24 October 2018

The Philippines earned the title “Selfie Capital of the World” back in 2014 according to Time Magazine.  And it should come as little surprise really.  Not because Filipinos are more vain or narcissistic than other people. But because Filipinos tend to fully adopt any new technology, which improves communication and connecting with each other. 

There are approximately 48 million active social media users from the Philippines according to Expert Gov.

The trend for all things social media, has even led to some unique museums and tourist attractions such as  Art in Island and the Upside Down Museum.

The rise of selfie tourism?

With the advances in phone and camera technology, as well as the invention of the selfie stick, travellers were finally able to include themselves in their own holiday snaps. Gone are the days of entrusting a stranger with your camera or phone for a flattering photo at a key landmark.

But just as there is a form of snobbery around the difference between "travellers" and "tourists"  An element of snobbery has developed between travel photos and "selfie tourism".  So what is the difference perceived to be?

A travel photographer is someone you’re still likely to find on Instagram and Facebook, they will probably have their own blog too.  And their photo galleries will certainly include some selfies. But there will be significantly fewer selfies and, instead, an abundance of stunning landscapes and images; intentionally capturing the beauty, people or atmosphere, of a location, possibly from unique angles. A travel photographer is awake enough to be ready to learn about, and then to capture the beauty of, a destination or situation as it presents itself, rather than just rushing straight to the locations everyone else posts photos of. They are looking for a unique angle. Their images may well not be posted until several hours or days after they were taken, and the caption will include lots of information about the location or situation captured.

A selfie tourist is someone more interested in posting a perfectly staged selfie at the latest trendy travel destination. Their focus is on grabbing an image of themselves in front of a trending landmark to either show off to those left at home, or just to show that they were there. Their choice of destination may not have been on their bucket list; rather, it is a status symbol destination.

“Sometimes, this is because experiencing the place is not even the motivating reason for several tourists to travel to a destination; instead the reason for travelling to the destination is for taking a selfie and posting it on social media to prove to everyone that they are there, in order to increase their ego and self-impression” (Who Are the Selfie-Gaze Tourists)

Posting photos at a trending location is likely to result in an abundance of likes, loves, shares and comments from friends and followers.  In some cases the caption claims may even be exaggerated; “checking in” when they are not staying at a media-touted hotel.  “Best Lunch Ever!!” when they did not eat at the restaurant they photographed themselves outside.

Academics state that the satisfaction or joy at having visited somewhere is not as significant as the satisfaction and joy the person received from the comments left on their post, or the numbers of likes or shares by friends and strangers.

That’s a pretty big assumption being made about an awful lot of people that you haven’t even asked, professors!!!! I don’t think I know anyone who has gone to the expense of travelling to a different city, let alone country, just so they can grab a selfie, because they crave online attention.

Just because people today can upload photos instantly into a publicly, or privately available online photo album (Facebook/Instagram etc) rather than waiting weeks for their film to come back from the developers. Just because people can include themselves in their own holiday snaps, thanks to advances in technology. Just because peoples holiday location choices may have been influenced by photos they’ve seen on Facebook or Instagram, rather than photos in a brochure.

Doesn’t it just mean that today people are telling their friends and family about their holiday, as it happens, rather than when they get home?

Is the difference really only about timing?

You could argue that neither type of tourist/traveller is all that different.  Both could be said to be chasing likes and comments on their images, the exact same reactions from an audience.  

Selfies do not immediately mean that we are automatically narcissistic, seeking attention, or not adequately feeling or enjoying the moment.  A very many people are just capturing a moment in time, in a very modern way.

The reality is that thanks to changes in technology, which are available to all and not just the very wealthy, we can communicate and share our lives instantly with friends and family.  Or the world, if we’re that way inclined.  We no longer have to wait for a telegram, or collect call, from our parents to tell us they’ve arrived at their hotel.  They can text us instantly or send us a photo of their hotel room.

