AI-Generated Images Are Distorting Travel Expectations. Here’s What We Can Do as Travel Professionals


In an era where Instagram feeds and TikTok videos heavily influence travel decisions, the rise of AI-generated images — many of which go viral and are viewed by millions of people — is creating a fantasyland that many travelers will find does not match reality. 

AI-generated images are becoming alarmingly sophisticated, transforming mundane landscapes into hyperbolized paradises. Beaches are given sand whiter than ivory; skies are bluer than in real-life, and cityscapes morph into utopian visions devoid of the usual crowds and imperfections.

This all raises questions of ethical responsibility among travel industry colleagues who purport to offer “authentic” travel experiences. In my opinion, these generated images serve as a form of digital deception. Plus, it makes satisfying our clients harder.

The Impact of AI on Traveler Expectations

When an influencer posts an AI-enhanced sunset over a beach resort, or a lazy river running through Greece where a street or sidewalk actually is (as seen in the image below), followers are inclined to believe that such sublime beauty can be experienced firsthand, leading to potential disappointment when reality doesn’t measure up.

This AI-generated image depicts a lazy river that does not actually exist.
Credit: 2024: This image was generated by AI and provided by the author.

The visually enticing, often hyper-realistic images created with AI tools are setting an unattainable bar for real-world travel. Travelers inspired by these manipulated visuals may find themselves disappointed when they arrive at their destinations, discovering that the flawless images they were sold on do not actually exist.

How Travel Advisors Can Help

Amid the growing problem of digital misinformation, working with professional travel advisors has gained renewed relevance and importance.

“By collaborating with a professional travel advisor, clients can sidestep the pitfalls of AI-manipulated imagery.”

By collaborating with a professional travel advisor, clients can sidestep the pitfalls of AI-manipulated imagery. Advisors ensure that travelers are well-informed and prepared for what they will actually encounter.

Travel advisors provide:

  • Authenticity: Real experiences and honest recommendations from verified sources. 
  • Personalization: Tailor-made itineraries based on individual preferences, ensuring that expectations align closely with reality. 
  • Expertise: In-depth knowledge of destinations, giving travelers insights that go beyond surface-level visuals.
  • Reliability: Advisors often have direct connections with service providers, ensuring transparency and accountability.

A Call to Action for the Travel Industry

To maintain the integrity of travel marketing and to protect the trust of prospective visitors, it is crucial for destination tourism boards, travel suppliers and travel advisors to take a stand against the irresponsible use of AI-generated imagery.

I strongly encourage my industry peers to:

  • Re-evaluate partnerships: Discontinue collaborations with influencers, suppliers or marketers who irresponsibly use AI to manipulate images, thus setting unrealistic expectations for travelers. 
  • Promote authenticity: Focus on being professional travel advisors who emphasize genuine travel experiences and authentic representations.
  • Implement guidelines: Establish strict ethical guidelines for digital content creation and enforce consequences for those who do not adhere.

By taking these steps, the travel industry can foster a culture of honesty and reliability in travel marketing, ensuring that visitors enjoy sincere, memorable experiences that are true reflections of their promotional materials, ultimately resulting in return visits instead of dissatisfied “one and done” visits.

And by turning to professional travel advisors, wanderlust seekers can ensure their journeys are rooted in reality, providing enriching and fulfilling experiences that live up to genuine expectations.

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