Fact or Fake — Media impact on tourism futures
Academic and industry experts share their insights on how media has impacted tourism, particularly amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
The third instalment of James Cook University (JCU) in Singapore’s Emerging Leader Series — “Fact or Fake — Media impact on tourism futures” — took place on 14 July 2022.
The webinar featured Dr Zohre Mohammadi, Senior Research Fellow of Tourism at James Cook University in Singapore; Ms Rachel Kelly, Management Committee Member and Head of Student Chapter at Singapore Press Club; and Ms Gerardine Donough-Tan, Freelance Writer and Editor, and Sessional Lecturer at James Cook University in Singapore. These academic and industry experts took this opportunity to share their insights on how media has impacted tourism, particularly amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
Spearheading the discussion was the notion that news and media have the potential to impact our opinions, expectations and even behaviours. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a shift in media consumption, as consumers became more interested in facts. At the same time, there was an overwhelming amount of information across news websites and social media — some accurate and some untrue — allowing facts, but also rumours and fears, to spread rapidly. While people believe that they might be able to discern “fake news” from facts, that is not often the case.
“So, what does this mean for travel? It’s not just news sites; we’ve also seen in the media lately that a number of consumers, when it comes to travel, have been hit by fake websites and fake news when it comes to offers,” explained Ms Kelly. For example, at least 35 people have fallen prey to scams involving the non-delivery of travel-related services since the start of 2022, with losses amounting to at least $34,000.
Border closures and travel restrictions stemming from the pandemic have also severely impacted the tourism industry, leading to a marked decline in travel. As such, successful crisis management is crucial to recovery efforts. Health and safety measures remain important concerns even as the pandemic wanes.
Expanding on the role of media in tourism, Dr Mohammadi shared that media plays a key role in crisis management and communication by impacting travel perceptions and intentions through the portrayals of a country’s response to the pandemic. For example, if a country has been shown to implement swift and effective measures to combat COVID-19, its reputation as a desirable travel destination would become more positive. Meanwhile, negative information, along with misleading information and imagery, can incite fear and panic and turn travellers away from certain destinations.
Moreover, social media (followed closely by mass media) was found to be the primary source of information for travellers when deciding to travel. In fact, tourists who are unfamiliar with a destination they plan to visit are more likely to rely on such external information sources. This highlights the importance of media with regard to travel behaviour.
Ms Donough-Tan, who has had a hand in both the media as well as the academic side of things, reinforced the insights shared above, saying: “When providing information on how countries are handling the pandemic, what we notice is that the media can and do influence people’s perceptions and opinions.”
She also underscored that news sources often struggle with building trust with their audiences, and that “fake news” concerns are at an all-time high among several countries. On the other hand, accurate information from the media can help to minimise misinformation and reduce public anxiety and fears.
Some ways that we can identify untrustworthy sources include: checking the original source or weblink, see who else is reporting the story, avoid taking images at face value, and stop to consider if the story “sounds right” or “sounds sensational”.
As travel restrictions begin to ease, it is critical for us to be discerning in what we consume and share, so that we may detect any manipulation of facts or exaggeration of positive or negative points, and travel with peace of mind.
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