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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 11 December 2018

On the move: why the proof is in the picture

Survey suggests that 80 per cent of UAE residents plan their holidays around taking photos to share on social media

Social network applications including Facebook, Instagram, Slack, Snapchat, Twitter, Skype, Viber, Teamsnap and Messenger, are on display on a smartphone / AFP PHOTO / Eric BARADAT
Social network applications including Facebook, Instagram, Slack, Snapchat, Twitter, Skype, Viber, Teamsnap and Messenger, are on display on a smartphone / AFP PHOTO / Eric BARADAT

"Give me the ocular proof." Shakespeare's Othello wasn't the first to argue the importance of visual evidence, but his quote could have been made for the digital age, in which smartphone photos are, if you will pardon the pun, centre stage.

While photos have since the advent of advertising been all-important in the travel industry - humans are after all visually motivated - the role of social media now means that taking photos now has more of an all-consuming role on our holidays than ever before.

In a survey released this week by RSA insurance, in which 500 UAE residents were questioned on their travel habits, 96 per cent said that travel photos were important to them, but that their relationship with social media "extended to various different aspects of the travel decision-making process including before, during and after the vacation - covering all phases from research, booking the trip to posting about the experiences."

Most tellingly, 80 per cent of people admitted to planning their holidays around taking photos to share on social media. Instagram, the most successful photo-sharing app in history, is responsible for most of this, though it isn't just millennials using it. Some 85 per cent of the survey respondents were working professionals over the age of 30. Some 25 per cent of the total number of respondents had made 5 to 10 trips in the past two years and one in 10 had made more than 20 trips during the same period.

According to the study, social media, in which people who are often total strangers share their travel inspiration, is now more trusted and a better motivation for travel than recommendations from family and friends or travel companies. The results suggest that "69 per cent of people in the UAE feel the need to travel to a specific destination after seeing posts and photos on social media, with the fear of missing out acting as one of the key drivers of this trend (61 per cent)."

During the planning phase, the survey goes on, "travellers spend their time researching the best spots to ensure these locations are covered in their travel plans...48 per cent would go into the specifics of finding out the best time to visit each location to get the best possible photo and more surprisingly, 33 per cent would plan poses or shots beforehand for the locations they will be visiting."

While posing is generally egotistical and takes away from the experience of a place, one should not scoff at the use of social media to enhance the travel experience. While constant obsession with finding a Wi-Fi signal can detract from the moment, taking a lot of photos can make you look more closely at a place, appreciate it more and remember it better.

Also, from the point of view of the paying customer who must commit to spending money before departure, the consumer value of the millions of up-to-date travel photos on social media and review sites cannot be over-estimated. As someone who can remember the days of a travel industry where only a carefully edited selection of pictures were seen in brochures or travel agents' windows or websites, the power of a greater number of real images shared is invaluable, as is the travel company's awareness that any failings will also be instantly documented and uploaded.

Yes, there is the danger of over-enhancement or even outright manipulation, but I always look at it this way. The vast majority of those posting on social media aren't great photographers - and bizarrely, by showing us the world from every angle, even inadvertently, the truth will out.

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Read more:

Is Instagram 'sucking the life and soul' out of travel?

Why ecotourism only makes sense if we all talk to each other

On the move: why solo travel is the new luxury

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