Afternoon Chat: Instagrammers + Overtourism

By Kate Riley August 12, 2019

I’m spending today at one of the most famous sites in all the world: Machu Picchu. To get access to this historical site, we had to buy tickets weeks in advance as they limit the number of people (only 2,500 per day) who can visit this UNESCO Inca sanctuary. Several years ago, Peru began limiting the number of visitors and the amount of time allowed in order to preserve the beauty and history of this sacred place.

I’ve written about overtourism before and how dramatically I felt it when I visited Prague last summer. Cheaper travel is reason for it, but there’s another phenomenon at play and that is the droves of Instagramers flocking to particular places “for the gram”. I’ve witnessed this peculiar activity many times, people popping in just to pose in a cute outfit in a famous place for the picture, then leaving a few minutes later, not even staying to appreciate the place they spent so much time getting to.

As a life long West coaster, I’ve been a long time follower of Sunset Magazine. Recently they posted an image on their Instagram profile of a beautiful coastal pool but didn’t identify the location. Within their commentary they referenced the influx of Instagrammers and and their effect on places of natural beauty. Followers chimed in with their perspectives as well (the comments are a worthy read.)

Uncontrollable numbers of people have caused bloom fields to be shut down with just too many people that arrive to see the flowers and take pictures. Some Instagram influencers go on the defensive explaining their images, feeling an obligation to write about responsible enjoyment.

 

via independent

People have a right to travel to places that are open to the public and witness the beauty of the natural world as long as they’re respectful. Today I’m taking pictures in this historic place I’m visiting, but I’ll also be soaking in how special it is. However, I can’t help but notice how obsessed our society has become with our cell phones and social media shares of places of natural beauty.

Where do we draw the line? Is it up to governments to regulate, or is it up to us as a society to follow basic rules of decency and simply be respectful? Have you seen this phenomenon of the influx of Instagrammers in your towns or in your travels?

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15 comments

  1. This is one thing that drives my nuts whenever I go anywhere. There is always a line of people waiting to take a picture in front of whatever the attraction may be and no one seems to go places to actually have an experience. I’ll always remember the time when I was visiting the Grand Canyon, and someone asked me to move so they could take a picture. As if I was somehow blocking the GRAND CANYON.

    • I’ve had the same experience… “can you MOVE?” when there’s a huge vista.

  2. Why can’t you do both? Why can’t you appreciate the location AND document your experience via photography, even if it is “for the gram”? Who is to say that those who appear to be going to a location “for the gram” aren’t also appreciating the location? And how do you even know that’s what they are doing? From a third-party perspective (since we can’t know what’s going on in another person’s head), what separates a person who takes a picture of themselves in front of a historic cathedral to post on social media from a person who takes a picture of themselves in front of the same cathedral to memorialize the experience they’ve had? I have lots of questions about the assumptions being made here.

    • That’s a fair analysis, we can’t really know what’s in a person’s head or judge them. I don’t think any assumptions are being made here, these are honest questions being posed in the modern age where cheaper travel and social media are intersecting.

  3. That defensive article kind of proved your point. She explains very carefully that she used the approved ‘sacrifice’ spot, as if having to create a sacrifice spot was a good thing. She also then admits to faking the photo in post-production to produce a photo that is impossible for ‘normal’ people to achieve unless they enter the areas they’re not allowed in, as if some occasional small print was an acceptable way around this.
    There are whole books written about people who die trying to take a cool photo (Grand Canyon as an example). These are the same people who cover their child with ice cream to encourage wild bears because they want a ‘cute’ photo (and presumably a mauled child).
    Given that a big percentage of people seem only to be there for the photo, just create some Vegas or Disney versions in the US and South East Asia and you’re done, world protected.

    • Interesting phenomenon isn’t it, having to create a “sacrifice” spot. This world we live in, I’m left scratching my head sometimes.

  4. My 3yo just got scared to tears by illegal drones on our recent vacation, thanks to some women striking poses for nearly 45min on the only stretch of an Alpine lake beach shady enough for our kids (including baby in a stroller). We were there first, actually swimming and trying to enjoy ourselves. They were busy creating deeper wedgies for swimsuit pictures, acting irritated with boyfriends not blowing up giant pool floats fast enough, etc. I take tons of pictures too, but I feel there’s a line. Being rude and inconsiderate (and illegal activity) definitely count for being across the line.

    • Wow I’m so sorry you experienced that! The drones are becoming an increasing problem that’s for sure!

  5. I would like to comment on the “being respectful” part. While there are many many people who are respectful of their surroundings, there are still those few that are not. Case in point… Morning Glory pool in Yellowstone. At one time, it was absolutely beautiful, but because tourists kept throwing trash and things into the pool, it is no longer as beautiful as it used to be. When I visited Yellowstone (many years ago), there were so many sites that were damaged because of tourists not respecting nature and how it all worked. No telling how things are now from when I was there. I in no way want to start any kind of debate because I would like to believe there are more kind, respectful people/tourists in our world than there are not so good, but it is those not so good people that can (and sometimes are) ruining some of our opportunities to commune with nature in a national area.

    • You are right Kim and it is tragic how much garbage is left by tourists. I just got back from Peru and remarkably there’s no trash in the streets at all, everyone there picks up after themselves. The streets were so clean, and I wondered why people in America are so careless with garbage to the extent is takes away from the beauty of the surroundings.

  6. I live in Philadelphia and people only come the Philadelphia Museum of Art to run the “Rocky Steps”. Meanwhile there’s this incredible museum of art behind them. It’s so annoying. Oh and people think we only serve cheesesteaks too. Grr.

  7. Ugh. I had to think awhile how to respond to this. Because, here’s the thing. Who should decide who gets to go where? But, at the same time, there are so many people who want to go places only for a picture or they are disrespectful and don’t use common sense while they are in an overtouristed (I don’t think that’s an actual word) area. This is a tricky thing. There are those of us who go places to stay and experience the culture or nature, but how can you tell that’s the type of people we are versus the people who only want an Instagram picture? We aren’t on any social media, and I have a love/hate relationship with it. Our boys are on it because we have moved and traveled extensively and they can keep up with friends/new acquaintances on it. That’s the good side. The bad side is there is such competition for pictures in beautiful locations that people are more focused on the pictures than experiencing the place. This is basically a long ramble to say that I have no idea how to change this, and it does make me very sad. ☹️

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