Back in the hot seat

26 August 2008

I’ve just returned to the office following a ski trip to New Zealand’s South Island. I don’t write this to gloat, but rather to ask your opinion on an observation I made while overseas. (OK, I am gloating a little!)

The South Island of New Zealand is a pretty quiet place with a population of a little over a million. Agriculture, mining and tourism are among the larger industries across the island. The entire South Island is peppered with ski fields and the area sees visitors from all over the globe come down to spend a southern winter skiing or snowboarding. We’ve been making semi-regular ski pilgrimages to the South Island since 1986 and the place has changed markedly in the past 20-odd years.
One development that blew me away is how South Islanders have embraced broadband. When we were last there in 2006, it was relatively difficult to find internet cafes or wireless broadband in many of the smaller towns across the island. Most hotels offering ‘internet access’ meant guests could disconnect room phones from the wall to plug in dial-up modems.

Not so this time! Motels in the smallest towns across the island proudly boasted inexpensive wireless broadband, and we even found a camping ground in Fairlie (population: ~750) offering free wireless access to visitors. Even the local publicans in Methven (population: ~1300) were sporting T-shirts advertising the pub’s frequently-updated web site.

Walking through internet cafes in Wanaka and Geraldine, I was struck by the number of tourists logged into social networking sites like Facebook, YouTube and Flickr, uploading photos and video of their holidays to keep friends and family at home updated.

As social media has grown in popularity, the South Island’s tourism operators have stepped up and made broadband ubiquitous. The observation got me thinking: has social media helped accelerate broadband penetration across rural but touristy areas around the world? Or has the proliferation of broadband access encouraged people to spend more time on social networking sites while on holiday? What do you think: chicken or egg?

One Response to “Back in the hot seat”

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