Thanks to a tropical bug unknown to my system, I am confined to my hotel room in Fiji en route to Samoa – a small tropical island in the middle of a vast ocean that still has the potential to satisfy every traveller’s Treasure Island or Robinson Crusoe-style fantasy. The decision-makers of this tiny country (215,000 residents supported in part by a diaspora of another 180,000 Samoans living & generating cash outside their island economy) face a terrible dilemma. How to do they benefit from such a rich cultural and physical “resource” without succumbing to the forces of an impersonal, industrial juggernaut called mass industrial tourism?
While clearing my computer of thousands of distracting, irrelevant subscriptions and clearing the decks for a very different lifestyle and experience, I received links to two blog posts from the same source that epitomized the issue faced by my Samoan hosts.
Gadling.com was the source – a subsidiary of AOL.com, the site is described as the world's top travel blog, written and edited by passionate travelers and writers whose views are thankfully quite divergent.
The first post I stumbled upon was straightforward and boring enough: http://www.gadling.com/2011/04/20/cruise-ships-on-the-move-as-traveler-demand-changes/
The cruise industry, with a fine nose for money, has in its wisdom sussed that Europe may not offer the rich pickings they expected and has decided there are better more lucrative sunsets they can sail into. What caught my attention was not the article but the “syndicated content their automated system had inserted to make the text more “compelling” – note the buzzwords!
It was a 5 minute video about Europe bore no resemblance to the vibrant, diverse continent I called home. And that’s when I decided it really might be time for me to retire. The video was entirely machine produced content using, presumably similar technology to that developed by Qwiki. It made you feel as alive as an uneaten cold McDonald hamburger discovered on your kitchen counter the day after. So I looked a little deeper into the source and I wasn’t sure whether the stomach cramps that I was experiencing in my tropical hotel room were caused by a Fijian grown bacillus or disgust at what technology can do to completely destroy the magic of travel.
The creators of this five minute farce, who clearly use their own technology to "write" their creative prose as well as produce their videos, use the following language to describe their ingenious product (the bold emphasis is mine):
Our library includes tens of thousands of videos across 20 categories and 140 subcategories, which are professionally produced and brand-safe.
While 5min.com attracts a large audience of millions of monthly visitors, distribution and monetization of these videos is the our primary focus - our philosophy is to place Video Everywhere 5min Media’s Video Syndication Platform reaches over 160 million monthly uniques (is this a new species only found in the internet?), including the web’s largest comprehensive knowledge and information sites, as well as leading lifestyle and niche vertical sites.
5min Media offers a comprehensive video solution appropriate for all types of properties – from sites reaching tens of millions of monthly visitors to the long-tail (is that a place?).
5min Media’s proprietary VideoSeed semantic technology powers efficient, easy implementation of the Syndication offering, helping bring the Video Everywhere (God help us all). VideoSeed contextually matches our most relevant videos with a Syndication Partner site’s existing text content.
VideoSeed allows for several types of integrations, which are customized to a partner site’s specific needs and characteristics, and require only a few hours of work to fully implement. In addition, our videos can be added using our API, widgets or individual embeds in order to provide a solution to every publisher.
At this point I was thoroughly disgusted with Gadling and doubtful of their claim to be the world’s top travel blog but, to their credit, editorial impartiality saved their reputation. Another of their writers, who also happens to write a blog called The Anti Tourist, had drawn readers’ attention to a hand crafted video that really did justice to the topic and that transported me to a place of magic and beauty. Do view: http://www.gadling.com/2011/04/20/video-of-the-day-the-mountain-el-teide-spain/
The only piece of technology involved in this “compelling content” was a hand held camera combined with the patience and discerning eye of a human being; a willingness to forego all kinds of comfort in order to capture nature’s magnificence in an attempt to capture billions of years of evolution seen from one just one blob in an infinite universe.
The industrial model applied to tourism destroys all it touches. Time we said enough and focused on ensuring we can still appreciate the magic and mystery of the places we sell as a product.
So how do you want your travel served: efficiently or magically? And would you like fries or dreams with that Sir?
And for the dreamers among you, let me remind you of why we love to travel and please pass on your thanks to Terje