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Reality vs Expectations: Social media’s impact on city breaks


In the social media era, romanticized views of dream destinations often clash with local realities, as seen in cities like Paris, Bangkok, and Kuala Lumpur.

In the age of social media, the romanticized expectations placed on dream destinations may not match reality.

In Europe, Paris, the continent’s most popular city break, has made headlines for this phenomenon, dubbed ‘Paris Syndrome,’ where visitors feel disappointed or even shocked by their experiences.

Southeast Asia is no exception, with Western culture and entertainment depicting cities like Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok as bucket list destinations.

To shed light on the issue and showcase the staggering difference between local and world stereotypes, leading tour comparison site, TourScanner used AI to examine how local residents and global travellers perceive top city break destinations.

When quizzed on how the world views Bangkok, AI described it as an exotic, party city with iconic landmarks bursting with unique culture to explore, just like on social media.

But the local view is somewhat different – with descriptions of a place that has a distinct contrast between traditional and modern life, with economic opportunity and street food, that’s a victim of traffic, pollution and flooding.

As 2023’s most visited city, pollution is a big concern in Bangkok, as captured in AI’s local view image, where smog shields the view of its skyline and traffic fills the streets. The consequences of agricultural practices of burning crops during summer have led to increased levels of air pollution of up to 163 on Air Quality (AQI), and there are now orders for employees to work from home. This can often disrupt the day-to-day living of the city.

A collage of a cityDescription automatically generated

Meanwhile, Kuala Lumpur, home to one of the tallest buildings in the world, the Petronas Twin Towers at 452 meters, is considered by the world to be a warm, diverse metropolis, boasting dozens of malls for seasoned shoppers to peruse. As a relatively new city, officially recognised in 1972, it is known for being a gem of Southeast Asia, a melting pot of culture and beauty – a sentiment clearly mirrored in the AI world-view images.

Kuala Lumpur

However, all these world-view positives that make it such a desirable destination are what’s making it less so amongst locals.

A busy metropolis with plenty of job opportunities, full of traffic and expensive are all words locals are using to describe the Malaysian capital, as depicted in the AI-reimagined image.

Like all major cities, Kuala Lumpur has seen a significant increase in tourism in the last year alone, so it’s no wonder that traffic is a growing frustration, with a recent study revealing that locals spend 81 hours per year driving in rush hour traffic, with a 43 percent congestion level.

Guillaume Picard, Co-Founder of TourScanner, commented:

When booking a city break, it’s not uncommon for travellers’ expectations to be shaped by romanticised narratives and glossy portrayals, as our study demonstrates. But often, this can lead to disappointment or worse, tourists being wilfully ignorant of the important issues locals are facing.

“On the other hand, locals have a far harsher opinion of their cities and may be too quick to overlook the beauty that draws in tourists.

“While every city boasts its own set of positives and negatives, maintaining an open mind about the realities of each destination can foster a more enriching and respectful travel experience.”

George Diamantopoulos
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George, in his capacity as an intern, diligently oversees the flow of news, assists in the publication of content, and delves into the strategies of social media distribution. He is currently pursuing his studies in Business Administration at the Athens University of Economics and Business.