BMIHMS Researcher Dr Cindy Lee on the photo sharing phenomenon

Dr Cindy Lee

Whether it’s Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, travel has become synonymous with sharing photos of one’s adventures.

Recently, Dr Cindy Lee has been researching the phenomenon of photo sharing on social media in tourism and how it influences the travel experience.

The role of photo-sharing in the tourism industry

“Having travelled quite a bit myself and seeing how absorbed tourists can become with taking and sharing holiday photos online,” she explained, “I became interested in exploring how this shapes or alters the contemporary tourist experience.

The notion of the camera creating a barrier between the tourist and the ‘real’ experience was commonly accepted, but I also wondered what if the opportunity to take and share holiday photos was not presented to tourists? Would this result in quality tourism experiences, or take away from it?

Photos allow experiences to be shared and albeit not a new phenomenon, the role of photo-taking and online photo-sharing in shaping and enriching the tourist experience needs to be better understood, particularly in a world where connectivity is deeply rooted in our everyday lives.”

With this research, Dr Lee is uncovering some surprising answers that can help guide industry into creating better experiences for travellers. 

Photo-sharing increases the quality of tourism experiences

“Through my research,” Dr Lee said, “I found that online photo-sharing actually adds value and therefore augments the quality of tourism experiences. 

It is often perceived that total disconnection results in true escapism and discovery, but in actual fact, for most tourists, the absence of photo-sharing opportunities detracts from the experience. 

With this in mind, the industry can make more conscious decisions about facilitating the online photo-sharing endeavours of tourists through the infrastructure, services and facilities it offers. 

For example, service environments can be designed to create photo-taking backdrops, high-speed Wi-Fi connection and mobile charging hubs can be provided for free, photography packages and photo-taking services can be offered by professionally-trained employees. The possibilities are endless.” 

Leveraging photo-sharing to attract new visitors

Dr Lee’s research also shows how destinations and businesses can leverage photo sharing as a tool to attract new visitors.

“Photos shared online turn tourists into co-marketers. It benefits businesses as it functions as online word-of-mouth that enables stories to be told and experiences to be visualised,” She said.  

It also benefits the photo viewers who are able to live vicariously through those experiences, learn about the experience of others and consequently, make better travel decisions in the future. 

On the other hand, we should recognise that travel remains unviable to some, particularly the most vulnerable in society. Nevertheless, family and friends can use photos shared online as a way to take others on their travels.

My research also found that online photo-sharing motivates others to visit the destination and undertake the same experience. 

This draws more tourists to the destination and bolsters growth for the industry. 

I believe now, more than ever, as the industry recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, photos can be a powerful tool to help regain confidence and demand amongst travellers.”

Photo-taking opportunities should exist for all tourists

Dr Cindy Lee is passionate and knowledgeable about many facets of the tourism and hospitality industry. But, if there were one thing she could change about it right now, what would it be?

“There are numerous ways the industry is catering to the photo-taking and online photo-sharing needs of tourists, but I would like to see this extended to all tourists, despite their challenges and limitations. 

Through my research, I found that photos should be viewed as a key outcome of experiences. 

It is therefore my wish to see the same photo-taking and online photo-sharing opportunities afforded to all tourists without excluding vulnerable or disadvantaged groups with access requirements,” said Dr Lee. 

Presently, Dr Lee continues to be an asset to the BMIHMS and Torrens University community, embodying the university's philosophy of ‘Work for Good’

What is the next research project for Dr Lee?

She has been focused on topics, such as image sharing for some time, but what’s next for her research in the immediate future?

“I have recently ventured into research in the area of online hospitality education as well as how we can teach or train empathy.”

The pandemic has taught us a lot about being resilient to drastic and unanticipated changes, including how we deliver programs that are traditionally taught using a hands-on approach. This is why BMIHMS has developed innovative ways of learning through Extended Reality (XR) and Virtual Reality (VR), taking hotel management education to a new frontier.

“Through this research, my colleagues and I hope to uncover ways in which abstract concepts, such as hospitableness and empathy, can be effectively taught and instilled through online education.”

Not surprisingly, Dr Lee has now found another crucially important contemporary topic with lots of different industry applications to tackle. Keep up the great work, Dr Cindy Lee. 

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