Have Influencers, Bloggers & Social Media Skewed Our Travel Perceptions & Enjoyment?
Sometimes you write something with an idea in mind but it doesn’t fully get fleshed out until later. Sometimes others reactions to that post or their comments allow you to better realize the point you were trying to make. I think my post why you will never see a trip report from me to the Maldives falls into that category, at least for me it does.
I said in the article that the post was not about the Maldives so much, and it wasn’t, it was more about why the Maldives were so popular. There were many amazing comments from readers, I encourage you to check them out, and they helped me fine tune what I was trying to say. Some may have even said it better than I could so I wanted to share some of those with you and go into a little more detail on the topic.
Are We Being Influenced Too Much?
If you have watched the amazing documentaries on the Fyre Festival then you can see where I am going with this. I would also encourage you to watch this YouTube video. It does a great job of breaking down what types of issues we are dealing with in today’s culture and how something like the Fyre Festival could happen.
The linked YouTube video talks about the Aura Phenomenon that is happening in our culture. This is essentially people going to a place or an experience to be a part of the aura. The point is to document them being there versus going there for the actual experience that happens when you get there. My point was that I feel like the Maldives has become that for many people. Look at Maya Bay for further evidence of this happening, which the film The Beach made famous.
Now there are people who go to the Maldives for the amazing snorkeling etc. like Andy and John commented on the post. But I don’t think those are the reasons it has become as popular as it has. I think social media and bloggers posting about it have built up an aura around the place. I think Nancy had a good comment about it.
My Own Experience
I myself have fallen victim to this. When the Park Hyatt NYC first came out that is all we heard and read about. We heard how nice it was and what kind of value you get from the redemption etc. So when I took my wife to NYC for her first trip there where do you think I decided to book my stay? The Park Hyatt of course. It wasn’t because it was the best location for what we wanted to do or because it was the best fit for our needs. It was because it was close to $1000 a night and I felt like I needed to get maximum value for my points.
Well our feelings on the property were much like Shawn’s. I have been to NYC around 10 times over the past few years and I usually stay somewhere else each time. Staying at the Park Hyatt was probably one of my least memorable experiences. I made a decision based on influence rather than just doing what was best for me. It is a beautiful property but is it 10,000 points better than another Hyatt in NYC? Nope. Would I rather get a 3rd night essentially free in NYC by taking the lessor property? You bet! And I think that may be why it didn’t quite feel right to me.
Has This Aura Phenomenon Made Us Less Happy Travelers?
Another amazing comment in the post was by flybyFIRE talking about how their view has been skewed some by social media and travel blogs. And they don’t get the same simplistic joy out of travel that they used to.
I have seen the nasty side of this in Facebook Groups and on FlyerTalk etc. Where people are shamed if they take simple trips with miles and points because the value is so much better used for first class flights to Europe etc. We have become so beholden to value and keeping up with the joneses that we sometimes lose sight of why we got into this in the first place. The goal was to see places that we couldn’t afford to see otherwise (at least that is the case for me).
I don’t think many people thought they had to fly first class everywhere starting out. Don’t get me wrong it is amazing and fun to do but there is nothing wrong with an economy flight to Europe either. Before all of this I would have just been happy to be in New York City, the way I got there or where I stayed would not have mattered much to me.
My Personal Experience
Most of my flights are in economy because I want to stretch my miles and points and I hate paying for travel. I will be flying lie flat to Amsterdam in May and while I am excited about that I am actually more excited for my economy trip to St. John’s Newfoundland. That is because the city looks amazing and the countryside looks breathtaking. The destination is my true goal after all.
I think sometimes blogs and readers fall in love with getting to a destination in the best way possible and forget about the destination. Has anyone been tempted to go to the Middle East just to fly Emirates? If you answer yes, I know I have thought like that before, the real question is why do you feel that way?
I know there are some serious AV geeks out there and that means that they probably enjoy the getting there as much if not more than the being there. But I don’t think that is the case for a lot of us. But with these trip reports and IG posts we feel like if we don’t fly Cathay Pacific first class we are not a real traveler etc.
Shawn took his family around the world for many months living in hostels and motels riding buses and trains. He has also traveled in some of the better first class products out there. Shawn loves his comfy seat for sure but I also know he cherishes the memories that he made on that budget around the world trip. I have rarely looked back at a vacation and thought about how great the suite was etc.
