Hang on a minute – Is social media destroying tourism?

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.

Worrying reality

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 Facebook 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.

New reality

The algorithms and answers provided by these services will become more advanced and accurate with time.

We have already seen a small sampling of the social impact on business – whether your are a small hotel on TripAdvisor or a bakery on Groupon.

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.

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About the Writer :: Troy Thompson

Troy Thompson, a contributing Node to Tnooz, is an artist, consultant, and speaker who found a way to combine all three into creative leadership workshops.

He is the founder of Pattern, a strategy and service design consultancy. Troy believes in customer-centric innovation, simplicity, and short bios.



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  1. Ian Kelley

    Great article. I think most people with businesses want the publicity and will figure out ways to handle the increased business. The world is changing and comments and reviews on social media are whats fueling tourism in my area. I dont think we really have a choice even the little taco stands that nobody use to know about are finding there way on google reviews and tripadvisor. I think its either embrace a review based digital world or die like a dinosaur.

  2. sliver86

    This story is a great example of social travel, truly showing how social media are changing the way we discover the world! You don’t need to rely on guide or books… people will be your guide.

    In this way you can really appreciate the journey and find a fine balance between the economic gains of tourism and the cultural beauty of authenticity.

    • Troy Thompson

      Hey Sliver86,

      I like that idea…people will be your guide.

      And we are seeing some of that with Triptrotting and Gidsy. Hopefully, we will see more one-to-one interaction via social, rather than one-to-mass.

      – Troy

  3. Troll

    Very interesting, much food for thought. There is no easy answer as there are pros & cons for both sides. However, as a tour operator in Sydney we think social media is a great invention. We still get most of our work through Google and word of mouth, but gradually social media is making inroads.

    Sydney has already been discovered but we know places to take people that most tourists wouldn’t see. Too much work bringing down customer service? Possible but not with us – bring it on we say!

    • Troy Thompson

      Hey Troll,

      Must say, it is a dead heat between yourself and Psycho for the best avatar name. Kudos.

      Completely agree, there is not an easy answer, otherwise, I would have written a much shorter article. But I am very pleased with the conversation and thoughts generated by the article.

      We won’t solve the issue today, but at least we are thinking about it.

      – Troy

  4. Ashwin Kamlani

    I also apologize if this has been previously mentioned. Didn’t have time to read all the comments. Back in 1997 when I traveled through Europe, I used “Let’s Go” books. They were great because without them, I never would have found these little “local” places. It was not uncommon to walk into a place recommended by Let’s Go, and find plenty of other foreign travelers there, all with their Let’s Go guidebooks in hand. So as mentioned earlier, I don’t think this is a new phenomenon, it just happens overnight rather than over the course of a 1 year printing cycle. Also as mentioned before, there are so many new discoveries being made everyday and communicated via social media that the 1 year of fame has become 15 minutes of fame for these local establishments. I believe someone said that travel writers of the past had more responsibility, again true… social media has no standard of course. It is now up to the reader to filter through the flood of information to pick out the real hidden treasures. I don’t think that the places that fall out of social media fashion are doomed though… if anything, the real locals will be happy that the tourists are gone and they can have their local place back to themselves.

    • Troy Thompson

      Hi Ashwin,

      Thanks for the comment. Not our first mention of the ‘Let’s Go’ books…apparently a lot of people used them.

      – Troy

  5. Brian Hayashi

    Hello from Denver!

    In my previous life working with retailers, I would often hear the refrain that the only thing worse than too little business is too much business. Merchants depend on being able to deliver a consistent experience and having too many people creates a cascade of surprises to long-time, loyal customers: you can’t get the table you wanted, the wait is longer, and ultimately, your clientele doesn’t feel like their loyalty has been rewarded. In that environment, one thing done wrong will overshadow the hundred things you did right.

    The management at most attractions simply don’t have the experience to deal with the massively exaggerated traffic patterns that come from a viral mention. Think of the kind of manager it takes to understand how a Michelin one-star rated restaurant can maintain that rating. It takes an even better one to understand how to make the transition to two stars, consistently.

    However…I think it is hubris to assume that social media sharing is something that can be easily turned “on” or “off”. There is a lot of momentum that comes from an article in “FOOD & WINE Magazine” that turns into a “Top 50 List” that gets repurposed a thousand times over on blogs, Pinterest, etc. If you had a magical script that could automatically update mentions to show when a venue had closed down, that would be one thing. But in consumer study after consumer study, one of the biggest pet peeves that consumers have is being told that a place is open, only to physically go there and find that is not the case.

    • Troy Thompson

      Brian, hello right back at you…from Denver!

      Thanks for the comment, great thoughts. Love the depth of the conversation in these comments. Really sharp thinking.

