I’ve been thinking about ethical travel blogging and the vile nature of social media recently. An incident happened the other day that was really the, ‘straw that broke the camel’s back.’ Ironically, I met a seasoned traveler yesterday and he mentioned the incident as well, which confirmed I’m not alone in my thinking.
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I read online about the British/Australian couple who are on a journey from Australia to the UK. Sounds interesting. They’ve been on the road since 2017 documenting their travels as they drive their Jeep camper van cross country. Cool.
They went through Australia, Indonesia, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, and hit a bump in the road, so to say, in Iran. They were arrested and put in jail in Tehran for a couple of reasons: 1) they were allegedly camping near a military installation; and 2) they were flying their drone in this area without a license.
Here is a quote from The Guardian in Sept 2019: “But in the eyes of the regime in Tehran – squeezed by sanctions and paranoid about the motives of outsiders – the act of flying a drone near a military installation on the outskirts of the Iranian capital appeared as an act of espionage.”
Let me ask you this. If the tables were turned, and this was an Irani couple flying their drone over a US Embassy, Area 51, or hell, any US military base, do you think that would raise suspicions? Seriously, ask yourself that. Of course it would.
Not to Drone on…
I’m no expert, nor am I a professional drone operator, but I did buy a drone to learn how to operate it. I’d love to have dreamy footage over the places I visit in the Mediterranean.
However, the first thing I researched was drone regulations where I live. Again, I am a beginner and I had the common sense to start looking into where I could actually fly.
I can’t fly around the airport, and can’t fly where people could be identified or potentially harmed if my drone takes a nosedive. I can’t fly over people’s private property… because it’s frickin’ private! In this post here, I list a variety of links to drone regulations in a few countries along the Mediterranean that I researched, but I knew enough to check.
This blogging couple has been on the road for two years, and droning along the way, I assume. I do not agree with, again, quoting The Guardian, “From an external perspective, the couple’s activities were entirely innocent: the harmless, if naive, documenting of their grand adventure driving from Australia to London.”
Innocent, harmless and naïve don’t cut it. This is where travel bloggers, social media influencers, Youtubers, you name it, get it wrong. Their unethical practices ruin the reputation of honest travel bloggers who provide honest, ethical travel information about a place you may want to visit.
Ignorance is not an excuse
I’m personally fed up with the excuse of not knowing something, in the hopes that the ‘naïve’ card will also get you literally a, get-of-out-jail-free, card.
Do I think this couple was up to no good? Who knows; the story’s not over yet. That’s not the point. What I do see is more and more bloggers using unethical travel practices, then claiming mia colpa to excuse an enormous lack of respect for foreign cultures, laws, better judgment and common sense.
Frankly, if and when they get out of jail, perhaps their license to drone should be suspended for some time. How’s that for an epic journey! That’s another term I’m so fed up with in the travel blog community… Epic… “Our Epic Journey to ‘insert any country here…’”
This couple had the time to check flying regs in all the countries they touched. They did, because they had no issue updating their social media accounts. Either they didn’t bother or didn’t care to check regulations, in the hopes of getting EPIC footage for Youtube.
I’m not going to go into the politics of what’s going on in Iran or the Middle East as it’s irrelevant. But you’d have to be living under a rock to not second guess whether what you were doing was legal or ethical. It would be no different if you were filming in Saudi Arabia, Oman, Dubai… take your pick. If you are unclear, then Google, ‘”Insert country here”do’s and don’ts.’ You’ll find information.
Ethical Travel and Photography
It’s the same for taking photos of people without their permission. They may look like a lovely couple on vacation, only to discover they are each married to someone else and you’ve just snapped something clandestine. Well done.
It’s the same for taking photos of children, babies, inside of peoples homes from the street, using telephoto lenses. You just don’t do it without permission. It will get you in a lot of trouble. When in doubt, shoot people from behind so you cannot recognize their faces.
Then there’s the Belgian travel blogger who posted a photo of himself sitting on one of the pillars in the preserved ruins of Pompeii.
Climbing on ruins is forbidden and this showed a complete lack of respect, research and ethical travel. Because if he’d done some research, he would have discovered what he was about to do was illegal and just wrong.
He then apologized and wrote on his Facebook page, “I would like to apologise to everyone that I have offended by sitting on this stone column. I admit that it was not my smartest decision, and I was not thinking about the historical significance of the place and how it could be perceived by others if I pictured myself in this manner. In my photography, I try to always convey the beauty and feeling that I experience myself in a place, so I meant in no way to disrespect the cultural and historical heritage this place signifies.”
Blatant disrespect, but he’s sorry… How could he not think about the historical significance of a place that has been covered since 79AD?
Yeah, but really, we were there…see???
I came across a couple the other day whizzing around in front of me with their GoPro video running as they ducked in here and there. No time to think or contemplate what they were seeing, nor did it appear they cared.