I hope I did a better job expressing my thoughts this time around. And I want to thank all of the readers who read and commented on the original post. Even TNT who I know doesn’t agree with me on this (him and George had a good back and forth which was too long to post here). I just hope when you plan future travels you pick a place that works best for you and don’t be afraid to miss out on the “aura” if it doesn’t line up for you.
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Mark I throughly enjoyed reading your two posts on this topic. I couldn’t agree more. Each individual should book their point / mile redemptions on what’s best from them not what’s flashy for social media. For us sometimes splurging on the experience is great but economy to Maui was just fine as I remember hiking to three bears waterfall off the Hana Highway more than I do the hotel or flight
Thanks! And I agree the memories are the most important part of all of this.
This question was brought up on the Hyatt “Travel Influencers” survey space recently. These were the results:
Do you think media, especially social media, influences where you travel? For example, everyone seems to be going to Iceland these days…
Probably, but I don’t want to admit it
Interesting – and thanks for sharing. I love that I don’t want to admit it is one of the options 🙂
Not to beat a dead horse, but have you seen Southwest’s new ad campaign?
“Pick your post-worthy paradise”. The image is of someone on the beach looking at how many “likes” they got on a photo they took snorkeling (probably in the Maldives).
Southwest sent it out on an e-mail recently, and then I just saw it again on their homepage. Seriously, what is happening to society?!
I had not seen that – you don’t happen to have a link to it do you?
The e-mail came two days ago with the subject line, “Your post-worthy paradise is on sale”. For me, it’s showing up front-and-center on southwest.com. This is what the e-mail looked like:
I see it – wow exactly what we have been talking about. Sorry for some reason I was thinking video ad when I read your first post 🙂
I may have to do a follow up with this. Thanks flybyFIRE!
I feel incredibly honored to be included in this post. I hope that your words (and maybe mine) at least make people stop and think a little bit before they book their next trip. More people got it this time around, but some people will just never admit that they aren’t completely in control of their own decisions. For example, I really doubt that overwater bungalows would be on so many people’s bucket lists if said bungalows were not the image plastered over every single ad for luxury vacations. I bet I see an image of an overwater bungalow 5 times per day. I almost booked a trip to the Maldives last year when my husband was on business in India. The truth is, we would absolutely hate it. I know we’d hate it, but I STILL almost booked it.
Even for me, this post was incredibly important and timely. I currently have a Hyatt category 7 certificate and I was seriously considering planning my entire next trip around that certificate. And that Park Hyatt New York you mentioned…I’m 100% guilty of planning to stay there when I go to NYC next. I like to think that I am “gaming the system”, and often I am and end up way ahead, but sometimes the player gets played.
Thank you for this post 🙂
It was well deserved. And another great comment here about the over water bungalows. I have never thought of it like that but it is true. Every magazine ad, tv ad etc. has them on there even though very few resorts offer them. It has been conditioned in us to equate it with an amazing vacation. I don’t even like swimming in the ocean and I have been tempted lol.
This time, I 100% agree!
TNT – thanks for helping me flesh it out better in the comments of the other article 😉
Great article! As my points game has ramped up, so have my expectations. That being said, while I certainly enjoy luxury, I have found myself putting hotel stays and short flights into perspective. Do I want luxury for the short term or more travel? Simple, I want both. So I have already committed that all long haul flights are biz or better. Period. As a spine surgery survivor, I cannot fly economy for much longer than 6 hours. With that, I am also ok to stay in a clean, reputable mid-level hotel to compensate for my flight wishes. After all, it is only a place to sleep and shower if you are traveling about. I frequently need to put myself in check against points friends saying…it’s points..splurge. When in my own mind I am saying…but, but I can get another trip out of that???? In the end, it really comes down to one’s own travel objectives and the ability to find a good balance between quantity and quality.
[…] Do bloggers influence your travel? Do you go to the Maldives because of influencers or because they have the best snorkeling on earth? Read more here. […]
First, St. John’s is amazing. You will enjoy it immensely. Take a boat tour of Witless Bay if you can.
