Unpopular Opinion – The pretentious world of Travel Influencers

The superficiality of “Travel Influencers” on Instagram is so unashamedly blatant that it’s almost amusing to look at their highly filtered photos followed by Rumi-isk captions about life and dreams and fluffy things.

I know numerous travel bloggers who genuinely love travel and share the beauty of this world while respecting the culture and tradition of the place. I am not against pretty photos or influencers in gorgeous dresses, but with the whole idea of marketing and associating Travel with photos of food baskets floating in water covered in rose petals or posing in front of air balloons without revealing the fact that they paid for the whole setup. You would understand my frustration if you knew that the photo of Gate of Heaven in Bali (made popular by Instagram) is nothing but a mirror trick. And that is exactly why the whole “fakery” of travel influencers bother me.

Like many travelers, I truly admire the wonders of nature and feel fortunate to have seen a few of them, so imagine my shock and heartbreak when I came across the truth behind Gate of Heaven photo. I felt betrayed by all the “travel influencers” who never revealed that it’s FAKE.

My sister at Balinese Lempuyang Temple’s Gate of Heaven (Bali)

My sister visited Bali this year and shared a video of the queue and the actual scene at the Temple. The waiting period was 2.5 hours. This effect is achieved by placing a glass under the camera.

In case you are interested, here’s the total cost of the picture:
Donation – 26000 IDR
Sarong – 24000 IDR
Tips to the photographer – 5000 IDR
Petrol – 15000 IDR
Scooty Rent – 60000 IDR
Total – 130000 IDR

The result is stunning, no doubt, but it raises serious questions about the ethics of new-age travel influencers.

I have always been impressed by the mesmerizing photos of Cappadocia (Turkey) and have wondered how travel bloggers get the perfect shot with beautiful settings every single time. A unique background of hot air balloons, colorful rugs and a table with delicious looking breakfast. Fearing that it might be another fake shot I dug further to get more information. Fortunately, it’s all real, but the whole setup is done by the hotel staff and isn’t free at all.

Neither is the food for eating. The table is set for Instagrammers to click and capture the moment. And of course, there’s a queue for it too. If the balloons are not visible, only then the rooftop is open for other visitors to take pictures. This is the rooftop of Sultan Cave Suites and it can cost you as much as $180 for one night.

A lot of other hotels also provide these rooftop services for a price. But well, no one reveals them in the caption, do they? Why so pretentious!!! Why pretend that you magically came across this setting, that there wasn’t a huge queue of people watching you pose for pictures while waiting their turn.

Where is the magic of traveling if everything is made-up? I know the picture looks beautiful, but it lost all the charm after I read about the truth behind it.

No one wears heels to a hike. No one eats 50 pancakes for breakfast. I thought I had seen enough, but then read about travel influencers adding clouds to their pictures. Of course, we all brighten up our pictures, play a bit with contrast and saturation to make the picture appealing but adding clouds or removing construction sites is totally misleading. I fail to understand this fabrication of reality.

So, in short, if you are planning to travel – do not trust “Travel Influencers” on Instagram! I prefer to post questions in travel groups on Facebook, where real travelers share real opinions and advice. That was how I was able to see bioluminescent in Tasmania.

Related Posts : The stunning Tasmanian Landscape

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29 thoughts on “Unpopular Opinion – The pretentious world of Travel Influencers

  1. The whole culture of ‘fakery’ & travel influencing started with Instagram. While it is okay to charge for a real and helful advice/service, it is completely dishonest to trick people by photo editing skills/staging a scene.

    Thanks for the post.

  2. Wow, I was so clueless about all of this!! Never considered that it could all be a set up, even though now that I think of it – of course it is! Sigh.

    Kudos to you for bringing this to light.

