Digital Lenses and Mobile Screens: Redefining the Tourist Experience
Photography and mobile connectedness have been discussed by past researchers as factors which shape and influence the tourist experience. Online photo-sharing enabled by mobile connectivity and social networking sites (SNS) have opened up opportunities for tourists to share visual content of their holiday with family, friends and followers who are not physically present. However, focus placed on camera lenses and mobile screens when taking and sharing holiday photos may limit immersion in the on-site travel experience. Subsequently, fulfillment of conventional travel motives such as escapism, resting and relaxing, and enhancement of kinship relationship may potentially be hampered. Online interactions stemming from photos shared via SNS may also alter the experience pursued at the destination. This is depicted through the recently established concepts of selfie gaze and social media pilgrimage, which view tourism as an activity occurring within the physical-virtual space, and hence allowing the absent others to co-participate in the experience. Yet limited studies have explored the implications of photography and online photo-sharing on the on-site tourist experience, taking into consideration the motivations driving the decision to travel. The aim of this study, therefore, is to investigate the kind of experience sought by present-day tourists, with attention paid to tourists’ photo-taking and online photosharing endeavours at the destination.
This study adopted a sequential mixed-methods approach to gather qualitative and quantitative data across three stages of data collection. Non-participant observations were conducted in stage one with a sample size of 68 visitors. This was followed by 17 in-depth interviews conducted in stage two, and a survey of 405 respondents in stage three. Overall, findings of the study revealed that photos produced during the trip, as well as benefits drawn from photos shared online, make up the value of travel. Although potential implications for the on-site travel experience were recognised, the absence of photography and photo-sharing opportunities was viewed as a loss in the outcome of travel. Tourism has been widely discussed in existing literature as the visual consumption of places, and online photo-sharing allows for such consumption to be extended to others, which subsequently enhances the tourist experience. Photography and photo-sharing were often pursued with an audience in mind which, to a certain extent, gave shape to the travel journey. The co-existence of others in the online space was embraced by most respondents, implying that travel is also pursued to be experienced with, or showcased to, an intended audience.
Theoretically, this study revealed new meanings to the present-day notion of on-site tourist experience and how travel motivations are fulfilled through a convergence of physical and virtual spaces. While leisure travel has traditionally been regarded as one’s detachment from the mundane environment, this study found such detachment to exist only at a physical level, but not social and emotional. From a practical perspective, the findings shed light on the kind of services tourism and hospitality providers could offer to cater to the photography and online photo-sharing needs of present-day tourists. These include marketing strategies that can be implemented to draw the attention and interest of potential tourists.