I remember “back in the day” (for me), which was 2014/2015 when I was first getting back into award travel. I thought it *insane* to spend 70,000 miles on a one-way business class ticket when you could fly round-trip in coach for 60,000 to Europe. Admittedly, we weren’t flush with points and miles like we are now, but it just made no sense. Just a few years later I took my first first and business class flights to Australia, and I started to understand the hype. This was my first real “crazy points trip” where I spent all of 5 days in Australia solo. Still cheap, as it cost $320 out of pocket for literally everything, meals and attractions included.
Since then I’ve been more and more interested in flying first and business, and recently just did with my kids on Cathay coming back from Hong Kong. But this year I am trying to take a step back as I realize so much of the hype about certain products and certain places is getting to me, and it’s probably worse than it should be *being* a blogger. The desire to use my miles for flashy redemptions is there. But maybe I should pencil in those trips to Nebraska, Iowa, and Michigan. 😉
For overseas trips the draw to business class is strong for sure and it does allow you to be more refreshed when you get there. My trip this summer is in lie flat on the way out since it is an overnight flight but we did economy comfort on the way back to save 30K miles since it is a daytime flight and I don’t think I would sleep anyway. I think finding a happy medium is key which I think we are both trying to work on.
I will keep the Witless Bay boat tour in mind. We will only have boots on the ground for like 36 hours so it is gonna be jam in everything we can while we are there :).
Are you saying Michigan isn’t flashy? I draw the line there! Haha
Mark – Honestly I feel out of place in the Ritz, Conrad, Waldorf, St. Regis in many cases. We are a bit older than most here and want our creature comfort but a nice Hilton, Embassy Suites or even Hilton Garden Inn is what I prefer. I prefer to try to get a larger room or Jr. suite again because of the comfort we are looking for. As you have stated we need to go for what is important to us which is different from you or any of the other readers.
I’ve also pretty much realized that on domestic US flights as long as I can get an exit row (and will pay for it if necessary) I’m happy. Domestic F unless it’s a lie flat is not really worth it in most cases. Not saying that I have not flown it or gotten upgraded thanks to my DL status. Yes getting an upgrade is nice and yes for long haul international we will pay ($ or points) for business class but honestly on carriers that offer 4 classes I’m very happy with Business and don’t need to go for the exclusive First. I’ve even been very comfortable in premium economy on some long hauls.
What is important to me is less stress in travelling such as not worrying about overhead bin space or paying for checked bags and having a nice lounge instead of the gate areas. Having that few extra inches of leg space is crucial.
We have a couple of long weekend domestic trips upcoming and I’ve been internally debating whether we try for First or just go economy as long as we can get a preferred seat. Of course there are times when the up charge is minimal but in most cases a few hundred $$ or double the points charge just doesn’t make sense.
Our upcoming Europe trip is all in Business class (Virgin and Delta on points) and First Class on the trains (paid $$) with all of our hotels Marriott, Hilton and even a small boutique hotel via points.
Oh yeah and I really don’t have any huge desire to go to the Maldives. We have a lovely little island of the coast of Cancun called Isla Mujeres that we have been visiting for many years which fits the bill. Last year we rented a beautiful 4br house via VRBO and made it a 4 couples week (so much fun).
Anyway thanks always for the thoughtful articles.
Michael I am going to have to start looking into Isla Mujeres (you are influencing me now lol) sounds awesome.
I think comfort+ is great for longer domestic flights. You get that extra space, dedicated bin space, and earlier boarding. It is often only a few thousand miles more on Delta so that works for me a lot of the time on flights of 4+ hours.
This is one of the most timely and important blog posts I’ve read in a long time. It helped me reflect on my travel dreams, my expectations, and exploring the “ high and low” travel redemption possibilities. It’s like junk food in our diet- moderation and mindfulness is key. Thanks Mark for always writing posts I want to read.
That means more to me than you know. I am glad you enjoyed it and thank you for reading 🙂
Great column and really good, thoughtful comments. I particularly like “flybyFIRE’s comment about wanting re-capture the simple joy of traveling to a place and just enjoying being there.
A thought; maybe several of the other travel blogs will take the ideas expressed here to heart and make an effort to change up their focus a bit from time to time. There’s a bit of “cut and paste” in certain stories I’ve seen on the same old topics- always high end luxury and the obsession with getting the biggest bang for your points and miles bucks. The Maldives is a good example. It feels like people are being too lazy to bother coming up with a different example.
