Historic and natural sites are suffering from their popularity as tourist attractions, drawing large crowds and becoming desired destinations based on their popularity as social media hot spots. The new phenomenon of influencer culture, social media users with exceedingly high followers, has popularized traditional historic monuments and natural wonders more than ever before. The flocking of tourists to these sites is not anything new, though. For years places like The Great Wall of China and the Great Barrier Reef have been popular stops on vacationers’ tours. However, the rise in social media as a dictator of social relevancy has created a spike in travelers stopping in to get the perfect picture to post.
Recently, the ruins of Chernobyl became a go-to location for influencers following the popular HBO miniseries, “Chernobyl”. The remains of a city devastated by a nuclear-waste catastrophe that caused cancer, death and the ultimate desertion of an entire town were suddenly a mecca for influencers to take pictures in, solely to gain clout. This disrespect and disregard for the historic area is just one example of our culture’s current trend of social media influenced tourism.
Locations that in the past have been revered as private, hidden or local destinations have been outed as social media has shifted our culture’s view of traveling.
Now any “ hidden ” location is rarely actually “hidden,” and any destinations that only locals know about have been blasted and tagged all across social media. Most often, the influence of social media draws tourists to these destinations with all the wrong motivation. It’s rarely to understand or respect the cultural, environmental or religious relevancy or environmental pristine of an area. Instead, tourists flock to these locations for the social value and or current social currency a picture in these locations holds.
While we want to preserve and respect these significant sites, the tendency to view them as more of an attraction is leading to their ultimate demise. The swarm of travelers to visit these spots often leads to overcrowding, littering and destruction. Picturesque locations like Santorini, Greece, have become incredibly popularized by social media and the community has felt the effects. The Telegraph has reported a huge spike in tourists visiting Greece since 2010, when Instagram first launched, with the number of tourist doubling in just under a decade.
Nikos Chrysogelos, the Greek politician and environmentalist, said in an interview with The Observer, speaking of the boom in tourism, “We can’t keep having more and more tourists. We can’t have small islands, with small communities, hosting one million tourists over a few months. There’s a danger of the infrastructure not being prepared, of it all becoming a huge boomerang if we only focus on numbers and don’t look at developing a more sustainable model of tourism.”
Aside from the physical impact of tourism on these sites, the cultural significance of these locations is lost when they’re overrun with tourists for all the wrong reasons. Religious landmarks such as the Sistine Chapel or Tokyo’s Meiji Shrine, which are meant to be revered as sacred locations for religious reverence or pilgrimage, are being reduced to photo opportunities and geotags. In the case of the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo’s frescoes, which tourists so excitedly go to see, are being damaged by flash photography and the amount of carbon dioxide breathed out by the large volume of visitors each day.
Natural locations, such as basecamp for Mount Everest, Maasai Mara, a wildlife reserve in Kenya, and national parks across the U.S., make for fantastic destinations to visit. However, the impact of human visitation has led to an increased pressure on the areas’ natural resources, damage to local vegetation and formations as well as damage through trash left behind. Many locations have had to close their doors to visitors in order to try and re-establish the unspoiled features of the areas which visitors have been drawn to in the first place.
As a society, we are overlooking the significance of locations for their religious, cultural or environmental purpose. Instead, we are replacing the respectful motivation for visiting these locations with a desire to achieve a certain aesthetic. Through our desire to stay relevant and on top of global trends, we are damaging places, buildings and communities. When traveling, we need to be more conscious of our impact, both physically and socially.