  3. I wonder what these folks earn – what’s the price for integrity? It’s one thing to stage a beautiful photo (and the Gate of Heaven photo is lovely, but a travel blogger/influencer ought also to describe, as you do here, what’s involved in terms of time and cost, for tourists who care to get their own). Honesty matters to me as a traveler. I don’t need lies – I need help planning how to spend my time and money. Maybe that photo is worth it to me, but if not, my NOT being there shortens the queue for others. Raise the prices if need be, to make up the difference. Goodness.

    At least Oyster.com built a reputation for “undoctored” hotel photos. Granted, they don’t show hotel rooms after a family of four has unpacked and spent the day at the beach, but at least they’re pretty thorough and not retouched. Wouldn’t you rather have reasonable expectations and be utterly delighted if reality is BETTER? (I can say that for the few hotels I checked over there, the photos match my experience.)

    This is of great interest to me, as one of the things I’d like to do in a few months is write about travel, starting locally and working my way outward. I wouldn’t mind making a part time career of it, but I’m not about to sell my soul or lie to people just to promote something for money. (I was telling a friend that it would be amazing to find a job that would pay me to travel and try weird foods, like Bourdain and Zimmerman. I draw the line, though, at casu marzu. One must set boundaries.)

    It’s sad that these “Influencers” are really just competing to be Internet celebrities, or to get rich marketing experiences and stuff that isn’t real. They’re not writers and they don’t care at all about their audience if they’re misleading them.

    1. It’s good to know about Oyster.com. Will check out the site. Hopefully they cater to Australian travellers as well. I agree that it’s one thing to have a pretty shot taken but not revealing the reality of the place as a travel influencer is misleading. So many people get disappointed when they find ugly construction sites blocking the view of a monument, or the place not as pretty as hyped. Traveling is a privilege not everyone get to enjoy and many save money for years to finally travel. It’s the duty of travel bloggers and influencers to sell truth and not a fancy dream.
      Oh I would like a job like that too. Being paid to travel and share the wonders of the word.
      Thank you for reading and leaving your insightful comment.

  4. Wow, I’ve always wondered a lot about picture perfect photos, while all I’m able to get is a silly photo even of the most beautiful place. So it’s all fake. Wow, you saved me from going mad about many online blunt photographs.

    To be honest, the photo we posed before boarding the London eye was taken with a green backdrop. I wondered what they’d do with this. I was dumb truly. Later they added the background of us being inside one of the capsules and sold it to us for 20£. To me, this was funny and awesome marketing.

    In the park inside there was a ride as well, I was stunned to see people taking photos and videos more than actually enjoying the ride. Amazing write up Raj. ♥️

    1. No no not everything is fake. A lot of places are truly beautiful. But yes, a lot of travel influencers take pictures in luxury resorts which can cost as much as $800 per night. We just need to find right kind of bloggers and influencers to follow.

      Yeah that’s clever marketing.But I guess it also makes a nice souvenir. I feel instagram has totally ruined the fun of traveling. Going to flower shows is a nightmare as often cameras would be pointed in front of your view and you can’t even stand longer to admire flowers as there would be a line behind you to take photo. Thank you for reading.

  5. That was informative, thanks for posting I really enjoyed reading it. I’ll have to look into it further now that my interest has been peaked. Nice piece of work, keep it up, I’ll check back and look forward to reading more about the topic.

  6. I am so glad you are bringing this topic to light! Social media presents so many opportunities for things to be shared in a fake light, making the rest of us feel inadequate. Great article!

  7. I am so glad I read this blog post..You know what most of these travel destinations were on my wishlist just because of such amazing photos shared on Instagram with perfect setting.Imagine saving so much money to plan that holiday and visit those places and then getting to know after reaching the destination that you need to pay such a high amount for those perfect setup and shot!

    1. That’s exactly what bothers me too. Not everyone has the privilege to travel and when they do, they would have saved years of hard earned money. Thank you for reading.

  8. Why pretend that you magically same across a setting? YOU SAID IT!

    I’m tired of seeing these glossed up pictures everywhere! Influencers wearing backless gowns against an icy backdrop or basking in a pool with a floating tray filled with calorie laden food while it looks like they only eat a carrot a day. Everything is so fake.