FWIW, when I look back on the trip I’m currently on, I’ll certainly recall the several nice hotels I stayed at on points, and returning in business class on miles. But what I will must fondly recall to people, without a doubt, are the train rides I took to get to San Sebastian, Spain and Afurada in Gaia de Vila Portugal, where I stayed in simple lodgings that were in the middle of remarkable, vibrant locales that I walked for hours on end filed with sheer pleasure at simply being in such remarkable places.
Luxury is nice, for sure, but feeling a thrill deep in your soul is better. And that’s the true joy of travel for me.
Thank you for addressing this, Mark.
Another great comment from you Bill – thanks! Love the line about a thrill deep in your soul 🙂 …agree 100%
Flashy redemptions & ultra lux travel get clicks. No one wants to see pictures of my grandmother’s house in Maryland, but that’s our summer vacation this year. The wife & I are also going out for lunch for our anniversary in San Diego (we are based in Phoenix) on a Saturday in June. There’s a fried chicken restaurant there with a desert shop down the street & we want to go to. Plane lands around noon, departure around 4:00. No one’s going to post a trip like that anywhere. We’ve earned well over a million points in the past year or so, if we wanted to go all out we certainly could, but we’d rather grab lunch in San Diego.
I think flying into a city for a meal would be pretty amazing to the majority of people out there. We in the points and miles crew wouldn’t think it but it is to everyone else. There in lies the rub 🙂
Yeah I get your point, normal people probably wouldn’t do a short hop flight for lunch. Of course normal people wouldn’t apply for LOL number of credit cards. Or bother with arbitrage, reselling, MS, etc.
No they would not – that would DESTROY your credit haha 🙂
I do think that value and keeping up with the Joneses are separate issues. Value is a wonderful aspiration, one which certain companies (cough… Marriott… cough) are strenuously working to destroy for the customer, but is pretty worthy unto itself if enjoying the trip is your goal. On the other hand, the keeping up the madness of high value travel for the sake of appearance is just narcissism run rampant.
I agree Christian but I would say booking a trip or location simply because it is the best value is a trap as well. Searching out getting value is something we should all try to do but it shouldn’t be the dominant decision maker imo.
I have a relative who is the most frugal, utilitarian person I know. And then he accompanied me to Location X & instantly understand how the right lodging at the right moment can be meaningful & transformative. You own that experience for the rest of your life. I’ll never forget the look on his face & how he still talks about it!
I am not revealing where/what it was, because I want you to find the right X for yourself, Mark. Someday. Blessings
I agree Pam. The right accommodation in the right place can be truly amazing. That could be a top category hotel or a $150 a night Airbnb with a balcony view of the Eiffel Tower. I just feel like we sometimes, at least I fall into the trap sometimes, of thinking value and experience go hand in hand. Sometimes that is the case and other times it isn’t. It is fine line we walk 🙂
Everyone is different. For me a hotel and hotel room are very important. I spend a lot of time at home 11 months out of the year so when I travel I want to be impressed. I don’t spend 16 hours a day exploring a city or town or going to the beach. I don’t immediately jump out of bed and leave the hotel. I like to relax and soak in hopefully a better room design and aesthetic than I have at home. When I come back from sight seeing or touring I don’t want to come back to a 3 star hotel room. That’s not vacation for me.
People go to bora bora or the Maldives because you can have an overwater bungalow and literally go swimming in beautiful water 5 feet from your bed. It is a magical experience and the room plays a big part. It takes 6 flights round trip to go to bora bora if you don’t live in California so yes it is a difficult trip versus a big city like in Japan or China where there are different flights from many countries around the world. It depends on your interests.
I am not against luxury, I enjoy it myself, just wanted to bring it up that it is okay not to travel in luxury too on miles and points. It doesn’t have to be all one way or the other even though it may seem that way from what we see and read sometimes.
Yes, maybe it’s time to step back and remember the real purpose. I have noticed myself falling into my own trap and having a deal determine the destination. I have first class ANA tickets booked for Washington to Tokyo in September on the great Virgin Atlantic deal. I went to Japan a few years ago for the second time and have no real burn to go right away again. But after returning from a long trip to Asia, I’m going to cancel them, because I really want to go Europe instead. But then I’m sort of STILL falling into my own trap, because my Europe trip will include Venice and Florence, two places I’ve been but I got caught up in the Marriott 60000 booking hysteria and have booked the Gritti Palace and St. Regis Florence. Your articles have caused me to think!
