Social Media Analysis
Winter tourism has been in crisis for years: Snowfalls are decreasing and fewer young enthusiasts hit the slopes as more exotic destinations beckon. The boost afforded by the Olympics Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea will yield no lasting change. New ideas are urgently needed. Simon Bieling has found such ideas on Instagram, and looking at developments across the Atlantic.
Europe’s leading skiing regions are using snow cannons and expanding slopes in an effort to stem falling guest numbers and escape the fate of South Korea’s Alps Ski Resort, which has declined into a veritable ghost town in the years since 2006. Winter tourism here will have to follow the lead taken by others of visually reframing the industry.
Skiing tourists have been posting their photos and videos on social media for years, which has had a key impact on the visual public image of the travel destinations they patronize. Ski resorts and hotels that fail to respond to this development risk losing touch with their customers, at a time when the industry can ill afford to do so.
You just gotta be there: Instagram, January 2018
Despite the bright sunshine, Alpine panoramas and glittering snow seen on the websites and Facebook pages of larger skiing areas in German-speaking Europe, the industry’s prospects are concerning. For this is standard optical fare of the same sort utilized in marketing for decades. With many winter tourists now defecting, it is becoming increasingly clear that ski resorts have to demonstrate why they are not interchangeable with any other tourist destination.
What do winter tourists expect from their vacation? What experiences are important to them, and what things do they like to share with their friends?
A generational clash is evident looking at Instagram in comparison to ski resort marketing imagery. Tourism websites have long relied on postcard views of snow-white peaks while on Instagram young winter athletes are personalizing the landscape, documenting their tracks in the snow and newly discovered slopes off the beaten path.
Leaving a mark. Instagram, January 2018
Many Instagram users are primarily interested in their photos visually documenting their identity as winter sports athletes in the way they have been seen on film and in sports TV programs for decades, burning these images into our collective cultural memory. With colorful goggles, snowboards and so on as key props. But what can ski resorts do to help their guests look photogenically sporty? Perhaps tourism providers should pay more attention to how their ski lifts, huts and slopes look in photos.
Looking like a pro. Instagram, January 2018
Skiing vacations are in part about maintaining relationships. While on the boards one stands alone, we take the lift together (a very popular group shot), and relax together too après ski. Skiing regions should thus give thought to creating the right scenery for these moments of togetherness.
Sharing the ride. Instagram, January 2018
The resorts in the town of Aspen in the US and Whistler in Canada are showing the way. With the hashtag #TheAspenWay, Aspen is telling skiing guests that they will become part of a highly cosmopolitan and environmentally aware community, while Whistler is using the slogan “Ski What You See”. Instead of on fixed slopes, guests get to interpret themselves as an avatar of skiing elegance on individual paths within a clearly defined area.
Skiing tourism in an entirely new context: Aspen campaigning for the environment and diversity
Aspen and Whistler are successfully pioneering what few European resorts are yet to make a move on: ensuring that those skiing down their slopes do not feel like they could just as well be somewhere else. They are creating a feeling of excitement for skiiers in exploring the slopes on their own while feeling like part of a larger whole.
Simon Bieling is a freelance writer living in Karlsruhe, his dissertation to be published in the spring will be one of the first cultural studies dissertations concerned with the newly emerging consumer imagery on social media.