      – Troy

  6. Nathalie Roberts

    When there were fewer guides and Travel mags, the Travel Writers had a far greater responsibility. Nowadays, we all comment, share and have an opinion. There are dozens of pizza slices being pinterested. If anything, the impact should be lessened.

    • Troy Thompson

      Hey Nathalie,

      Thanks for the comment.

      So, as the group of content creators becomes larger, their influence becomes smaller. Interesting. Similar to Freddy’s line of thinking.

      Food for thought.


      – Troy

  7. Akis Laopodis

    I tried to read all of the comments but after some point I must admit I stopped. Sorry! But I did read most of them 🙂

    My addition to this discussion would be the word “personalization”. Sorry again, if this has been already covered in any of the comments I missed.

    I believe that we are past the era of industrial-production and mass mainstreaming of tourism products and experiences. That era is in decline, at least talking from a European perspective.

    Technology is “personalizing” everything. The advertising industry is already there, design & fashion is one step before their disruption, and more and more industries are following. Even the car industry is starting to get deep in to it from what I read.

    The more platforms, applications and media personalize travel information we consume and travel purchasing processes, the less chance we have of having 40k people ending up at the same pizzeria in a village outside Tuscany. Really 🙂

    And that is valid also for information we share: generic sharing of social travel info is of no use or value unless if it has the exact mix of characteristics the recipient is searching for. Which as gyrovague explained is almost impossible with today’s tools.

    We are not all the same. It was convenient for businesses and brands to assume that we are all the same for several decades. But we are not. And as time passes and personalization becomes a “standard” in many aspects of our life, suddenly buying a travel guide, finding generic info online, or reading mass reviews which dictate the path to “satisfaction” for millions of people who travel to the same destination, will simply seem similar to how an audio cassette and a Walkman look next to an iPod today.

    The traditional travel media which will continue to sell content such as the one you mentioned Troy (’12 Best Places You’ve Never Heard of’) are in the way out in my opinion as they will become irrelevant in very little time from now as consumers evolve. Especially the generic ones which have unclear reader segments.

    If the systems work well and personalization is effective, the 40k will probably have many many different suggestions according to their profile, that will by default be more “private” and more “unique” as experiences. Thus increasing exponentially satisfaction and social networking opportunities.

    Until today custom, private, unique and all that was “luxury travel” jargon. Today it’s not any more. It just takes understanding how technology can integrate in the travel planning cycle and after doing it, continuously improving it.

    I would like to hear your opinions on that. Thanks.


    • Troy Thompson

      Hey Akis,

      Well, I applaud your attempt and honesty at reading the comments.

      Good news, we have not covered the personalization topic just yet. And I am very glad you brought it up. This might be the saving grace of social travel.

      The means by which we reduce the mass tourism model and distribute tourists to appropriate locations based on their individual interests.

      I completely agree with your statement…we are not the same.

      But looking back on the last 50 years, we have been addressed as if we were. Which (and I need to do much more research into this theory) has likely led to the development of tourist traps and the destruction of local destinations.

      You are right, the personalization that comes along with increased communication, via social, is an opportunity to connect the right traveler with the right destination.

      And leave everyone else on the bus.


      – Troy

  8. Bart van Poll

    Interesting article and question!

    I think social media doesn’t turn spots into tourist traps, it’s travel guides. Some big name travel guides are so well-sold they can easily turn a hidden local spot into a tourist trap. Especially because they are updated very infrequently; paper guidebooks just can’t keep up with changes, especially in cities.

    As I also work for a travel guide publisher (Spotted by Locals, travel guides with tips by handpicked locals in 41 cities) of course we’ve asked ourselves this question too: what happens if our locals’ tips become so popular the “inside spots” turn into tourist traps?

    The answer is simple: it won’t happen. If our local doesn’t like a place anymore for any reason (being a tourist trap is definitely a good reason!), he or she will take it offline and write about this new inside tip he or she spotted. Our content is only available digitally, and thus always up-to-date.

    Current up-to-date tips on social media and user generated travel guides that keep their content up-to-date (haven’t found any though…) will never destroy tourism in my opinion – it will only make it better!

    • Troy Thompson

      Hi Bart,

      Thanks for the comment, great thoughts.

      That is an interesting theory. Because digital recommendations can be updated in real-time, the ‘inside spot’ could be turned off as demand increases. And then turned back on as demand shrinks. I am simplifying some what, but the idea is there.


      – Troy

  9. Freddy

    Interesting thoughts here.
    Although if we dig back into communication, travel planning and experience stories; most were told by professional travellers and writers published in large readership papers. Those were driving not 100 but millions of visitors toward that cocktail bar where hemingway had such and such cocktail or where x event happened.