    I just don’t understand the concept of influencers. You are paid to make others pay for something? Interesting.

    1. You saw backless, I saw bums out in snow… I mean likes k liye matlab kuch bhi 😛
      True, even a normal person won’t eat so much sugary calorie laden food. I have always wondered what they do with the food. Is it for posing or actually eating.

  9. Gosh! I’d been thinking of this for a while, and you came up with such a fantastic, well-researched post, Raj. Much needed to open our eyes and that of the travellers, who get lured by these make-believe fantasies.

    It’s a shame how tourism and travel is becoming more and more commercial losing it’s natural, real world charm. Time for people to open their eyes and explore the basics.

    My friend was to do this hot air ballon jaunt in Cappadocia recently, but it got cancelled for some odd reason. Maybe I should share your post with her. She will be happy to know she didn’t miss as much, as it is hyped to be, I guess.

    1. Hot air balloon rides get cancelled all the time; you have to be pretty flexible. First, the wind can’t be above a certain speed. Weather has got to be nearly perfect, tranquil. This is not just for the view, but for safety’s sake. Second, the outside temperature must be considered, because in order to achieve lift, the air inside the balloon must be about 100 degrees (F) hotter than outside. Hot days are not the balloonist’s friend. (The flame blasts out about 20 million BTUs a pop, but still… takes a lot to fill the balloon!) Balloon pilots aren’t in unlimited supply, either – they must have a pilot’s license (at least in the USA, this is true, and I assume most other countries, as well, since they fly high enough to cross paths with airplanes – including commercial jets).

      Now, having said this, a hot air balloon ride is wonderful and amazing. You probably don’t want to take small children (you may not be ALLOWED to, many places!) or anyone who lacks upper body strength, as the landings aren’t always smooth and there’s usually nothing holding you in the basket. I’ve only gone once, but on our first (attempted) landing, we came down and were moving too fast horizontally – I was literally staring straight down at the ground and holding onto the frame. Falling out would have been uncomfortable, at best – possibly quite deadly. The pilot hit the burner hard, we jumped a road with active traffic, and came down in the greenbelt behind a row of townhomes. It was marvelous – I’d do it again in a heartbeat! But it’s not really for anyone with a fear of heights or no strength in their arms. You know why they have “champagne flights”? They have to land in open fields. That’s often farmland. The wine or champagne is offered to the farmer as appeasement for the ruined row of crops, so that he won’t take a pitchfork to the balloon. Balloons and pitchforks don’t mix well. 🙂

      In all seriousness, though, the ride was probably cancelled for safety reasons – and safety first is a good motto.

      1. @Holly OMG you are a star. I have always wanted to go in a hot air balloon. It is my dream to leisurely see the world from the clouds.

    2. @natasha yes, now we need to do a lot of our own research before visiting a place. We can’t go by pictures as many could be doctored. I hope your friend gets to enjoy the place and not get disappointed.

  10. That is so not done! But, that’s how the world functions today, isn’t it? Fooling people with fake beauty gets these influencers followers and assignments galore, but it’s we, those blind followers, who get cheated.
    I am sure this is the scenario in almost every niche, Raj. Be it beauty, fashion, health, too. Authenticity is lacking because people want to see the numbers increasing. Wonder where the conscience has disappeared.

    1. yes it’s unfortunate that authenticity is being lost in the world of followers and likes. True even in health and fitness sector people endorse products for money or use apps to slim themselves . It’s just sad.

    1. Unfortunately, that’s true. I have started unfollowing a lot of fancy influencers who I initially followed blinded by all the glitter and pretty colors. Thank you for reading.

    1. That’s hoe it has become.
      I mean I will take a pic on top of Burj Khalifa…and I might skip the pic of the line.
      But I will certainly not add a mirror asn show taht I owned the day for a place.

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