Travel with Tom Breathnach: Why we need to go off the beaten track this summer

"The challenge now is to train tourists to be a little more intrepid and live for the experience — not the comment count."
Travel with Tom Breathnach: Why we need to go off the beaten track this summer

View from Roys Peak near the city of Wanaka, New Zealand. 

New Zealand really can seem to do no wrong at the moment. This week, the country’s national tourist board launched a fresh marketing campaign urging tourists to filter Instagram hotspots from their travel itineraries and not to travel “under the social influence”. 

It’s seriously slick — and funny. In the Do Something New advert, a hapless ranger serving with the S.O.S. (the Social Observation Squad, of course), chases down tourists at the country’s most trending photo locations, before relocating them to hidden gems elsewhere. But beyond the Kiwi humour, it all prompts the wider travel question of whether we as tourists choose our destinations by desire… or design?

“You know who you are!” ranger Tom Sainsbury announces, before Insta-shaming a slew of cliché images; from the “hot tub back shot” to the “contemplating on a rock shot” to the now iconic NZ pose of open-armed tourists standing upon Roy’s Peak. The mountain in Wanaka has become one of the most over-touristed spots in New Zealand, with serene visitor images of the summit often belying the queues of hikers that form behind the lens. Concerns now also surround the region’s delicate alpine ecosystem, eroded by the constant flow of travellers trekking in the name of Instagram glory. 

It’s a behaviour I’ve seen crescendo massively in the pre-pandemic year, from witnessing masses everywhere from the Welcome to Las Vegas sign in Nevada, Gullfoss waterfalls in Iceland and even the Pink Mosque in Iran. It’s you-go-I-go tourism at its finest.

But what’s the psyche behind these images? The temptation to travel to and replicate Instagram moments is often hard to resist. They’re often set in admittedly spectacular locations, worth off-setting the buzzkill of any queues or mass gatherings. But there’s also a wooing incentive for every Instagrammer to find the money shot: engagement. 

As social media consumers, our brains seem almost pre-programmed to react to recognisable scenes and wonders; it reaffirms our perceptions, our knowledge and therefore our egos. And that’s generally worth a like. The challenge now for Tourism NZ and others is to train tourists to be a little more intrepid and live for the experience — not the comment count.

In Ireland, we’ve seen the Instagram effect play its part too, from jams at popular locations like St. James’ Gate at Guinness HQ and the national treasure of the Cliffs of Moher. But there have been positive tourism impacts on more off-the-beaten destinations too. The picture perfect Dún Briste sea stack at Downpatrick Head saw a welcome boost of tourism to North Mayo last summer, while the postcard Lavender Farm has become a quirky draw to Gorey in Co. Wexford. Here, visitors pay a nominal car park fee in peak season to wander through the purple blooms — and perhaps even strike a pose. It’s clear that when we travel, we all still want to capture those photo opps. I guess, they just shouldn’t all have to be the same.

Kirkjufell mountain on Snaefellsnes peninsula, Iceland
Kirkjufell mountain on Snaefellsnes peninsula, Iceland

Iceland vaxication

Iceland will become one of the first countries in the world to allow visitors with Covid-19 vaccinations to bypass the country’s quarantine regulations upon arrival. The aim is to encourage tourism back to a nation which saw numbers by almost 80% last year. Iceland is aiming to cash in on its brand as an open-space destination when travel resumes — the recently opened Buuble Hotel will allow guests to sleep under the midnight sun and Northern Lights while this spring sees the launch of the Sky Lagoon, Iceland’s largest sauna. visiticeland.com

The Dubai Marina district. 
The Dubai Marina district. 

Dubai down

The show’s over in Dubai, for now. Bars and clubs called last orders in Dubai this week, drawing to a close the emirate’s street cred as a safe travel haven for globe-trotters. Dubai, which became one of the first countries to announce itself as open for business during the pandemic, has emerged in recent weeks as a hotspot for exiled influencers to party. Parties which have been finger-wagged for causing a spike in cases in the UK, Denmark and Israel this week.

Black (hooked-lipped) rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis)
Black (hooked-lipped) rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis)

Safari boost

Despite the grim travel outlook, there are some positive news stories emerging from lockdown. Figures released this week show a decrease in the numbers of rhinoceros poached in 2020, with figures falling to a decade-long low. The drop’s said to be down to a number of factors; South Africa’s strict lockdowns, which made movement riskier, as well as the decrease in international flights which limited trafficking opportunities. SA is home to 20,000 rhinos and these latest figures will offer hope to both ongoing conservation efforts and future ecotourism to the country.

The Metropole Hotel
The Metropole Hotel

Valentine’s take-out

Date nights in Irish restaurants may be put on ice this Valentine’s, but keep an eye out for the myriad romantic meal offers available for take-away. The Metropole Hotel in Cork is offering a special “Valentine's Afternoon Tea at Home”, which includes savouries like coronation chicken sandwiches and open smoked salmon with treats like pink heart meringues and scones dolloped with cream and strawberry love hearts. €30pp; themetropolehotel.ie

If you’ve a hospitality business with a Valentine’s Day offer you’d like us to cover, email us at travel@examiner.ie

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