    Most of those were living the majority of other places in the “off the beaten track” bucket. By dispersing readership, driving more people to select a localise form of tourism, not only we are likely to sustain those rich and unique experience but also broaden “the beaten track”.

    Social media is to thin crust italian pizza what lonely planet is to chicago deep dish pizza. They are both naughty and great food but one has my clear preference

  10. Anna Pollock

    Wow Troy – what a great discussion you have unleashed!
    And thanks for the reference to conscious travel.
    The questions you pose and the responses they elicited all suggest to me that the market of conscious travellers is alive, well and growing.

    I’ve just come back from Samoa – a stunningly beautiful country with a very rich culture and so much to offer a discerning traveler. But, for various reasons (tsunami, global financial crisis, poor & inadequately funded and executed marketing), this destination is under performing and many businesses are struggling to survive. They need and deserve more mentions, likes & attention to achieve a level of vitality that will enable them to withstand future shocks – including the pressure from foreign investors who see an opportunity to do a fast deal and to develop the low impact/ high yield tourism the destination warrants.

    What’s missing from the discussion thread is a focus on the aspirations of the host & the destination.
    That’s why I’m focusing on the task of creating “conscious hosts” – tourism providers who value their place; value themselves; are aware of their options and make conscious choices about the kind of tourism they wish to attract and put in place the mechanisms necessary to protect the destination before they achieve the level of success that can, so often, destroy.

    While I’d be the first to acknowledge that deploying social media is damm hard work; if providers in a destination collaborate and apply themselves they can build a market more cost effectively today than ever before. But what’s critical is to decide which market to attract and why and to be awake, aware and alert regarding the consequences of those decisions. All too often, tourist boards and the politicians they serve panic – fixating on visitor volume and the need for growth – and introduce seat sales and discounted offers way too early in the destination’s life cycle.

    Increasingly, I liken global tourism demand to a tsunami. Population growth; the rise of the middle class in populous countries of China, other parts of Asia and South America; combined with social media and connectivity will – unless checked by a global recession – continue to push the tourism wave forward. That’s why its so important for hosts and host communities to assume responsibility for their collective and long term future. We’re going to see more pictures like those presented in the Guardian last month that I wrote about here:


    • Troy Thompson

      Hi Anna,

      My pleasure. Very glad to see the response and reaction from this audience. It is a discussion that makes me proud to not only be in tourism, but be one of many thinking, searching and striving for a sustainable solution for tourism.

      I love your comment, but specifically two points. The idea of a conscious host and fixation on growth.

      The mention of being aware of options is sorely needed. And as the role of the DMO changes over the next 2-5 years, I think this type of education will become critical. The individual provider needs a leadership mechanism that will help them promote intelligently, avoiding the pitfalls of mass appeal.

      Of course, this reflects on your other point…DMOs themselves need to overcome the desire for discounts…without a conscious leader, it will be difficult to establish conscious hosts.

      Great conversation, and one that I will continue.

      – Troy

  11. Tony Carne

    Great article Troy. It instantly reminded me of a 3 month trip around Europe in the early 90’s where someone had brought along a Let’s Go guidebook. Within 2 weeks we’d renamed it “Let’s Go Somewhere Else” and used it to plan places to avoid as it was really just a road map to tourist traps that had just a faint whiff of what previously made them cool.

    The whole premise behind Urban Adventures is to be gatekeepers of that local information that we then share with our guests. Our starting point for product building is to try to not see another tourist outside of the points where itineraries intersect with main sites. We use the local knowledge of our operators to continually adjust subtleties in itineraries to move with what is happening locally and move away from what is “discovered”. Our groups deliberately don’t exceed 12 passengers to keep the vibe intimate and each tour can be a little different from the next even on the same itinerary, as you are being shown the destination through the eyes and experiences of your guide.

    When training our guides we use an example very similar to Carmen’s experience here. The guide has the flexibility to give travellers the benefit of their specific local experience so we end up in the little local restaurant that the guide’s family have been going to for generations. The guide is met with open arms (and kisses and some good natured banter) and the group as the guide’s guest, with the same. I can’t help wonder what Carmen’s experience would have been like if she wasn’t invited but rather stumbled across the pizza restaurant. The food would no doubt be the same but maybe the experience would not, without the favourite aunt there as a local connection?

    • Troy Thompson

      Hey Tony,

      Thanks for the comment, love your example.

      As I think more about this topic, I wonder about shifting our focus and use of these social tools. We hear so much about number of followers, 800 million users, increase fans, double followers, etc, etc.

      Always pushing for more, more, more.

      Perhaps what is needed is a focused effort to reduce the number of fans, or connections via social media. Certainly social has the power to connect us with (nearly) anyone in the world. But as the restaurant owner in Milan, do I want to be connected with everyone?

      Should I only be looking for truly key connections, like your guides, and nothing more?

      The idea sounds right, but convincing business owners, marketers and gurus to ignore that ‘likes’ number is easier said than done.

      – Troy

      • Tony Carne

        Hi Troy,

        We are certainly happy for everyone to like, follow, pin, tweet, review, check-in and post about Urban Adventures and then when they hit a city, we’ll hook them up with great local experiences they wouldn’t have found and experienced by themselves 😉

  12. Vicky

    Thanks Troy, great article and insightful.

    What you’re talking about here is responsible marketing of responsible tourism. What that means is people taking responsibility for the decisions and the impacts of the decisions they make – economically, environmentally and socially. So yes it’s about sustainability, on the “triple bottom line” basis.

    So whilst increased development may mean increased prosperity for communities, a frequent short term desire, it can also lead to loss of culture & authenticity, damage to heritage, loss of biodiversity, exclusion of local colour. Mass tourism often destroys in the longer term the very things that attracted it in the first place – and often can’t get them back.

    Not everyone on TNooz is ethically minded, but sustainability on a more micro level means tourism as a whole can be sustainable as an industry. Without natural capital and local culture and heritage, tourism dwindles and communities lose. Not to sound all negative. tourism can create a positive impact for communities too, if managed responsibly and by local stakeholders.

    So responsibility does lie to an extent with how the destinations/properties deal with their own social media strategies, but we as consumers also have a responsibility for the part we play in it. They can do all the marketing they like but if incremental demand isn’t there, there will be impact will be minimal. Responsible tourism isn;t a type of tourism, or just PR, it’s an ethos, a way of doing business, that runs right through the chain – supply, demand, product, operations… marketing included.

    Yes, that situation has always occurred over time (Spanish Costas, Sharm El Sheikh, Galapagos) through guidebooks, newspapers, books, films, word of mouth even, but the internet, and in particular social media as a tool, by its nature can highlight, extend reach and accelerate the process and negative impacts like never before.

    However, that means it can also potentially do so for positive impacts, for education of consumers and for industry understanding that sustainability isn’t just about environmentalism but is about ensuring the travel and tourism that we love can be sustained and develop in a positive way.

    I for one, as a responsible tourism advocate and online marketing manager who loves social media, very much support the latter. Thanks again for raising this very interesting discussion!

    • Troy Thompson

      Hey Vicky,

      Wonderful comment, thank you.

      You are exactly right…this friction between tourism promotion and tourism sustainability has been occurring long before Facebook. But there is no question that the connectivity, speed and communication of social tools such as Facebook have the potential to rapidly accelerate this process.

      I absolutely love the thought of using social tools to promote the pillars of sustainable travel.

      As you said, sustainable tourism is not a type of tourism, but rather a way of doing business…that should extend to social media.

      – Troy

  13. Mike Jervis

    The effect of mass travel does destroy the place of interest.
    As a travel agent I believe that a person should have a good reason for going to a place and not for just crossing off some item on a bucket list. My boss should fire me for criticizing where my clients want to go, but since it is my travel agency I still seem to be here!
    An extreme case in point would be the recent demise of George the 100 year old giant turtle on the Galapagos. If it wasn’t for Darwin and the many tourists and riff raff that followed, George’s species would probably be thriving today.
    Or how about coach loads of tourists going through places like Port Isaacs in Cornwall because of BBC’s “Doc Martin” series. Or similar places in Eire from other series. Or of Tuscanny and Positano because of the movie “Under the Tuscan Sun”. Not to mention the impact the “Da Vinci Code” on places from Paris to the Rosslyn Chapel-“Buses Park Here” signs, wonderful. Mass tourists just destroy the charm and beauty of such places.
    I think Social Media is just an extention of what has been happening for possibly 100’s of years. There are those who lead and then those who follow. Now as long as those that follow are not too numerous than the impact is not so great. But today media, social media and the relative low cost of travel has given more people the ability to follow others, or friends, or family without the foggiest notion of why they are going to a place. They just take a photo, upolad it and go on to the next place. They give nothing of themselves to the place visited and seldom leave the place better than before they arrived.
    But I will just carry on selling travel but at the same time questioning their motive and then, if needs be, try to educate them about their destination.

    • Troy Thompson

      Mike, thanks for the comment. Very well said sir.

      That thought did cross my mind while discussing and writing this story. Are we as a digital society now more interested in simply visiting, taking the photo, uploading and checking the box that we have been there.

      Broadcasting to the world, that ‘yes, I visited Positano.’ Now where is my Foursquare badge?

      Hell, some of these social networks are literally making the experience of being in a place part of a game.

