Why travel influencers are living in The Matrix

Why travel influencers are living in The Matrix

“What is real? How do you define real?”

So says Morpheus to Neo in the classic sci-fi movie, The Matrix. His quote took on more significance this month after popular Instagramer Amelia Liana, who has almost half a million followers on the image platform and specialises in images of her wearing stylish clothes in front of iconic travel landmarks, was named and shamed in an article for The Times . Why? For posting an image of herself in front of the New York skyline – the problem being that the image could not have been taken when she claimed, as the Freedom Tower, built in 2013, was nowhere to be seen.

So how do we answer Morpheus’ question in the Instagram world? Is what we see there just like the Matrix and is not to be trusted?

The noise became so loud that Amelia was forced to issue a statement of her “Image Principles”. In these, she states: “All my imagery is actually shot at the time in the location I specify” and that she uses all available techniques to improve the photos including “improving the light, tidying the background and other enrichments, but always in a way that is representative to the true setting and always in a way that reflects my aesthetic”.

Reaction has been mixed. Some of her followers feel duped, saying that she should have come clean about the way she edited images before now.

Others were more supportive, calling her images “beautiful”, “stunning” and “inspiring”. One commenter, without the slightest hint of irony, said “What I love most about your content and blogging platform is you always keep it real.”

The key question that needs answering is “What do people expect when they follow an influencer?”

There is a significant proportion of her followers who will principally be seeking to be entertained. They will be seeking escapism from their own lives, which are unlikely to be anywhere nearly as glamorous. For these people, nothing has been changed by the revelations. She has clearly been to the locations in question – you only have to look at her YouTube channel to see that.

The next subset of followers is more problematic. They are the Instagram #nofilter purists and professional photographers for whom that the captured image is sacrosanct. They were drawn in by near-perfect shots and felt jealous that they could not do the same. Now that she has been found out, they can crow. Yet how often do we see an image in a newspaper of magazine that has not been ‘touched up’ in some way.

Those who follow Amelia for inspiration on where to travel, perhaps the most relevant subset of followers for the readers of this blog, there is the burning question of how much these shots reflect reality for anyone choosing to visit having been inspired by Amelia’s feed.

Amelia says she often gets up before dawn to take her photos in order to take images that do not contain other people. You have to give her credit for her early-morning skills. Yet is that a true reflection of what other people who visit will experience?

Let’s get things clear. Instagram influencers are not remotely about reality (or the majority of them unless you count those like Australian comedian Celeste Barber). Some of Amelia’s followers will be inspired to travel to the locations she has visited and a hat-tip to her for doing that.

The thing is this. Travel marketers have been doing what Amelia Liana has been doing for 50 years with impossibly blue skies and hotel room shots taken with wide angle lenses having filled brochures since the dawn of the package tourism era.

Instagramers and travel marketers are selling the dream. It is up to the destination to make sure that the reality – whether that means crowds, rainy days or differing skylines – still makes people happy.

Knowing that, will you take the blue pill and you believe whatever Instagram shows you or will you do as Neo did and take the red pill and get to see how deep the rabbit-hole goes.

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Mark Frary is co-founder of Travel Perspective, a social and digital consultancy working with travel companies and tourism organisations to create successful marketing campaigns He is an author and writer specialising in travel, social media and technology. He writes regularly for The Times and has written for many other publications including the Evening Standard, the Independent on Sunday, the Daily Express, Food & Travel, ABTA magazine, the easyJet magazine and Teletext.  Mark also gives expert advice to leisure and business travel companies on their social media and communications strategies and is the co-founder of Social Travel Market, an annual conference on the use of social media in travel at World Travel Market. He is the author of seven books including The Origins of the Universe for Dummies and is currently working on a biography of the ski pioneer Erna Low. Mark lives in Ampthill in Bedfordshire, UK with his wife and three children. www.travelperspective.co.uk

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