on numerous occasions that popular geotags were simply popular because it was easy to stage a very "Instagrammable" photo there. This wasn't the experience we were interested in. From that moment forward, we decided to instead focus on meaningful connections with the locals we came into contact with.
Returning from Lempuyang Temple, we found some redemption with our driver, who explained how much the island has changed in recent years, specifically because of Instagram. He was kind enough to pull over into some less traveled scenic bluffs and regaled us with stories of the people in the area. We were much more interested in this. The island is so much more meaningful than a handful of geotags and staged photos.
The next day, on a snorkeling trip to Nusa Pineda, we found further redemption with our afternoon driver. He told us stories about how he and his wife lived on the island and what their life was like. We appreciated how much he was willing to share with us and how much effort he put into ensuring that we were getting to see the island's true beauty. The conversation made a lasting impression on me.
As we departed the island, we wanted to show our appreciation for the experience, so we offered him a tip that reflected our appreciation. He was shocked and expressed that it was a lot and he could not accept it. We insisted and told him that the day he provided us meant more than he could ever know. He then shared with us, "this will change my family's life this month." It was at the moment I knew that we were so focused on hitting the vacation "hotspots" that we had forgotten the most important aspect to vacation experiences - authenticity.
I work with brands every day, many of which retain a very authentic approach. My vacation reminded me more than I ever could have imagined about the importance of this. Recently I came across several beauty brands that hosted an influencer retreat in which they flew several personalities to a tropical island for a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I found myself asking 'what's in it for the consumer?' Sure, the influencer gets a free vacation and the brand gets some glitzy content. The consumer, on the other hand, gets left with an inauthentic, cold experience, devoid of any meaningful connections.
I have two pieces of advice - one for brands and one for travelers. For brands, don't ever forget the value of telling and capturing a story. A story is more powerful than you'll ever know. It unites people as an audience, forges an emotional connection (which drives loyalty) and creates lasting sentiment. For travelers, it's very simple, do yourself a favor, don't fall into the trap of Insta-tourism. Disconnect and experience the local culture. The stories that you bring back may even change you. No one will miss that inauthentic "candid" photo that you and 1,000 other people posted to Instagram.
This guest post was written by By Donald Hair, Group Account Director, North America, The Social Element