Social media is receptive to a lot of things, with the exception of opinion and aesthetic. The unfortunate thing is that there seems to be little demand for the much needed change. Recently, I took part in a panel discussion at Expedia, discussing the quote “if prejudice was a disease, travel is the cure”. It got me thinking about stereotypes of places and certain travellers. Like how when we think of France, more often than not, we’re thinking of Paris. Egypt equates to camels, Pyramids and the Nile. Singapore means you’ll go to jail for chewing gum. But everywhere is wonderful. Instagram in particular really plays up to this nursery-level association, which to clarify, holds little truth. Different types of travel are therefore grossly under-represented. It took a panel audience, primarily made of women of colour, to drive home this truth.
You could argue that subcultures and further flung destinations hard for the typical smartphone-wielding millennial to reach are emerging as alternative experiences. Then there’s ‘Dark Tourism’, heralded by Netflix that challenges our desire for mainstream getaways. But let’s take a step back and be honest, not many of us want to follow exorcists around South America. What we do want is to be able to relate to the influencers that are fortunate enough to travel frequently. I’m personally conscious of this because someone asked me if my ‘luxury’ travel is realistic for my audience. My answer was that I’m not trying to sell a holiday package to anyone. Furthermore, 95% of the time that I travel, I pay out of my own pocket. I also don’t have the Photoshop skills to fake any kind of backdrop! I shoot editorials abroad and that’s part of my job. In fact, it just goes to show that if anyone else really wants to do this for their work, it’s incredibly achievable. And lastly, my audience is on the latter end of the millennial spectrum – they’re in a similar life stage to me, and have worked for long enough that they have money saved up and they’re ready to explore the world.
Then there’s the fact that I live in London, an extremely connected location. And I’m from Singapore, another hub that’s surrounded by dreamy getaway destinations. You’ll know that it doesn’t cost much to fly on a budget airline from these cities within their respective continents. Of course I’m not relatable to everyone (who is or wants to be?!) but I believe I serve my niche well.
Now you understand where I’m coming from, I want to highlight how different the standards are on social media when it comes to travel. Specifically I want to ask why? How does an industry that demands that ‘influencers’ are authentic in their opinion, churn out the same type of content again and again? In fact, some don’t consider me to be a travel blogger at all because I don’t post drone photos from tropical jungles and Santorini landscapes in the summer. It’s a hypocritical situation where only a prescribed look, voice and photography type is considered to be true travel content. But God forbid you actually do that and enjoy it, because all of Twitter and the public will demonise you for ‘setting unrealistic standards for younger girls’. I like to think that ‘younger girls’ deserve more credit and don’t take photos (simply by nature, the majority of them are calculated) at face value.
When I was thinking about my answers for the Expedia panel that evening, my time in Morocco kept coming to mind. After my trip in 2017, I posted a Youtube video called ‘What social media doesn’t tell you about Marrakech’. The aim was to highlight the huge discrepancy between glamorous photos of riads and palm tree perfection, versus actual city life. What ensued was a lot of silent agreement from people who had watched it but topped off by several nasty and abusive comments (from men might I add). I’ve since taken it down but in a nutshell, I highlighted how much the poverty affected me. How uncomfortable and useless it made me feel, because I wasn’t able to do anything impactful to help but you can’t simply ignore it either. However, according to my critics it was abominable that I didn’t absolutely enjoy every bit of the holiday that I paid for.
Regardless, I was pretty adamant I wouldn’t say a word about it during that evening’s discussion. You know, positive vibes and all. But guess what? Morocco was brought up about five times – not from me, might I add – to highlight the numerous experiences of racism and sexism.
People want to talk about not-so-pleasant travel experiences as much as the good. These opinions are not meant to live exclusively on TripAdvisor. The intention is not to kill tourism for a particular place – as if one person could even do that – but prepare those who are looking to discover it. After all, consumers these days aren’t afraid of trying something edgy and unfamiliar, they just want a bit of honesty before embarking on adventure. But social media isn’t ready for honest thoughts when it comes to travel because anything remotely negative that comes from an influencer means we’re spoilt. We are individuals and yes, we are accountable to our peers and the brands that pay us. Still, we want to retain our voice. Don’t forget that we have a lot more freedom of speech than the press do, without editors screening our thoughts. And this is precious commodity in a market over-saturated with content. It’s especially important that we’re allowed to speak respectfully and honestly about travel, because it’s about opening the world to those who may not have had the opportunities yet. We should not be silenced or bullied into a certain style or consensus.
This is the message to readers and travel brands: if you want authenticity, then allow space for it to thrive. Promote diversity in every aspect and represent all travellers because if you don’t, you could be guilty of breeding prejudice.
shot by @alisejane_photo
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