Tourist Thursday – “Influencers,” 4/4/19

(Continued from Tuesday’s article)

“LC: Absolutely. I’ve been running one of the biggest travel blogs in the world for almost a decade, and about six years I moved to Wanaka, New Zealand. I got there, and I was one of the original people taking photos with my iPhone about this incredible, secret place. Then, over the years, I started to see the influx of photographers and other Instagrammers come, and see the impact of it. So it was very natural self-realization that I had of, “Oh shit, this is my home now and it’s overrun.” Overtourism is right on my doorstep.

So for the past few years I’ve run strategic marketing campaigns with tourism boards and brands around the world and I’ve worked really hard to think about it from a responsible angle as an influencer. So within New Zealand, I almost never talk about where I am, or if I do I talk about it in a very specific or careful way, I’m not going to the truly iconic Instagram hotspots in the country anymore because, for me, it’s not the story that I want to share. It’s not the message I want to share with my followers who are after authentic experiences. What you don’t see on Instagram when you see a photo of a person with their arms in the air on Roy’s Peak, our iconic mountain, is the line two hours long behind it.


ME: Can it be that long?

LC: Yeah. This is a hike that a couple years ago not many people would go up, now I think it’s close to 100,000 a year. A lot of people started to camp up there and it’s not a campsite. There were no toilet facilities, and every Instagrammer was going up there with their tent to take these photos, promoting what is essentially irresponsible behavior. New Zealand has always had this attitude of just behave and be responsible. But how does that work when you’ve got dozens of people camping in a place that no one should camp in? It’s created these dilemmas.

My role as an influencer is to try and think about how I can share this place in a responsible way. Often that means sharing places that are off the beaten path and looking at ways to increase tourism that have a sustainable wildlife message.

ME: Talk about responsibility. You were saying in New Zealand there’s this sense of responsibility. How do you cultivate it in your followers? What comments have you clapped back at?

LC: Basically, I call out irresponsible behavior. I usually send private messages to other influencers when I see them hiking on trails that are closed for lambing season or things like that, just saying hey it’s not a good idea to promote this place when it’s closed. Probably a big one is with drones. I work a lot with search and rescue and helicopter pilots, and people are flying drones all over the place without following the regulations so it shuts down the airspace. It’s just an accident waiting to happen, really. And it interferes with our endangered bird species, so I try and point it out the right way. A lot of people just say, “I don’t care.” But I’m one of those really annoying people—I’ll go up to people on trails and say it.

KAB: That’s really interesting. When you talk to those other influencers, that seems almost more important. The tourism industry used to be based on top ten lists you hoped to be on. Now, top ten lists are based on user-generated content on Instagram. It’s kind of gone backwards. When you talk about the role of media in this issue, creating an ethos of decent behavior is so important.

LC: The past year I’ve been working closely with mountain safety council at the department of conservation trying to encourage more responsible behavior in New Zealand’s backcountry. That’s a big issue, a lot of people who want to go get these beautiful shots but hiking in New Zealand is different from Europe. We don’t have huts everywhere and toilets and people who look out for them. It’s take everything in, take everything out. A lot of these spots are dangerous and off the grid, and you need to take a personal locator beacon. There’s been a massive increase in search and rescue calls funded by us, the taxpayers. When I go out and tell stories about my three day hike in the backcountry, I say, “I’ve brought this, I’ve done this, I’ve prepared this, and it’s this level of difficulty” to try and get that message out there.

ME: It’s like sponsored content but responsible content, showing what you’re taking with you. Cinque Terre in Italy just banned hiking in flip flops because so many people were coming off cruise ships and thought they could do the hike in flip flops and then needed rescuing. I think things like that, showing people you need to pack this, that’s another way. I’m going to throw it out to questions, but before I do I want to ask: who is to blame? It’s easy a lot of the time—Instagram and ‘grammers are the whipping boy for this. Why is this happening?” (to be continued: