Everywhere you look, another list of instgramable places you need to visit appears out of nowhere. While I love Instagram as travel inspiration, I have a problem with naming places as Instagram-worthy as means for attracting visitors. This might make me unpopular, but as a travel blogger, I feel we owe more to the places we write about than their visual appeal.
Instagram in particular has changed the way we look at travel and how travel destinations market themselves. As a visual platform, it’s very powerful. People get inspiration from pictures they see online and automatically want to see those places themselves. Especially when they looks stunning on someone else’s feed. However, it’s not always what is seems, and that is where my problem starts.
Last year, the Independent published an article about a study that “revealed that two-fifths (40.1 per cent) of millennials choose a travel spot based on its Instagrammability.” That was the number one reason to choose a destination. Let that sink in.
Local cuisine (9.4 per cent) and opportunities for sightseeing (3.9 per cent) made the list of top five reasons, but were not in the top three. No mentioning of learning anything about local culture, people or history of the place. Do you see this as a problem? I definitely do.
I don’t think it’s solely a millennial thing. I hate generalizations like that, but the sentiment is there. Not all millennials care solely about Instagram-worthy appeal, just as not everyone who is not a millennial is innocent of it. The whole idea of identifying a location as Instgramable creates a number of problems many fail to mention.
Instgramable only, please
As a society, we have become obsessed with our Insta-game. It seems that a great photo is all you need to become Insta-famous. The articles that rime off best Instagram-worthy destinations, best spots in [insert any city/town] or establishments where you can find that Instgramable shot play into that obsession.
Sometimes being Instagram-worthy can backfire. Last year, a sunflower farm outside Toronto opened its fields to the public. I’m sure the idea was well intended; however, the end game was disastrous. Hordes of people descended on the farm, destroying the beautiful sunflowers in the process. There was also damage from vehicles, people throwing garbage and just being thoughtless jerks.
The same can be said for other places in the world. If you have ever been to the Antelope Canyon, Rome or Iceland, you have probably come across selfie-stick wielding, wanna-be Instagram stars. They arrive to take a photo in a spot they saw on someone else’s feed in hopes of getting that perfect shot or even out-do it. Once done, they get back into their vehicles, faces glued to their devices. Their experience of these places is limited to how long it took to get that shot. Thank you, next.
When everyone and their brother shows up
Tourism is big business. It’s also competitive. Many places rely on tourists to fuel the local economy, which in turns creates further opportunities for the residents and businesses. Financial benefit can become an attractive incentive for bringing in tourist. I’ve even come across an articles that questions the tourism boards whether their destinations are Instagram-worthy. It’s easy to see why many would go out of their way to ensure that they are.
So what happens when an instagramable location becomes a hit? Once thing is certain – they will come, in droves. Will they care about the community, contribute to the local economy or will they leave a mess and leave once they have that perfect shot? That really depends of what that attraction is and what infrastructure is in place to keep them there longer.
Overtourism is becoming an issue to the point where many cities started enforcing rules to manage it. Many places, especially ones with natural attractions, are experiencing massive deterioration to the environment and increase in pollution. All brought by an influx of tourists.
Don’t get me wrong; I too, want to get a great shot when I go somewhere. I bring my gear with me for that reason. What I have a problem with are the people who are oblivious to everyone around them waiting for an opportunity to take a shot while they finish their photo shoot. Sometimes it’s difficult to get close enough to get a shot while some self-important douche overtakes the area while posting for hundreds of pictures. It creates a negative impression and dampens the experience. You don’t expect a brawl over a selfie spot while sightseeing.
Instagramable to death
Sometimes the quest for Instagram-worthy photos can be a deadly one. Stories of people dying while trying to take that perfect shot are sadly becoming more and more common. Sometimes it’s lack of awareness; sometimes it’s just plain stupidity. Many people disregard the warning signs posted to keep tragedies from happening. I’ve seen plenty of people ignore a sign not to sit somewhere or cross a barrier. You hear about many plunging to their deaths, some of them seasoned influencers. To me, my life is more important than a picture, but to each their own.
Quite often, Instagram photos give a false perception of how the photo was taken or how many people were involved in taking it. It’s one thing to see someone sit in a meditation pose on a dangerously looking cliff with clouds as a background. It’s completely another to try to recreate it when you don’t have the same skills and resources. What you see in a picture, especially an edited one, isn’t the whole story.
I’ve seen so many stunning photos of people by the Trevi Fountain in Rome with pink skies, sunsets or lights and nobody around. It’s easy to see how someone wanting the same kind of photo would imagine the place to be. Personally, I’ve never seen the Trevi Fountain without masses or tourists around it, but even without that knowledge, I know that the photos were edited and most likely shot at very odd hours of the day. This leads to my next point.
Perceptions vs reality
The people behind the epic shots on Instagram are quite often professionals or work with them behind the scenes. They have the equipment, crew and time to take that perfect photo. Sometimes that perfect shot you see took hours or even days to capture. Not to mention extensive editing.
Photography is partly about having an eye for a great shot and also being able to edit it. Creative editing can transform an ordinary photo into an extraordinary one. Seeing the end product doesn’t tell you what it took to create. Don’t expect to show up at the same spot and expect it to look the same even if you are at an instagramable spot. Especially if there are tons of others like you hoping to do the same.
Another problem I have is the lack of context. I read a post once that named Cuba as one of the top Instagram-worthy locations. According to the author, it’s a perfect place where architecture and heritage have been untouched by time, and apparently a place where you can’t take a bad photo. While Cuba is a beautiful country with great architecture and landscapes, it’s also a place where people live in poverty, and buildings crumble from neglect and disrepair.
I have been to Cuba many times. Part of me was devastated by what I’ve seen and the stories I’ve heard. To summarise the country as a place where you can’t take a bad photo is ignorant and disrespectful to the people who live there. Cuba has a long and rich history, filled with turmoil and survival. Talk about that before you blindly tell people to go there for a selfie.
The role of travel bloggers
I’m not an Instagrammer. I am and always have been a travel writer. For me, it’s important that I provide my readers with information about the places I write about on my blog. I’ve been to many gorgeous places that are stunning objects to photograph, but it’s important to me that my readers know what makes them so special.
I also am open with the fact that I edit my photos. Sometimes it takes me dozens of tries to get one good shot and that’s before I even start editing it. Quite often, the image it ends up being is nothing like the one I started with. That is the reality.
I recently did a poll on Instagram asking where people look for travel information. Not surprisingly, most of them said online. That makes me and other bloggers the people they come to for information. I feel that I have a responsibility, to provide them with information that would make their trip a better one, not just one that looks good on their feed.
As I see more and more posts on the best instagramable places and destinations, I wonder if I’m in the minority.
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