Last week I (Ben Humby, PMYB) appeared on the international news broadcast TRT World panel, ‘Roundtable’ to discuss problems surrounding over-tourism.
Instagram and influencers, in general, have had a profound impact on our lives. From the way we socialise and connect to the way businesses reach their audience, this platform is heavily contributing to the growth and evolution of culture. As social media grows, however, there are going to be a few drawbacks. According to some tourist boards I spoke with, one of these downsides seems to be over-tourism.
While there are certainly other factors at play here, it’s undoubted that social media, travel influencers, and Instagram has had an impact on tourism. Both big positives and some not-so-positive impacts. It’s only natural that people raise concerns over the impact of a platform as huge as Instagram, but in this post I’m going to talk about some of the ways influencer marketing agencies can combat over-tourism.
What is Over-Tourism?
Over-tourism is, in short, too many vacationers travelling to the same destination. Some definitions mention that it degrades the quality of the travel experience and disrupts the lives of local inhabitants. One of the first times the phenomenon was attributed to social media was in a 2018 New York Times piece. The article chronicled the overly-congested travel destinations around Europe, and how it significantly degrades the quality of the travel experience.
The piece mentions Instagram as a possible cause. However, it also attributes blame to home-sharing services like Airbnb, lower air travel fares, and a growing global middle class. Some activist groups, like Responsible Travel, more pointedly blame social media platforms like Instagram. Tourist boards have responded, like with Vienna’s “Unhashtag Vienna” campaign, or Italy’s ban of large cruise ships. Since the year 1990, tourism to the historic city has doubled, according to Austria’s official statistics.
The rise of travel influencers has majorly increased consumer interest in certain destinations. Additionally, both influencers and the Instagram platform have absolutely had an impact on how those tourists behave. Vacation photos have always been a part of travel. However, geotagging now allows users to find the perfect place for a photo. Some have argued that travellers often flock to specific areas to get the perfect picture, straining local resources and damaging the experience.
Despite, many being in favour of the growth of tourism, others are clearly are having to deal with the pressures that can come with it.
The Impacts of Over-Tourism
A sustainable amount of tourism is healthy for local economies, providing incoming cash and creating local jobs. When too many tourists flock to one place, however, it has a huge negative impact on the local quality of life. Traffic jams become more frequent, living costs rise, and locals can become hostile to tourists.
There are a few ecological concerns, too. In the United States, eco-tourist destinations often have the infrastructure to handle a few hundred to a few thousand visitors per year. Now, some destinations can see hundreds of thousands of visitors annually. In my discussion on TRT World, Dana Watts, Director of Leave No Trace, promoted a more organic approach to travel. She is attempting to “provide people with skills to leave no trace in their next visit.” Groups like Leave No Trace specifically cite geotagging as a factor in this congestion.
As I mentioned earlier, Airbnb has been a contributing factor in rising rent prices in popular destinations like Amsterdam. The impact of Instagram on over-tourism is tough to quantify, but influencers made headlines earlier this year over the California Poppy controversy. Instagramers would pose in the poppy fields to take a picture, but this ended up killing the plants. California takes legal efforts to protect these flowers, magnifying the controversy.
Now it’s possible to see a friend’s travel photos, and within a week, show up in the same place and take the same photo. But this is definitely not a new issue. Tourism has been growing steadily since the birth of the aviation industry in 1960. 60 years ago, there were roughly 25 million international tourists, this year there are nearly 1.5 billion. Instagram is just a single component of the growing travel industry.
Ethical Solutions To Over-Tourism
Although some are against the impact of Instagram, many understand how Instagram influencers have the power to change the ways in which travellers travel. At PMYB, we personally work with our influencers and brands closely to ensure an ethical, authentic approach to travel influencer marketing is taken. It’s a must that the content we create is genuine and authentic. All content must resonate with the core values of your brand. Instagram can be a tool to connect and grow communities, and it’s our duty to make sure that this happens sustainably and ethically.
Sitting across from me on TRT world was Charlie Wild, a travel influencer and co-founder of the travel project. This program was designed to promote a more holistic, natural approach to travel. He outlines that “we were choosing the places that locals told us to go to.” Later on, he discusses that the goal of the project was “always to tell the story through their eyes.” This approach to travel often took Charlie to more remote destinations, which is a solution that can prevent the over-tourism and congestion that we see in certain areas.
Social media can build compassion between peoples, and ethical tourism can be a powerful force in combating over-tourism. Just like Charlie Wild’s off-trail approach to travel, anyone can vacation without visiting the more saturated destinations. While it’s perfectly fine to visit some of the most iconic destinations, there are often plenty of nearby destinations that can provide a truly memorable experience, without all the traffic.
How Influencers Can Help Reduce Problems Surrounding Over-Tourism
Influencers can have a pivotal role in taking on the problems of over-tourism. Companies like ours are in a position to produce organic content that encourages healthy and ethical tourism. By spreading messages like Dana Watts’ “Leave No Trace,” or by spreading Charlie Wild’s approach to travel, influencers can help shift the mass tourism away from congested areas.
Influencers also have the unique position to respectfully share cultures and stories from around the world. This can build genuine compassion between tourists and locals, and can help drive more considerate tourism. Similarly, they can also encourage tourists to visit locations that are less congested and can often benefit from the additional flow of tourists.
Martin Dunford, co-founder of the Rough Guide travel books and the final guest alongside me on TRT World, concurs. He mentioned that the power of social media is allowing people to truly experience the world. He also sees the dangers of over-tourism. Just like the Rough Guides helped tourists visit lesser-known locales decades ago, Instagram can drive people to places that would welcome the traffic.
Influencers can also help solve the problem of overcrowding in specific locations. Many of the problems with over-tourism result from queues of people forming to take that perfect picture. Often, a travel influencer can take a picturesque photo there, and soon the spot will be overrun. By removing geotags, or by encouraging their followers to find new, equally scenic spots, influencers can mitigate the impact of these photos.
Watch the FULL Roundtable Panel Discussion (featuring Ben Humby)
Connecting the World with Instagram
Social media continues to shape and change our lives, often for the better. While there are dark sides to every new innovation, we can take the steps to mitigate downfalls and maximise benefits. The travel industry is just one example of the duality of Instagram’s impact. By working closely with influencers, both brands and tourist boards have the power to reduce issues surrounding over-tourism, and the ability to spread positive messages that improve the experiences for everyone.
Learn more about how influencers can add value to hotels and tourist boards here.