It will surely become some fantastic footage about what to see on Naxos Greece on Youtube. Because, well, see… we’ve been there…
The Instagram Lie
Then recently there was the Indian couple with graduate degrees in science and engineering who recently died while taking selfies at the Grand Canyon. Their camera and tripod were discovered, and a helicopter found them some 800 feet down the side of a look out point. So smart and such a waste of promising lives. What is the point?
Social Media Influencers Ruining Travel
There are plenty of articles about how social media ‘influencers’ are ruining travel for people. They are diluting travel by repeatedly rubbing your nose in experiences you’ll never have or can never afford to have.
And to be honest, the Influencer can’t afford it either. They’ve most likely bought ‘likes’ and ‘comments’ to inflate their accounts to make a company believe they have engagement and influence. When in reality many are scraping by on Happy Hour-priced drinks and peanuts…. It’s a big lie and people feel bad they can’t live this lie (life) as well. But people are catching on to the lies.
Some social media influencers are showing the reality of Instagram – what an Instagram photo looks like versus reality. And then I can’t help but think these influencers are trying to use reverse psychology to make you believe they are more ethical than they really are. Get my drift. Throw the audience a cookie to show them how ‘real’ I can be. Not like the other fake influencers who only show you their perfect side.
I see recently they’ve been testing removing ‘likes’ from Instagram accounts in some countries, and I think that’s a welcomed change. Users can still see ‘likes’ on their own post/page, but others won’t be able to see the ‘likes’ on your post. It’s not making Instagrammers happy as their egos are getting bruised (aka. reality check).
Companies are partly to blame for bloggers and influencers’ lack of ethical travel practices. Agencies and companies pay good money for unique content. For instance, resorts will happily pay ‘influencers’ to linger around and take photos of themselves enjoying the resort in order to have access to this influencer’s audience.
Then you have to ask what are these companies thinking when they hire a young blogger/influencer to lounge around representing a resort that most folks in their 20’s can’t afford? These companies are wasting their money on the wrong demographic, and encourage more and more social media lies. Meanwhile they are alienating their actual demographic, say, somewhat wealthy 50-yr olds, by suggesting they are now a young, party destination for 20 year olds.
The lifestyle of these so-called Influencers, primarily women, reminds me of the stereotype of good high school football, baseball and basketball players. They don’t have two brain cells to rub together to get through college, but they were good in sports and hope that will carry them through college and life. So many young kids look up to this illusion. And there are so many social media influencer wannabes doing the same.
The Goal of Social Media
So many people are enamored with showing you THEMSELVES on vacation, versus showing you where YOU can see yourself on vacation. Who the hell wants to see me? Yes, I have an Instagram account, and I painfully put something on there maybe once a week to keep the account alive. And rarely will you see a photo of me. Again, I’m not here to show you ME on vacation. I want you to see what YOU CAN SEE on vacation.
A couple weeks ago I worked on a collaboration post about Spanish hotels with some other bloggers. There was a blogger who mentioned a particular Hyatt resort in Spain. I used to work for Hyatt and knew the property she referred to. However, she had the property type wrong. It wasn’t a standard resort, it was a Park Hyatt, which is a more luxurious, boutique brand within Hyatt’s chain. Then she said it was Hyatt’s first resort in Europe, which it wasn’t, and I wanted to clarify.
I mentioned she was referring to a different resort, and that it wasn’t the first Hyatt Resort in Europe, but this other one was. And I knew all this because I used to work for Hyatt. She corrected her mistake and I thought that was the end of it.
Not more than a day later, I get a message from this same woman. “Hi Moe! Thanks for your note about the Park Hyatt in Mallorca in the Travel Blog group. I was wondering, since you’re a former Marketing Director at Hyatt, do you have any recommendations on connecting with Hyatt for partnerships? I’ve been trying to reach out to them for media stays so I can write about more of their properties on my travel blog and share on my insta, but not having much luck getting in contact with them. Would so appreciate any advice. You can find my blog here: (removed) and my Insta here: (removed). Thank you!”
Put your money where your mouth is
I thought, you silly, entitled beatch… if you had enough common sense to look at my profile, you’d realize we are in the same business. If anyone was going to work on getting media stays (aka. freebies) at my old company, it would be me and not you. And frankly, Hyatt doesn’t need it.
And if she, or any other social media influencer wannabe, is keen to get in, then pay for 3-4 stays out of your own pocket. Write about the stay and experience, gets some positive feedback, then try and contact a resort company to get a media stay. At least this person would have shown some ethics and put their money where their mouth was. Too many bloggers falsely believe they are influencers and their sense of entitlement really rubs me the wrong way.
Let’s hope this industry will turn itself around, but with the rife lack in ethical travel, I’m not so sure.