The influence of social media on marine tourism

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New publication on risk and influence of social media with swim-with programmes

Together with her supervisors, WCA Partner Chantal Pagel has recently published a paper entitled ‘#BiteMe: Considering the potential influence of social media on in-water encounters with marine wildlife’ in the journal Tourism in Marine Environments, which will be part of a special issue on safety in marine tourism.

The paper considers the issues of risk involved with these activities and the emerging role of the use of social media in marine wildlife tourism experiences. Such inherited risks have received comparatively little attention, particularly the case regarding interactions with potentially dangerous wildlife in open-water environments. This aspect warrants further exploration in the context of the growth of wildlife photography/videography and sharing via social media platforms, which frequently display close encounters with animals in dangerous scenarios for both people and wildlife.

Chantal feels that the way we display our relationships with wildlife on social media need holistic management approaches as social media ‘influencers’, researchers or tour guides may involuntarily promote wildlife harassment when sharing images of close approaches or handling of wild animals with an online audience.

The WCA has always promoted sustainable and responsible interactions with marine wildlife, with responsible operators who adhere to strict guidelines and protocols for interactions. In 2018 the WCA also published its Global Best Practice Guidance for Responsible Whale and Dolphin Watching with the aim of significantly reducing the impact of tours whilst retaining a high quality customer experience. The guidance aims to ensure whale and dolphin watching trips offer an incredible experience for tourists whilst actively helping to protect whales, dolphins and porpoises.  The guidelines also address the often controversial subject of swimming with wild whales and dolphins. Arguably a more invasive form of tourism because boats often attempt to get closer to animals to place swimmers in the water and because the act of entering the water can disturb animals that were previously engaged in other activities.

Many swim-with activities have developed relatively recently and with the comparative lack of long term studies means guidelines for swim-with activities have gained less attention and refinement than for boat based activities.

The WCA provided a strict yet practical guidance for those businesses offering swim-with tours, including the not using selfie sticks during in water encounters.

One area of concern with the use of social media is the open access it gives to the public and private boaters as to the whereabouts of animals. Private boaters constitute a major issue in the wider context of wildlife harassment and non-compliance of guidelines.

With Chantal planning to submit her thesis in 2020 she hopes to provide further insights into this topic in the future.

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