We were just outside of Milan. Spending an enchanting evening in our small villa.
The owner, an Italian version of your favorite aunt, came down from the main house to invite us to the local pizza restaurant for what we found out was a bit of a Friday night tradition.
Surrounded by locals who could trace there roots back to the 15th century, we found ourselves enjoying the most amazing slice of pizza, while being entertained by a cavalcade of our new friends performing their best Bocelli karaoke tribute.
It was amazing. It was friendly. It was not in the guidebook!
That story was recounted by peer, new-found friend and head of strategic co-operation at Wimdu, Carmen Gayoso, as we entertained and challenged our respective thoughts on the power of social media and the impact on the local travel experience.
Clearly a wonderful story of how traveling like a local can enrich your overall experience.
But if Carmen had tweeted, Instagrammed or posted a photo of that slice of pizza, would that eventually diminish and perhaps destroy the experience?
As I pressed her for an opinion, the thought began to form: is social media accelerating the availability of the local experience and thereby removing the truly local aspect?
Yes, social media has been nothing short of a revolution in communication, politics and travel, but do we as locals, as conscious travelers, have a moral responsibility to selectively tweet or post things on FacebookÂ or take pictures and share them everywhere in order to protect the experience?
If your view is one of conservation and protection of these unique destinations, then you are no doubt pleased with the underwhelming performance of the social travel planning phenomenon.
Let’s be honest, there is great potential, but few results.
Yes, there are hundreds of sites that will allow one to tap the collective travel planning abilities of your friends – that is assuming your friends actually travel – but competition and confusion have slowed adoption, likely causing a false impression of the potential impact on our social traveling habits.
But this false impression will not last forever.
The algorithms and answers provided by these services will become more advanced and accurate with time.
What happens when our quest to provide a social travel planning experience succeeds on a global scale?
If the tiny pizza place from Gayoso’s story actually made it onto TripAdvisor, into Frommer’s or in the popular stream on Pinterest. What happens if they find themselves with 40,000 fans on Facebook and they all decide to show up?
As marketers, restaurateurs or hoteliers, we are pushing toward a goal of mass exposure. More fans, friends and eyeballs.
We need people to find us, visit us and spread our message. Social media is a godsend for destinations and attractions that would otherwise be left off of the mainstream tourism map.
Damn the future cost, send me people.
But are we sacrificing the soul of our experience in exchange for a few more likes? And should we – should you – as travelers, fight the overwhelming social urge of sharing to help preserve a portion of that local experience?
Do not assume we have reached the peak of social travel planning. Far from it, our journey, our experiment has just begun.
And if the masses descend on your hotel, restaurant or town, will you still ask for more likes?
NB: Tourist crowd image via Shutterstock.