By now, it’s common knowledge that many millennials choose their holiday destination based on its Instagrammability, and that now widely circulated survey by UK-based insurance company Schofields Insurance only proved it. The trend has resulted in some interesting new tourism patterns – not all of them positive.
Case in point? The Lago di Braies lake in Italy’s South Tyrolean Alps. It’s a veritable oasis amid the region’s regal peaks, but even though it’s tucked away between mountains, the lake is hardly a hidden spot – there are currently 205,826 posts under the hashtag #lagodibraies on Instagram. And that number gets bigger every day. “I need to go there!” read the comments under many of the photos.
Places such as the Lago di Braies have become celebrities in their own right on Instagram. But these destinations can’t always withstand their sudden social media fame. After one Italian blogger wrote a post about the Valle Verzasca in Switzerland, the town was unprepared for the wave of visitors that followed. Local media reported traffic jams spanning several kilometers, vehicles parked in any spot possible, and piles of trash.
The incident goes to show the immense power of social media platforms – when a certain picture goes viral, others will undoubtedly want to replicate it. That can boost tourism, of course, but it can also have negative consequences. “These places have little control over what content is posted about them on social media,” says Laura Jaeger, who works for TourismWatch, an information service that pushes for sustainable tourism. “Travelers should be aware of the effect their behavior on social media has on their destinations and the people who live there, and act responsibly,” she says.
But a quick look around any popular beach these days reveals that most people don’t give a second thought to such responsibility; there’s always someone posing or angling themselves for the perfect vacation photograph. The most Instagrammed beach in 2018, according to vacation portal Holidu, was in Italy: the Scala dei Turchi in Sicily. “We’ve noticed this phenomenon,” confirms a spokesman for the tourism association of Realmonte, where the beach is located. He doesn’t seem too bothered about it, though: “Instagram, Facebook, and other social media have made our spot more popular and allowed tourism to grow even more.”
Young people travel to take photos to share them on social media, just to show: I was here.
Some people, such as Italian photographer Sara Melotti, believe the beauty of a place gets drowned out when too many people take photos. “Instagram ruins these places completely,” says Melotti, who is a travel blogger herself. She says she uses Instagram, but is discerning about what she posts. “Young people travel to take photos to share them on social media, just to show: I was here,” she says, adding that she knows influencers who travel with a schedule that charts out exactly where they are going to be hour by hour in order to take the perfect snap.
The 30-year-old no longer shares the exact locations of her photos; she wants to spare those places from the behavior she has seen all too often while traveling. She gives the example of a temple in Bali that was completely unknown until a few years ago. “Now tourists get up at 4 a.m. to take a photo there at sunrise,” she complains.
The Trolltunga rock formation in Norway is another destination that has fallen prey to this phenomenon – there are more than 134,450 Instagram posts with the hashtag #trolltunga. Between 2009 and 2014, the number of visitors to the Trolltunga grew from 500 to 40,000, according to National Geographic magazine. Most people take the same photo at the rock formation that sticks out over Ringedalsvatnet lake: they sit or stand at the tip of its ‘tongue’, with the lake and mountains in the background, and no one else in sight. As for what you can’t see in the photo?
The long line of people waiting to take the exact same shot, of course.