@Kate, I did the same thing but I cancelled The Gritti Palace. I thought why are you doing this? We liked Venice but loved Verona, why stay in Venice, just to stay in The Gritti Palace? Only because it was a deal but I could still stay a few nights somewhere else for that same amount of points. I love Florence but we stayed in a sweet Airbnb with a balcony with a killer view of the Duomo for like $150 a night (split between two couples). In Venice we stayed in a hotel 1 “block” from St Marks. We didn’t need The Gritti Palace!! We are going back in May and just doing Airbnb, city center apartments. But I have to admit the spoiled part here, we are going over there just to see Elton John at the Colosseum in Verona! Yep, seen him here in the states and last month he was 80 miles away from us but the first time I went to the Colosseum I thought, I’d sure like to see Elton perform here. We have the points so why not, this is something we want to do (and we talked 4 people into meeting us there).
Great comment Kate. I know many have begun building vacations around this Marriott “deal” push. The question is is it really worth it and do you really wanna go there. Are there better options that are not a “deal” but that stretches you points further and is perfectly acceptable. The pull to book something because it is simply considered a deal is tempting for sure.
I remember clearly a post from a well-known blogger about his trip halfway around the world to stay in a fancy 5-star resort.
From what I could tell, he never left his suite for a week. Then he flew back.
I consider that completely insane.
I guess he got a tax-deductible post with a bunch of lucrative Internet hits out of it.
I do think it is tempting for bloggers to search out places they think will play well on the site, social media etc. Heck I even think that way from time to time since it is a part of the job. But I think it plays best when you just write about and visit places you find interesting because that will show through in the work and people will appreciate it more. At least that is the way I hope it works haha 🙂
Sometimes it’s the deal that drives the trip. My wife’s main bucket list item is an overwater bungalow and the only one I could find for a “standard” points redemption value was at the Conrad Maldives.
I neither have nor ever have participated in social media…..
That is true. I am sure she is gonna love it!
I think traveling is very subjective.. I’m not long in the miles and points hobby. My family have flown first and biz with ANA thru points and have used UR for free economy ticket to Europe. To me its what value it brings to u, I never let what other people ‘s opinion but my own matters. I mean who doesn’t want to always fly in luxury but for a family of 4 It’s not easy earning that much points and getting that many seats for the same flight. Also as somebody who also grew up in a tropical country, I have no interest in going to the Maldives, Bora bora and Fiji. I didn’t even look when they had the mistake fare a few days ago, again that’s me. I’ve seen better beaches . The same with Hawaii, my husband wasn’t impressed either and yet to other people that is paradise..i never let people influence me where I’m going but To each his own..
Thanks for the comment Giselle. I am glad you have stayed true to what works for you.
EXACTLY THIS! I have found myself going down this path and I don’t like it! While I think the Maldives and Bora Bora are beautiful, I also know us and we would be bored out of our minds after a few days! I fly coach because I want to fly more – it is about the destination for me. Not saying 1st wouldn’t be great to Europe but I can go twice if I fly in economy. I like nice hotels sometimes but some of the over the top ones, aren’t for me. I hope Paris Le Grand upgrades us but I will live if they don’t, I’m still staying at the Paris Le Grand. I love the SW Companion Pass, I don’t mind a Holiday Inn Express. Lately I have had to ask myself if a certain place, is a place I want to go or am I wanting to go just because I can and everyone else is? I’m sticking to the places I know I actually WANT to go. Riding around Italy on a train and staying in an airbnb, for us, can’t be beat unless we are at Caye Caulker, Belize, riding bicycles and eating $5 meals and staying in a $80 a night hotel.
Renee we have to stay strong! 🙂
Thanks for the comment and for reading. I wish I could still get a SW CP, hopefully next year if I can keep my wife on 5/24 ice.
Great article, Mark. Brands often use luxury, opulence and other attributes to create an aura. The expectations sometimes match reality every now and then, but sometimes they don’t. In the age of social media where everything is so instantaneous in nature, everything gets magnified and glorified 10x once it’s shared or retweeted. Far too often you see people travel just to get that one photo or a ‘check-in’ on social media.
Thanks for the kind words. I agree that social media tends to glorify things or filter it so to speak. You tend to only see the good and none of the downside. Something we need to be aware of when making decisions.