The social media tourist gaze: social media photography and its disruption at the zoo

Abstract

This article presents an account of the social media tourist gaze. It does this by reporting on a qualitative exploratory study that considers the use of photography and its dissemination on social media while participants stayed overnight at a zoological park. To examine the impact of photography and social media, our study separated participants into two groups: those we asked to refrain from posting on social media and those whom we placed no restrictions on while undertaking this overnight tourist experience. Results indicate that participants experienced heightened levels of connection with tourist activities and increased interactions between participants who were refraining from social media use. But participants also indicate some consternation and difficulty associated with social media abstention. Our contribution provides an understanding of the impact of the social media tourist gaze which suggests that photography has become a critical instrument for sharing experiences within tourism contexts. Tension appears ever present between a need to capture tourist experiences for digital dissemination on the one hand, and engage in the tourist activity itself, which suggest that tourist contexts and providers may need to explore better ways to manage both face-to-face and digital involvements that travellers increasingly feel compelled to perform.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    While all participants were informed they could take photos and use their mobile phones as they typically would, those selected in the social media abstinence group were asked to refrain from using their accounts for the duration of the time at the Zoo (this was for a period of day and a half). These requirements of participation were not actively policed by the researchers during their stay at the zoo. Rather we relied on participants to actively refrain from using their social media activity. In part this was because we were also interested to see if participants would be in a position to completely refrain from use.

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Funding

Funding was provided by MDB Futures.

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Correspondence to Michael James Walsh.

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Appendix 1

Appendix 1

Demographic and relationships of participants

Participant pseudonym Participant partner Relationship between partners Age Partner’s age Occupation for applicant Partner’s occupation
Able to use social media
 Nadia Peter De Facto Couple 26–35 26–35 Statistician Software engineer
 Shannon Matt Married Couple 36–45 36–45 Public servant Public servant
 Jane Emma Friends 36–45 36–45 Beautician/hair dresser business owner Sales and marketing
Refrained from social media use
 Renee David Married Couple 36–45 36–45 Public servant Field transport officer
 Mandy Amy Friends 36–45 36–45 Teacher Public servant
 Michelle Brad De Facto Couple 26–35 26–35 Statistician Software engineer

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Walsh, M.J., Johns, R. & Dale, N.F. The social media tourist gaze: social media photography and its disruption at the zoo. Inf Technol Tourism 21, 391–412 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40558-019-00151-4

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Keywords

  • Gaze
  • Ontological security
  • Photography
  • Social media
  • Tourism
  • Zoo