Has travel changed forever?

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It is a fact, Instagram is changing the way we plan our holidays. While travel agencies and books have been the main source of travel information for the last few decades, social media is slowly taking over the industry - especially Instagram.

This transition is the result of different factors. Studies have shown that millennials prefer experiences over material things and as a result, they are travelling much more than previous generations. This is a direct effect of globalization combined with safer aviation conditions, the rise of budget airlines, a new mindset and more. While the world saw 500 million international travellers in 1995, 23 years later, the world experienced 1.4 billion tourists in 2018, according to UNWTO, which has significantly changed the global economy.

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The tools of travelling have also changed as we have replaced travel guides for our lifetime companion, our smartphone. Through this tiny device we can explore the other side of the world from our couch and plan our dream getaway in just a few quick clicks.

It certainly isn’t a bad thing that people travel more, as travel is said to enrich our lives by broadening our horizons, improving our tolerance of people and different cultures, providing us with real life education, while also making us more creative.

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Stunning and captivating Instagram shots have boosted tourism in many regions during the last decade, which helps to boost local economies through the creation of new jobs and additional income. However, in some places, the sudden arrival of visitors can cause serious effects such as overcrowding and degrading the environment. Some tourists have even lost their lives attempting to shoot a selfie by ignoring the safety signs.

According to a Norwegian newspaper, until 2010, fewer than 800 people hiked to Trolltunga each year, a viewpoint known as the “Troll’s Tongue”. In 2016 alone, more than 80,000 people undertook the 10 hour hike to reach the rock, but many were unsuccessful as they were totally underprepared for the demands of the hike, which led to Norway’s Search & Rescue Teams having to undertake several rescue missions to save the stranded tourists.

Trolltunga has always been there, so how did it suddenly gain such a meteoric rise in popularity? Well, social media was the fuel for it and geotagging on Instagram was the fire as geotagging allows viewers to instantly identify the location without any effort and they can then conduct further searches. With the addition of geotagging the world has effectively become a smaller and less secret place.

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In early 2018, in a small barangay of Siargao, there was a palm tree that bent perfectly over a river, which the locals and visitors alike used to jump into the water for a refreshing dip. Over time a rope swing was added, which only enhanced the fun, but up until that point, this small slice of paradise remained relatively unknown with no name being assigned.

However, that soon all changed when an ‘influencer’ posted a picture about this secret paradise, which had huge knock-on effects and soon this serene spot would be overrun by hundreds, and then thousands of tourists.

A year later the same ‘influencer’ returned and she was shocked to not only see how much the place had changed, but also the tremendous effect that her post had had. What was once a place of natural beauty had been changed forever - the jungle walk to the palm tree had been replaced with a pavement and bright colourful flags and souvenir shops now marked its location. The ‘influencer' was shocked by her discovery adding on her YouTube channel that “It is not raw and wild anymore”. Now the place that used to have no name - Massin River - is known as ‘The Famous Palm Tree’ or ‘The Famous Instagram River’

This is Siargao’s closest example of global and Instagram tourism.

“I have been there”

Thomas Hobbes, a philosopher from the 16th century, affirmed that human beings at their core are selfish by nature. Instagram has provided the perfect platform for humans to share with the world our narcissistic side. Before social media existed, we would take pictures of our holidays, print them, place them in a photo album and show them to our friends and loved ones. Travel photos are now public, rather than private, they are no longer hidden in a wardrobe and so our narcissistic side can be encouraged to grow by Instagram.

The mentality of having a bucket list of things to see and do is also damaging the way we travel as people now have a genuine fear of missing out (FOMO) on one place. I have witnessed people arriving at a tourist spot, taking a picture and immediately moving on to the next thing, without even taking a moment to admire the place that they came to see. Or maybe they just came to take a picture of that Instagram worthy place to gain the ‘likes’ that so many now desperately crave? Aren’t we trying too hard to impress everyone, rather than enjoying the moment for ourselves?

The Instagram-worthy shot

When doing some research about this topic, I bumped into an Instagram account with the handle @insta_repeat. This page collects exactly the same shots users have taken in one 'famous' location. The result is concerning and it really is food for thought.

The world becoming more accessible and affordable to everyone is a beautiful thing, but only if it is done responsibly. If it is not, we will end up destroying every corner of this planet.

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