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If You Didn’t Post About It, Did It Even Happen? - The Toxic Relationship Between Tourism and Social Media

Jamey Heron-Waterhouse

Wednesday, 13 December 2023

As the social media generation grows into fully fledged adults, we have started to see a relationship blossom between tourism and social media. The want to post about our travels has us all under its spell, if we don’t post what we did, ate, saw, and bought, did it really happen? What motivates us to post on social media about holidays? What does posting on social media mean to us?

To travel is to experience a culture, landscape, language, and environment different from your own. However, it feels as though a new addition to the list of what it is to travel is to post about it online as well. In a poll by Four Pillars Hotels, ‘76% of travellers admitted to actually posting vacation photos on social media after they came back.’ So, the desire to post about a holiday is definitely a common theme amongst tourists in the digital age.

But is this desire the result of a toxic demand to share your experiences online?


When asking a few friends why they post about their travels on social media, the reasons were diverse. Some said that their Instagram account acts as a kind of diary or scrapbook, so their travel posts are a memory bank of what they’ve done. In this way, travel and social media have evolved together as the technological generation has moved past the task of going to Boots or Tesco to print digital photos. We constantly carry around little cameras in our pockets, so this digital scrapbook format seems to be a convenient way to document our journeys.

But why post this digital scrapbook for everyone to see, not just for you to look back on? Perhaps it is to share your experiences with those around you, or if the photos are from a group trip, you’d like those you travelled with to see them too.

Others referenced their need to share something ‘interesting’ on social media. When you travel, it’s new and exciting, and wanting to share this with your followers is understandable. The need to share this speaks to the need to share all interesting aspects of our lives online – when we post photos on social media, we present an idealised version of ourselves and our lives.

When questioning my friends about whether their posting on social media is something they feel obligated to do, they stated that ‘it’s more of a want than a need’. Whether this want stems from a conditioning from social media to present our experiences on a platter for all to see is difficult to say. Perhaps it is a subconscious effect, or perhaps it is exactly what my interviewees said, a documentation of an experience for them to look back on.

According to a poll by StudyFinds, 73 percent of those polled ‘indicated they felt annoyed by people who share pictures of their vacation’. Therefore, the toxicity of posting about your holiday is perhaps rooted not in the presentation of an idealised version of yourself, but instead as a method of showing off to your followers.

Indeed, the study by King University on The Psychology of Social Media concluded that ‘people generally post from some kind of emotional position that seeks a response. Since the very nature of social media centres on communication, it makes sense that the primary motivation for posting comes from a psychological point to connect with others. But this constant quest for acceptance and exposure on social media can lead to major psychological problems for some.’

It is this ‘quest for acceptance’ that harbours the toxic relationship between tourism and social media. Sharing your holidays on a public online space brings with it the evaluation of others – whether or not you were actively seeking it.

Overall, it seems that the toxic relationship between tourism and social media survives in the evaluative nature of sharing things in a public domain. Whether your initial goal was to post for yourself or not, there is at least some sense that you are posting for all to see, presenting a specific impression of yourself online.


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If You Didn’t Post About It, Did It Even Happen? - The Toxic Relationship Between Tourism and Social Media

Jamey Heron-Waterhouse

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