We’re living in an era of alt truths and fake news; the boundaries between fact and fiction are growing increasingly blurred. Traditional news-gathering outlets are in decline and many people now rely upon their social media feeds as their principal window to the world. And, sure, while it’s not for me to say if this is a good or bad thing – because, like it or not, that appears to be the way we’re headed anyway – my concern, having now spent the past decade in journalism, is that the rules and conventions we’ve been adhering to for centuries no longer apply to the new kids on the block. Yes, I’m talking about the so-called “travel influencers” who purport to be sharing personal experiences but are usually in the pay of marketers, flaunting branded merch within heavily doctored snaps of the world to plug whatever company or destination that’s paying. I’ve been lucky enough to report from over half the countries on Earth, and while our planet is undeniably beautiful in places, the glossy depictions of it on Instagram are largely contrived and wholly untruthful. Most influencers aren’t even interested in the destination, but more how those kaleidoscopic backdrops “pop” against the protein powders and face creams they’re flogging.
In Mexico, I’ve encountered influencers clearing a beach of seaweed to give the impression of idyllic, bikini-clad beauty; I’ve watched others unabashedly order foods based solely on their colour schemes. I once saw a fitness guru pose with weights in a gym, before writing up a totally fictitious account of her “epic workout”. Most of this subculture, from what I’ve seen, is an utter facade with zero integrity. Thankfully, the industry as a whole appears to be wising up. A survey released at last year’s World Travel Market found that 78 per cent of holidaymakers didn’t look to influencers for travel inspiration. And, while travel boards like Tourism Australia say it’ll continue to work with them, a growing number of hotels have said they won’t. I personally can’t imagine these digital non-doers will last much longer. Because, sure, beautiful photos might look lovely on the blue-lit gadgets in our palms, but there’s no way of really telling if all that mind-numbing scrolling inspires us to make a real-life trip. Hopefully that means us fuddy-duddy travel journalists, with our old-fashioned obsessions with the smells, sounds and sensations, just as much as the mere aesthetic of a place, are winning the battle – for now, at least.