      What does that do to our expectations, our outlook, our behavior?

      Are we traveling just to get a badge or for something more?

      – Troy

  14. Nick Vivion

    As both a blogger and a travel journalist, I think that the responsibility lies mostly in how the destinations/properties deal with their own social media strategies. Picking the right social networks to engage on and the right online strategies is essential – not everyone needs to be on Facebook or should be focused on getting 40,000 likes. If that pizza place owner thinks she’s successful enough by her own living standards, then perhaps an online strategy is not necessary. Just like word-of-mouth, the owner may not be able to control the crowds that show up – but she can certainly control the messages she chooses to broadcast.

    We’re in the midst of opening our own “blogstaurant” in New Orleans (http://bootysnola.com), which will be featuring internationally-inspired street food fare sourced from our own travel content creation. So we are also about to be on the other side of the table, and will be encouraging people to snap photos and share their experiences online at every juncture. For us, we couldn’t be happier to have crowds discover us. I am not of the school that says “crowds = loss of authenticity.” It’s possible to be crowded and still maintain an authentic soul – look at New York City. It’s all about how you develop as a destination/property and what strategies you employ.

    Overall, I think the conversation can be a little disingenuous, because we all know that increased development generally means increased prosperity for communities. So would you rather “preserve” the character of a place that is less prosperous just for the discovery pleasures of the intrepid few, or would you rather let the place grow, removing some of the grit that might have made it appealing in the first place, but providing a better living for those who live there?

    Authenticity-sapping tourism is like gentrification – a constantly contentious issue that will never be “solved” but always worthy of a robust and diverse discussion.

  15. Darren J

    As some others have pointed out, this phenomenon isn’t new. It’s been the case at least as long as guide books have been around. And I’d argue that despite the prevalence of social media, guide books are still far and away the biggest driver of traffic to a particular spot. Getting a mention in a Lonely Planet guide book will have far greater impact than having thousands of people tweeting or posting photos on Facebook. Watch the tourist crowds anywhere in the world – the vast majority continue to follow the well-worn path around the major attractions listed in their handy and trusted guidebook. The actual places people visit haven’t changed much since the dawn of social media.

    I would therefore suggest that it’s simply the increased number of people traveling (as a result of cheap airfares and a rising global middle class) that endanger the hidden gems, and not social media. Social media is merely a communication tool – one of many people have at their disposal. That small pizza shop will experience an influx of tourists (or not), independent of the existance of social media.

    • Troy Thompson

      Hey Darren,

      Great comment, thank you.

      I do wonder…considering recent discussions about the demise of the printed guide…how a more frequent digital publication (social or not), will impact tourism destinations?

      And yes, social media is simply a communication tool. But it is a lot more powerful than my parents old rotary phone.

      – Troy

  16. Susan

    I still share pictures of my perfect little meals discovered in the local hole-in-the-walls, but I sure as hell am not going to publicize exactly where I got it! Oh hell no!

    I also find it kind of obnoxious when I’m asked to “like” every restaurant, shop, or massage parlor I’ve enjoyed. It’s just not going to happen–I don’t need marketing in my social streams, and try to minimize it as much as possible.

    • Troy Thompson

      Hey Susan,

      I love it. Great comment.

      It does seem like a rarity to find a business that does not ask for a ‘like’ on the front door or at the counter.

      – Troy

  17. Joe Buhler

    The risk of places becoming less of a “hidden treasure” for insiders only due to social media exists.
    I wouldn’t overstate the danger though as it has been present for a long time. Well known travel writers and popular travel magazines have always contributed to that potential danger by writing about these off-the beaten path destinations and places only the locals know. It’s still a huge world out there and many small places around the globe will likely remain under the radar even with social media coverage for a long time to come. We will be better off if they do, anyway.

    • Troy Thompson

      Thanks Joe.

      I agree with your point about overstating the danger…to an extent. Thinking about the social traveling planning process 5 years ago v. today v. 5 years from now, I wonder how much more advancement we will see.

      I don’t think there is anyone running an OTA, social travel site or travel magazine that says ‘you know, we should really stop trying to find new places.’

      To the contrary, they are on a mission to find, catalog and RT everything on the planet.

      To be clear, I don’t think any of us want to destroy tourism, a destination or the little pizza place.

      But I am not sure we can stop ourselves.

      – Troy

  18. Avi Meir

    I think that another problem is how trends come and go a lot quicker now.

    The pizzeria in that village could become a super hot spot on Facebook or on Foursquare, but it will probably be forgotten within weeks. If before we had at least 1 year of grace in case a place was featured in a printed travel guide, today the travel guide is your friends’ Facebook new feed, and info doesn’t stick for long there.

    So potentially you get much higher peaks for much shorter period of time, overbookings one day and deserted hotel the next week.

    • Michael Kaye

      This is a very good point that I had not thought of. The most unfortunate out come would be if the pizzeria invested in expansion because of increase in business due to short lived notoriety from social media buzz.

      Perhaps we can use social media to warn them as my hotel management guro warned me years ago, “You don’t build the church for Christmas and Easter.”

    • Troy Thompson

      Very good point Avi. The cycle of promotion, marketing, tourism has increased dramatically.

      And as we all know, magazines, papers, blogs, any content medium, are always looking for new content. New things, new places, new hidden secrets.

      And social has certainly increased that hunger for content.


      – Troy

  19. Rodney

    Hey Troy, great post. If social works “too well” for a destination or business, it could become like a Lonely Planet guide book on steroids; removing the authenticity of the experience for those seeking it. For people looking for value, they may not care about other tourists overwhelming them. For people looking for a great way to entertain their kids, they may not care that there are tons of other kids around. For people looking for local, undiscovered experiences with solace from bus loads of tourists… maybe they’ll find other ways to discover them. The transparency afforded by the social web allows for mass customization, pairing the right people up with the right experiences. Taken to the extreme: the remote fishing lodge with no internet connectivity. Their social media strategy: unplug and relax.

    I don’t think we can hope for humans to self regulate their bragging.. Perhaps some of the onus to protect the visitor experience comes back on the destination itself, not to compete on price and volume. Instead you could limit tourism and stop competing on price. Bhutan’s model of limited capacity is the standout. The DMO could provide leadership to its industry so that they, in turn, can do the same thing (and get out of the Groupon mindset!).

    • Troy Thompson

      Hey Rodney,

      Wonderful comment, thanks for adding to the conversation.

      Your point about right people for right experiences is so critical for our tourism brethren to understand. Mass promotion, via social or otherwise, might kill the very experience you are trying to promote. But, a measured approach (the Bhutan model is a great example) is one that blends sustainability and social.

      Social allows for such deep relationship building with the exact visitor you want. Don’t be fooled by the appeal of big numbers, when you destination does not need them.

      – Troy

      • Stephanie Lynch

        Hey Rodney! Hey Troy!

        Thank you for this fabulous food for thought. There’s a lot running around in my head right now in terms of:

        –Social Networks (and their influence)
        –Influencers (and how their klout achieves results–I’ll refer back to the “vanguard” terminology by Michael Kaye)
        –Mobile technology and the travel planning process

        Okay. Here I go.

        Social media marketing isn’t any different in it’s purpose as visitor guides or traditional advertising. It’s all about “heads in beds” or directing people to your destination. It seems like most people here are in agreement on that point.

        However how that comes about on social media is overtly different than say a traditional ad–due to the fact that social capital (your network) leverages cultural capital (your tastes) and symbolic capital (your achievements–in this case pizza eating). See, Pierre Bourdieu: Distinction and The Field of Cultural Production. Great reads!

        Okay…maybe I’m getting ahead of myself here, but the mix of capital is fascinating when it comes to trends and memes. Did pizza eating at that restaurant in Milan become a trend because you Instagrammed it…or because pizza eating is a cultural meme due to a beer campaign featuring pizza eating that gets picked up by Steven Cobert and then trends on Twitter which follows a frenzy of artisanal pizza making much-beloved by a specific moneyed/culturally connected class–and then you leverage (subconsciously) the pizza eating meme through your Instagrammed photo to your social network–because you know–it’s cool. Suddenly, pizza eating at that restaurant becomes the hippest thing ever–for your network. Everyone wants to do it. (I site two great cases of this trend turned meme phenomenon: mustaches and going to India in the late 90s:-)

        In your case, sending out an Instagram photo (or posting to Facebook) is truly shadowed by your klout and how many follwers you have and what your edge rank is. If 30 people on your personal networks see the photo…how many shares will you achieve? It’s not that your photo isn’t important in the grand scheme of the meme but I point back the last paragraph when I say–blame Steven Colbert–and the 100 housewives who pinned artisanal pizzas on Pinterest–not the pizzeria or the DMO. Stop feeling guilty.

        I would venture an opposing view point to “the underwhelming performance of the social travel planing phenomenon” and any claim that social travel planning is ridonculous. Citing the research of Jamie Kim, Dan Wang, Lis P. Tussyadiah and Dr. Dan Fesenmaier from Temple University, there is much to be divined from the space. Their research focuses on mobile technology and the likelihood of using it for travel planning based on perceived assumptions to the human qualities of mobile technology. In a nutshell, research shows that it’s possible that people respond socially (the same way they would to actual people) to smart phones and regard them as social guides while traveling. The implications are to tease out consumption decisions while traveling and whether or not mobile tech makes a difference. (See a bit more here: http://ttra.thetravelvan.com/2012/06/19/smartphones-do-they-effect-tourism-behavior/)

        Cool, huh? Your (mobile) Facebook brand may actually be perceived no differently than a (gasp) actual human being. Whoa.

        Circling back to the premise here of whether or not social sharing about destinations means they will be flush with tourists and thus culturally and symbolically less “cool,” is important to the consumer experience and the sustainability of the destination. Yes. Thank you for pointing that out and encouraging destination cultivators to think before they high five themselves on a viral video hit.

        However, I think it’s just as important to think about who that trend is reaching…and who it is excluding. (Now I sound like a sociologist–which I am clearly not). I for one care far less about the visitor and far more about the local. If locals are gentrified out of the picture…there will be no Instagram…because the locals all moved to cheaper housing in another town…and the photo never got taken in the first place. In that sense, if your destination becomes a meme, Bhutan’s model is the only way to save it from complete visitor annihilation. The rest of us…who can embrace millions of visitors…will just pray the visitors come–in whatever form that takes.

        Shared from Facebook;-p,

        PS: Thanks, Troy for a great post. This is the best thing I’ve read all week. See you guys at #SoMeT12?

        • Troy Thompson

          Hey Stephanie,

          Well, that is officially the longest comment I have read all week. Seriously, thank you for taking the time to consider, think and respond. You have brought a ton of great points into the discussion…and added to my reading list.

          Really like the meme theory / train of thought.

          I do think, at this point, that the pizza place would need more than a single Instagrammed photo to attract massive social crowds to the restaurant. But, I would also say that the level of social travel planning is no where near it’s full potential.

          As you mention, that photo gets lost in a sea of updates…but what happens as the algorithms behind these services become smarter, faster, easier to use?

          The impact of a single photo could go well beyond your network of 30 friends.

          – Troy

          • Stephanie Lynch

            What can I say, Troy. I love a media theory conversation.

            Back to your point on “what happens as the algorithms behind these services become smarter, faster, easier to use,” I cite traditional media theory of persuasion.

            In the past, the more power you had–the bigger the screen you could leverage to broadcast your message. Same theory applies here. No matter the algorithm…power is power. This means that in the end (just as Franky discussed) the press (PR people, experts, cultural agents–whatever you want to call them) will always have greater access to the instruments of power: social media dashboards, reach generators…megaphones. Right?

            I mean…Facebook’s Reach Generator is expensive. Frankly, reaching 20% of your fan base on any given day is a huge win due to edge rank.

            Your Aunt Fanny isn’t going to post a photo and ruin the visitor experience for a DMO. But, the student journalist who’s landed a Pinterest internship for the Today Show–might. IF he can either reach more people…or move the needle on the cultural meme.


  20. Susan Sweeney

    Great article Troy! Does the shared video make you want to definitely put that experience on your bucket list or make you say been there .. done that .. virtually.

  21. Josh

    A good question posed with a strong possibility in many cases. But if the risk is more business as a result of more likes, more RTs, etc, then social media may very well be a useless, perhaps even hazardous tool. In such a case, a vision of growth and expansion is likely not priority #1. As for the others, those aiming for growth in their own brand and a subsequent increase in bookings, reservations, and sales, social media is far more likely beneficial than not.

  22. Luis

    Yeah, someone shared a picture of the greatest slice of pizza in Italy, but, at the end of the day, you want to experience the taste of it, so it doesn’t necessarily ruin the experience of visiting a place and eating local food.

  23. Michael Kaye

    To quote the great American philosopher, Yogi Berra, if the pizza place get’s 40k fans on Facebook and they all decide to show up, it will be, “so crowded that nobody goes there anymore.”

    Troy is talking about a phenomena that way predates social media. Little known intimate destinations, pizzerias etc get discovered by the vanguard, get known and get crowded. Then the vanguard moves on to the next “undiscovered” place. Even though social media speeds up the process, by the time the world runs out of intimate undiscovered pizzerias, the original pizzieria will be empty and forgotten—ready to be discovered again.

    • Troy Thompson

      Hey Michael,

      Thanks for the comment. Agreed, this phenomena is not new, but when it comes to social media and travel, I think it has different consequences.

      The process of discovery and re-discovery is now playing out on a much larger and much more public scale. Plus, we now have businesses who are actively trying to find these local experiences, promote the hell out of them and reap the rewards.

      And, I would argue that upon return to the once full, but now empty restaurant, village or park, we would find it forever changed. We can’t go back. We have one and only one opportunity to ensure our secret is discovered, promoted and shared in the correct way.

      I am concerned that the unyielding hype for social acceptance is overshadowing the need for conscious travel.

      – Troy

      • Michael Kaye

        Troy, I sympathize with your sentiment, but might not our desire to keep restaurants, parks, whatever contribute to their demise. Restaurants need clients. Parks need visitors who become advocates for continued protection.

        I started marketing travel to Costa Rica in 1978. Two of the places that I use to love to visit have become in my view so over-developed and tacky that I have sworn never to visit them again. Visitation limitations would not make them the same as they were, but less crowding would definitely be an improvement from my point of view. But that is just my point of view. I found being in those places so unbearable that I decided not to return because I had enjoyed them when they were empty. Now they are crowded, or at least seem crowded to me because the people who are crowding them enjoy what I enjoyed, despite (or maybe even because of the crowding.)

        I live with the paradox of continuing to market these destinations and contribute to the crowding and the tackiness that I personally find so un-appealing.

        On the other hand, when we endeavor to keep places undiscovered, who are we keeping them undiscovered for the vanguard visitor who thrills to a sense of discovery, or the people who live and work in those destinations, who just may really want to be discovered. It’s complicated.

        I don’t claim to have answers. But from where I sit, I am acutely aware of the questions.

        • Troy Thompson

          Well said Michael.

          ‘It’s complicated’ is the understatement of the day. I just wonder if social, digital, being connected, having a phone, camera and megaphone in our pockets makes it that much more complicated.

          – Troy

          • Michael Kaye

            “having a phone, camera and megaphone in our pockets,” makes all of life so much richer and so much more complicated. Every silver lining has a cloud.

  24. Psycho

    Well, there always must be some balance between social media buzz and cosy sanctuary. In fact, it looks like that such buzz is not needed if seclusion is the main advantage of some place. So, every instrument must be used carefully – that’s all.

    • Troy Thompson

      Agreed Psycho,

      But does the traveling public have the restraint required to not share everything the see, eat and experience?

      – Troy

      • Avi Meir

        What’s the worst case scenario? will all your friends now book a trip to the village in the middle of nowhere in Italy just because some cool pictures were posted on Instagram?

        • Troy Thompson

          Hey Avi,

          Thanks for the comment.

          Worst case scenario? That after my friends visit, their friends visit and then a bus trip visits. And then Budget Travel names tiny village X one of the ’12 Best Places You’ve Never Heard of’. (http://ow.ly/bTx9i) You know, those secret spots that help sell more magazines.

          Worst case scenario? They get a Hard Rock.

          Worst case scenario? Celebrities begin to vacation there.

          Worst case scenario? They end up on UNESCO’s danger list. http://whc.unesco.org/en/danger/

          Now, is social media the only cause of these worst case scenarios? Not likely.

          But as more and more social, start-up and content sites try to uncover the world’s hidden places, should we be concerned of the potential impact?

          I am.

          – Troy

      • Psycho

        Then you mean that the danger is in the fact that spreading the information has become way too easy?
        Well, guess that there’s another side in that – there’s so much buzz about different hideaways that it’s not too easy for any of them to stand out. I mean that in such case too much information has the same effect as no information for specific property.

        The number of travellers and the number of time they have to travel is still limited so in fact “spreading the word” would give much more choice for specific traveller – I think, that’s the main effect and it sounds positive to me.

        • Troy Thompson

          Hey Psycho,

          Yes, that is the theory anyway. Or the conversation point for this article.

          Does our increased connectivity speed up the tourism cycle?

          You do have a point with the increased buzz. Because every destination receives increased buzz, then we are simply raising the overall level of information…and not focusing on one destination. I could see that being the case.

          – Troy

  25. GoSeeDo

    Interesting story which raises a similar question to that of using local retailers instead of the big out of town homogenised shopping centres. If when we travel we forget or don’t know about the smaller things to do that actually expose us to local customs and culture, then how can our travels experience be true or complete.

    Whilst we need to protect culture and local custom, its also important to ensure it thrives and can be sustained, otherwise, the local pizzeria as mentioned may simply disappear for good, taking with it the pure essence of what we travel to see.

    Perhaps before we travel, a bit of planning wouldn’t go amiss, after all, we have this amazing resource called the internet, we should use it as a window to discover the true holiday experiences…?

    • Troy Thompson

      Hey GoSeeDo,

      Thanks for the comment. I am not as worried about the sustainability of the pizza place, store or other local shop. In the case of the pizza place, clearly it is succeeding without mass tourism.

      I am thinking about what happens when that local store is discovered. When that destination, village or shop becomes popular due to the prevalence of social media. Are we unwittingly destroying the local travel experience with all of this sharing?

      Not sure, but I love the conversation.

      – Troy


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