The rise of photo-worthy travel

Selfie tourism may be looked down on by "serious" travellers but it is increasingly influencing where we visit. Whether it is as simple as visiting a new bar or restaurant, or as significant as booking our annual vacation.

In the past, holiday destinations would become popular after being featured in travel books, magazines or on TV.  On their return, travellers would wait excitedly for their photos, slides or films to come back from the processors. Which would take weeks!  After sorting through them all, to remove the blurry photos, friends and family would be invited round to watch a slide show, or a cine film, of the holiday.

Travel was influenced by the media, word of mouth and great personal holiday photos. Certainly, photos of friends, colleagues and families somewhere exotic encouraged others to travel themselves, and to capture the same or similar images on film.

Fifty years later we will still see hoards of Koreans, Chinese, Japanese and Taiwanese tourists all taking photos at the exact same spots. Evidence a place has been visited, or a photographic checklist to complete, as part of the holiday.  A pilgrimage to the same locations visited by grandparents, parents, cousins or family friends.

The rise of the social media pilgrimage

Technological advances allow us to tag, label and share our photos and videos instantly, or even as the moment is taking place. More people, than ever before, can see our images or videos and be inspired (or annoyed) by them.  Even people we have never met.

  • Facebook – 350 Million photos are uploaded every day, at a rate of 4,000 photo uploads per second [2.  Facebook by the Numbers 2018].
  • Instagram – More than 40 Billion photos have been uploaded to Instagram so far  [3. Instagram by the Number]
  • Snapchat – More than 400 Million stories are created every day, with the average user creating more than 20 messages, or “snaps,” per day [4. Snapchat by the Numbers]

All of these channels, all of these images being uploaded every day, inevitably leads to an increase in social media pilgrimages too.

People will visit the places they’ve seen photographed, or talked about, on social media, in order to wow their friends, be on-trend, or secure a similar "must have" photo.  It also leads to some people intentionally seeking out a new location, site or destination, in order to be the first to feature it online. 

The rise of the travel influencer

Influencers, earn their living by featuring themselves, new products, new locations and new activities to their thousands of followers. Their travel is thoroughly researched and planned, even if it looks like they just rocked up somewhere and discovered it.  They will spend days contacting possible partners for their brand to keep the cost of their travel down.

They will spend hours doing photo shoots.  And the reality is that whilst their images inspire us to visit somewhere, influencers heavily vet, and edit their photos. The average person, uploading their photos to Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook is also contributing to the promotion of new locations, but on a smaller scale. The photographic style used by influencers has almost certainly changed how the average Joe Bloggs stages their own holiday snaps.  Even if we’re not lugging around 5 hats, 10 pairs of sunglasses, hair clips and flowers, and vintage style satchels and luggage to better dress our photos.

Marketing to a selfie culture

For travel companies, it is not enough to rely purely on traditional ways of marketing.  They need to be as active on social media as they are on their other areas of marketing. This means creating and regularly updating their business Facebook page but, more specifically, creating and regularly updating their business Instagram page.  And investing their time in a business Snapchat account.

Can travel brands afford to ignore the rise in selfie tourism?

The growth in the use of visual platforms, specifically Instagram and Snapchat is moving at a quicker pace than any other platform before them, such as Facebook and Twitter.

In the Philippines alone, Instagram use has increased 50% in the last year.  Snapchat tripled in use from 6% to 20% between 2015 and 2016.  And the younger demographics are showing a leaning towards trusting what is said by their peers online, rather than "official sources" such as newspaper or magazine advertisements, or adverts on the television.

Academics may try to have us believe that selfies and selfie tourism have arisen because millennials are a more narcissistic demographic than those who were born before them. But when you see statistics that show that the ‘Insta-Gran’ group (Instagram users who are 55-65 years of age) has grown to 20% of all of the internet users in the Philippines, you have to take notice.


This is an abridged version of 3 articles published on Your Hospitality Hub, written by Trudy Allen, and reproduced here with her permission. Read the original articles by clicking the links below: