Travel isn’t just about glossy, happy-go-lucky experiences. Terms like “local” and “authentic” have become selling points for the current generation of travelers seeking grit over glam. There’s no longer any need for destinations to sugar coat their true identities. In fact, many are learning they should flaunt the flaws that add to their character.
Pop culture plays a role in driving tourism to locations most travelers would have never considered visiting otherwise, regardless of the way the destination was portrayed.
Take AMC’s Breaking Bad instance, a fictional show about cooking and selling methamphetamine in Albuquerque. While a show riddled with drugs and violence, which in part mirrors a real problem for Albuquerque, may seem like it should have deterred visits to the city, quite the opposite happened. The show sparked a tourism boom for the area. Visitors from the rest of the country and Europe flock in droves to take RV tours of set locations and snack on candy meant to look like blue meth from the show.
What this means for destinations is that they can peel back an over-polished layer of the image they think they need to portray and give visitors a taste of realness.
Travel Channel Original’s Real series strips away the blue-sky conventions of typical travel programming, as host Kinga Philipps navigates through the beautiful, gritty and the everything-in-between of resort towns.
The storylines balance discussions of the real issues the given locale faces (ocean pollution in Malibu; economic imbalances on St. Croix) while also celebrating features that make it a top tourist destination. The Real: Aspen installment goes as far as to touch upon the economic disparity between classes.
“There are two kinds of people in Aspen: those with three jobs, and then those with three homes,” says Nina Gabianelli, of the Aspen Historical Society. To that, the mayor of Aspen, a wealthy resident and others debate the accuracy of the assessment. The result: a town with new depth and texture, beyond the worn postcard clichés “Aspen” might otherwise evoke.
Destinations worried about masking their less shiny sides need to give consumers more credit. With the Internet — and especially social media — at their fingertips, they’ve done their research, know the truth, and increasingly choose places they perceive to be genuine. An unrelenting spotlight on the truly terrible might not be the wisest strategy, but a balanced portrayal of what a place has to offer can definitely appeal to a wide slice of today’s travelers.
This content was created in collaboration with Travel Channel.