Social media is receptive to a lot of things but it seems that there’s a lack of diversity in travel – in opinion and aesthetic – and there’s little demand for 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 a lot about stereotypes of places and of certain travellers. Like how when we think of France, more often than not, we’re thinking of Paris. Egypt equates to camels and the Nile. Singapore means you’ll go to jail for chewing gum. Everywhere is wonderful. Instagram in particular really plays up to this nursery-level association, which to clarify, holds very little truth. Different types of travel is therefore grossly under-represented and it took an audience, primarily of women of colour, to drive home this truth.
Sure you can argue that subcultures, further flung destinations that are hard for the typical smartphone wielding millennial to reach and ‘Dark Tourism’ as heralded by Netflix, is emerging as an alternative to the mainstream getaways of which we are so familiar. But let’s 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 once 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, if I go anywhere, 95% of the time out of my own pocket and 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 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 speaking about travel and why it’s like this. 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 truly 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’d like to think that ‘younger girls’ deserve more credit and don’t take photos (simply by nature, the majority of them are arbitrary) at face value.
When I was thinking about the proposed questions for the Expedia panel that evening, my time in Morocco kept coming to mind. After my trip in October 2017, I posted a Youtube video called ‘What social media doesn’t tell you about Marrakech’, aiming 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 all the way through, but topped off with several nasty comments (from men). 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 that. 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, it’s not meant to live exclusively on TripAdvisor. The intention is not to kill tourism for a particular place 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 opinions when it comes to travel because anything remotely negative from an influencer just means we’re spoilt. We are individuals and yes we are accountable to our peers and the brands that pay us, but 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 views, and this is precious commodity in a market over-saturated with content. It’s especially important we’re allowed to speak respectfully and honestly about travel, because it’s about opening the world to those who may not have the means to explore yet or sharing real stories with those who can. We don’t want to be silenced and 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
Topshop blouse | Place Nationale skirt | Prada bag | Common Projects shoes