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How social media encourages travellers to make more sustainable choices

Social media is increasingly being identified as a key culprit for creating all kinds of pressures and effects on society, as well as individuals. Research has been done regarding the impact of platforms such as Facebook, Twitter or Instagram on mental well-being, especially among younger demographics. Experts indeed worry that social media has become so integral to teenage life that there is a direct link between said platforms and anxiety, stress, depression and lowered self-esteem.

However, perhaps not all effects of social media on its users -and society in general- are necessarily bad. For example, social media can create a level of consciousness and awareness regarding a certain issue around the globe, while reaching a massive audience within minutes.

In the tourism industry, social media platforms have traditionally been used simply as a marketing tool. That trend, though, seems to be changing. New trends and studies have shown how consumer behavior can be influenced in the direction of increasingly sustainable choices.

Flight shaming and exposed celebrities

Flygskam (or flight shaming) has taken Sweden by storm during this year with eco-campaigners setting a trend that encourages people to stop taking flights. Others simply define it as imposing shame upon frequent flyers. As a result of this movement, passenger numbers at the country’s ten busiest airports have reduced by more than 5% during the summer of 2019, in comparison to last year. The movement claims it has convinced at least 14,500 Swedes to give up air travel in 2019.

One well-documented case of ditching a flight recently made headlines when Dutch football team AFC Ajax, decided to travel to France via train instead of by plane for their Champions League encounter with French side Lille. Said Ajax’ director Edwin van der Sar: “We live in a climate-conscious time and we want to set a good example as a club. Lille is an excellent destination for a train journey in terms of location, which is why we approached NS [Dutch National Railway Operator] with this idea.”

Other high profile social media campaigns set their sights on exposing celebrities who, in spite of climate change, travelled frequently by air, at times producing up to 10.000 times more carbon emissions from flying than the average person. Petitions for more trains and less flights have gained traction throughout Europe; and several political parties across the continent are pushing for a ban on short-haul flights.

Social media and sustainable choices

Researchers at the University of Eastern Finland and the University of Southern California analysed the impact of social media on the reduction of food waste in tourism. Hospitality food waste has been repeatedly identified as an industry-wide problem, sometimes even referred to as a significant societal challenge.

Research Manager Juho Pesonen points out:Food plays a tremendous role on social media…it has become part of lifestyle. Social media is a powerful tool and it defines many of our social norms. Things that are trending on social media influence the way we behave as consumers.”

Social media food photo

While admittedly more research needs to be conducted in order to understand the different mechanisms of influence, including the role of influencers, there is hope that there will soon be a shift in consumer behaviour. While current popular posts on social media show a glorification of overwhelming and plentiful buffets, a much more conscious attitude and sustainability can surely be achieved.


Digitalisation has also made it easier for restaurants to predict the amount of food they will sell on a given day and limit overproduction. Leftover food can nowadays be spared from going to waste by the use of Apps. The Finnish ResQ Club, for example, allows restaurants to sell their leftover portions to consumers at an affordable price.

Likewise, today’s tourism is not limited to simply package travel and hotel stays as it maybe was before. The emergence of alternatives such as camping, home/room sharing Apps has also had a positive effect on the levels of hospitality food waste. Finally, consumers themselves are increasingly keen to eat at restaurants and eat local ingredients and produce, a trend expected to continue into 2020.