In case you haven’t noticed, there’s a growing debate about the role photography is playing in how we live our lives and the role it should and shouldn’t play in how we travel and experience and record the world around us.
The phone in our pockets has become the camera to our lives and it’s estimated that people will take over one trillion photos this year alone. Add to that the fact that YouTube has over 300 hours of video being uploaded every minute (if you do the math that’s over 40 million hours being posted every year!) and it would seem there’s an almost endless appetite to capture virtually everything we do and see.
Given this overwhelming behavior and abundance, perhaps it’s no surprise that some businesses have pushed back, finding picture taking intrusive and distracting from the guest experience. Some restaurants have banned diners from taking pictures of their food and many museums took steps to ban selfie sticks after a pair of selfie takers smashed into a statue in Italy shattering the crown of the 300-year-old sculpture.
American Photo even recently ran a piece, “The Case for Never Banning Photography,” that raised the question, “Are photographers ruining everything?” The article made a strong case that the world is changing and so, too, is the role of photography. While many purists want people to forsake their cameras and simply enjoy the moment, others make the case that capturing and sharing their surroundings on a picture or video is the experience. As Stephen Mayes, executive director of the Tim Hetherington Trust, said in the article, “People are showing their lives not to create a document but as part of living. If we were dogs we’d be peeing on fire hydrants, but instead we’re posting to Instagram and Facebook.”
Realistically, the act of taking photos has become so pervasive that the question isn’t about banning it, but rather ensuring that it doesn’t begin to impede others’ ability to enjoy their travel experience in whatever fashion they may want.
This quest to see and capture the world from new perspectives is rapidly giving rise to the use of drones. With a price point starting in the $600 range, they are a compelling way to use a camera to capture a view like never before.
As a travel marketer, I marvel at these fresh perspectives and the low cost to capture amazing images that can really showcase a place in a dynamic new way. It would be hard to imagine any hotel or destination not wanting to quickly fill their content bucket with this kind of aerial footage that creates a sense of awe that a traditional land-bound image simply cannot.
So while I’m excited about the potential for drones to help us better tell our travel stories, I’m also worried about how they might negatively impact the actual travel experience.
It’s one thing to have to deal with a tourist holding a camera, and quite another to deal with a sky full of drones chasing the next great picture. Here the intrusion is real and unnatural, and it’s already starting to become problematic.
In June, three tourists crashed their drone into the Milan Cathedral while visiting Expo 15, causing minor damage to the structure, but barely missing the Madonna sculpture adorning the building’s main spire. And just this past month a tourist in Yellowstone crashed a drone into the park’s largest hot spring, the latest in a string of drone problems at national parks (where drones are actually banned) that includes a herd of bighorn sheep scattering at Zion National Park in Utah after being buzzed by a drone.
While these kinds of incidents might be isolated, the bigger question is what will the impact be when even more people start using drones and they someday become as ubiquitous as the cell phone camera? How will it change and impact the travel experience as we know it today? And what can we do to ensure that it doesn’t erode the privacy, authenticity and quality of the experience wherever and however people may travel?
A colleague of mine was recently paddle-boarding on the Charles River in Boston. Dressed in her sports bra and prepared for a fun adventure on the popular waterway, she soon noticed a drone was following her every move. The drone was relentless and would vary its angle and elevation to get closer and more intrusive. This wasn’t just someone capturing the Boston skyline. This was someone who decided that my colleague made an interesting subject and they were going to make her the focus of their image gathering. Intentionally or not, this drone encounter ruined my colleague’s experience and made her very uncomfortable.
One could argue that my colleague and the drone were both sharing the same public space, but there seems to be something different about this airborne technology that presents challenges and intrusions to the traveler experience none of us have fully thought through or are prepared for.
On a TripAdvisor discussion board about drones, several people in high-rise hotels were troubled by the presence of drones hovering outside their patio and clearly looking into their room. Others found the sanctity of trails and beaches suddenly pierced by drones. And the Civil Aviation Safety Authority in Australia has stated that they see more tourists taking their drones with them on holiday and that they are concerned about the impact to aviation in coastal communities where drone use is high.
There’s no doubt that more drones are on the way as price points drop, technology improves, usability is simplified and the images they produce continue to wow.
Now is the time for the travel industry to consider how it can best weigh in on the discussion and engage with users, regulators, communities and enforcement agencies to help establish the best approach to reducing any negative impact on the travel experience.
We need to ensure that protecting the drone’s vantage point doesn’t destroy travel’s bigger picture.
*Originally published on MediaPost.