What is the impact of social media on travel?

Before social media, people would go on vacation, take photos on their roll(s) of film and then show a few good ones to loved ones and friends upon their return. Today there is no limit to the amount of photos you can take, you have room to take photo after photo. Not only can you take tons of photos while traveling, you can share them instantly on social media. In fact, stats show that 60% of travelers, and 97% of Millennial travelers, share their travel photos instantly while traveling. (Source : http://www.olapic.com/resources/the-impact-of-social-media-on-travel-inspiration_blog-p1aw-f1tr-v1th-t1sm/)

So how is this impacting the travel industry? Since the rise of social media photo perfect travel locations have seen a drastic increase in travelers. The iconic location of Trolltunga, Norway, saw an increase of 35,000 tourists from 2009 to 2014. This increase is credited to social media, everyone looking for the perfect Instagram photo.(Source: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/travel/travel-interests/arts-and-culture/how-instagram-is-changing-travel/)

And you might be thinking, well duh! Who doesn’t want to travel to Norway and sit on that cool cliff! But this phenomenon is happening in small local places too.

Just a few weeks ago a sunflower farm outside of Toronto, Ontario, had to shut its doors because it was overrun by tourists. This small sunflower farm regularly charged visitors admission to their sunflower fields, a little extra income for the farm before harvesting the seeds. However, after people starting posting their sunflower selfies on Instagram the sunflower farm had to shut its doors because too many visitors arrived and they were damaging the fields, and disturbing the peace. You can read the whole story in this article here.

 This might sound like whining. Don’t tourist destinations want tourists? Isn’t that their goal? And yes, there are social media campaigns that have increased tourism to an area in a positive way. The town of Wanaka, New Zealand saw a 14% increase in tourism after launching its social media campaign. A successful and wanted increase. (Source : https://www.nationalgeographic.com/travel/travel-interests/arts-and-culture/how-instagram-is-changing-travel/)


Photo from: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/travel/travel-interests/arts-and-culture/how-instagram-is-changing-travel/

 However, while cities might want this tourism the truth is certain places can’t support that sort human footprint. On social media you can Geotag your exact location, which allows for your followers to know exactly where that cool photo was taken. This has led to an increased number of people heading to previously secluded locations. In the last decade American National Parks saw a 26% increase of visitors. (Source : https://www.theringer.com/2016/11/3/16042448/instagram-geotagging-ruining-parks-f65b529d5e28) This is a significant number of more people on hiking trails. This increase in visitors has been accompanied by an increase in warnings given by Park Rangers. As visitors come they bring with them an ecological footprint that these spots can’t always handle. In addition to higher foot traffic there are also several cases of people vandalizing national parks. Cases of vandalism include lighting fires in a restricted areas to capture that perfect camping photo, or hopping a fence to get a closer shot. You can read about some examples here.  The result of this kind of social media travel, is a negative impact on our most precious nature preserves.

 So what is the answer? National parks exist so people can experience nature. Isn’t technology typically associated with a sedentary lifestyle so people getting outdoors should be a positive thing? But at what cost to nature. Don’t we want these parks to be around for our grandchildren’s children? Would simply removing the Geotag from photos help to solve this problem?

Twitter Logo #Nature is killing nature! Why social media travel isn’t what it always appears to be. https://bit.ly/2ORtUFj

Facebook LogoDid you Instagram your last camping trip? Or Snapchat that day hike? See how your social media reports of your #nature experiences are not always helping mother nature. https://bit.ly/2ORtUFj

7 thoughts on “What is the impact of social media on travel?

  1. Hi Kelly,

    I did not think all about these effects of social media on travel and photo-taking. What come to my mind always is the effect of photo over-flow and my own experience of the place I am going to visit. I visited many places, and sometimes I would say this should be unique. However, many times I was surprised that was just déja-vu. Instagram and other platforms are full to the brim with stocks that spoil the experience of going and enjoy a scenery.

  2. As someone who does travel a lot, I found this a very interesting post. I was interested to see that visitorship to various places can be credited to the rise of social media postings. What happened to the good old postcard? I liked your photos. If you got permission, can you advise how you did that and how long it took? And where did you get your emblems of Facebook and Twitter to use at the end?

  3. Great post, as usual, Kelly! I read that same article about the sunflowers and had the same conflicted feeling – it’s great that the farm is that popular, but it’s sad that it has to actually reduce the number of people they can let in to preserve the integrity of the farm. I remember travelling to Italy with a loaner digital camera (a long time ago) and it was remarkable to be able to share photos and stories online while we were still travelling. But as the saying goes… too much of a good thing can sometimes be a bad thing.

  4. Ah yes, whether or not to GeoTag is a serious debate in the adventure community. I heard a great CBC Radio piece about this after the BC Hiker who died in a fall earlier this year. All this speaks to the larger subject of social media rules and Etiquette. I guess the short answer is it doesn’t really exist yet.

  5. I really enjoyed your blog Kelly. I think about this often, I enjoy nature every time I can. I agree that the impact crowds have on nature (and one’s ability to enjoy it) is significant and a remarkable topic. I also think the more people that want to have these experiences the more likely (and able) they will be to protect the land; If a portion of these crowds can influence governments to educate people, in addition to protect and expand parks and the eco-tourism industry in a more responsible way, then social media becomes a powerful tool to disperse crowds and reduce the impact. Thank you for your post!

  6. This post really interests me as I would really like to get into creating a blog about sustainable travel. It makes me so mad when I hear stories about people riding elephants in Laos for the perfect Instagram picture or posing with drugged up tigers in Thailand. Think of the Great Barrier Reef that is slowly being destroyed by the mass amounts of people going every year to snap pictures of the clear blue water. While it is truly incredible to see these places in real life, it won’t be the case for much longer if man kind continues to destroy nature. I’ve come across this website time and time again and it makes me nervous to know that I might not be able to ever visit them! https://www.businessinsider.com/places-to-visit-before-they-disappear-2016-4

    This is a really important topic that needs to be addressed!

  7. Interesting post! I travelled to Iceland last year in June and while I knew there would be a lot of tourists I was a little unprepared for the amount at certain sites. I was drawn to Iceland due to it’s scenery, hiking trails, and cool temperatures. (I’m used to living on a rock in the North Atlantic with similar features.)
    I have seen several articles in the last few years discussing the impact of tourists on Iceland and the high volume of tourists they receive each year. It is interesting to consider how social media can impact tourism.
    One thing I discussed with several friends this weekend is the tourism marketing for the province of Newfoundland and Labrador. My friends and I were out on the Bonavista Peninsula and came across a sign that said, “Puffins, Whales, and Icebergs Ahead”. As locals we recognize while the area might have all of those features the chances of someone seeing all three in one day and in one spot is pretty slim. This is a complaint I have heard from tourists about our province’s marketing campaign. Some people awesome the weather is as sunny as advertised or that they will see all the wildlife and icebergs in one trip. It is interesting to think how social media can influence people’s expectations.

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