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woman on a cliff

Problem with “instagramable” destinations label

by kasiawrites

Everywhere you look, another list of instagramable 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 a 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.

In particular, Instagram has changed the way we look at travel and how travel destinations market themselves. As a visual platform, it’s mighty. People get inspiration from pictures they see online and automatically want to see those places themselves. Especially when they look stunning on someone else’s feed. However, it’s not always what it seems, and that is where my problem starts.

Problem with "instagramable" destinations label | kasiawrites

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The quest for Instagram-worthy photo

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 sightseeing (3.9 per cent) made the list of top five reasons but were not in the top three. No mention of learning anything about local culture, people or history of the place.  Do you see this as a problem? I definitely do.

intagramable sunflower fields
Many choose Instagram-worthy destinations only

Truthfully, I don’t think it’s solely a millennial thing. I’m not too fond of 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 Instagramable creates several problems many fail to mention.

Instagramable 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 Instagramable spot plays 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 a big business. It’s also competitive. Many places rely on tourists to fuel the local economy, which in turn creates further opportunities for the residents and businesses. The financial benefit can become an attractive incentive for bringing in tourists. I’ve even come across an article 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? One 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 on what that attraction is and what infrastructure is in place to keep them there longer.

louvre museum
Battling the crowds for a shot

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 in the environment and increased 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. I have a problem with the people who are oblivious to everyone around them, waiting for an opportunity to take a shot while they finish their photoshoot. 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.

instagram-worthy
Behind the scenes of a photoshoot

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 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, 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 of 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.

Tourradar


Instagram-worthy: 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.

buildings in Havana
Architecture in Havana

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 summarize 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, I must 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 my readers must know what makes them so special.

I also am open to 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 am responsible for providing 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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    foodzesty
    12 Feb 2019
    3:19am

    This is the reason why I follow you…Honesty!! Great Post Kasia

      kasiawrites
      13 Feb 2019
      11:06am

      Awww thank you Sophie! That is so nice to hear 🙂

        foodzesty
        18 Feb 2019
        12:33am

        It’s true!! 🙂

          kasiawrites
          18 Feb 2019
          1:45am

          😘😘😘

            foodzesty
            18 Feb 2019
            2:05am

            🙂

    Madhura Doshi
    12 Feb 2019
    6:38am

    I can not agree more! So many times I come across some of the overtly edited and polished instagram photos of the places I have actually been to which make me cringe! The reality of some of these places is so opposite to the perception these instagrammers / influencers create. This is a very hazardous mentality. It is not going to do any good to them, their followers or even the local business in the long run. Every day new ‘offbeat’ destinations rise up which are raided by tourists who may or may not be very responsible. The local systems may not even be able to handle those many tourists. But just because some people boasted with attractive images these beautiful places suffer. Thank you for bringing this up! I hope more people come across this and take a bit with them 🙂

      kasiawrites
      13 Feb 2019
      11:04am

      I wouldn’t have an issue with the photos if the author explained more about the location and what they did with the edit instead making people think that this is what it really looks like. I guess a pretty post with check out my bag/sunglasses/dress is more popular than ‘look what I did with this photo”. I am glad you liked this post. I am also glad that I am not the only one who feel this way.

    The Travel Architect
    12 Feb 2019
    7:41am

    Great article. Well done. I once read a great and eye-opening article with “fantasy” and “reality” photos of popular tourist destinations. This isn’t it, but it’s pretty much the same idea: https://www.thisisinsider.com/famous-sites-reality-versus-fantasy-2017-5

      kasiawrites
      13 Feb 2019
      11:00am

      Thank you so much. I’m glad you enjoyed it. I think I have read this article before too. There aren’t too many articles addressing this issue, which is a shame. That is also why I felt it was necessary to write.

    davecurry8
    12 Feb 2019
    10:28am

    What a brilliant blog. Everything you say is true. People have always travelled to destinations based on photographs whether it is Nat Geo or Postcards they have seen. I find that people today are not travelling to see the destination but rather to show other people how cool they are for having the perfect backdrop for their photo. I have literally been pushed aside while enjoying a sunset view in some spectacular setting by crazed Instagrammers fighting for a spot (Rialto Bridge is a bad memory for me now). Visiting the D’Orsay museum in Paris is next to impossible due to the number of people trying to include the art in their selfie. We just came from an elephant safari in Sri Lanka where 90% of the people had there back to the elephants trying to get the correct framing.
    It is not just Instagram, but social media in general. As more people attempt to make their “channel” popular, manners and decorum have gone out the window. I saw people in Antelope Canyon get in a shoving match and Angkor Wat at sunrise has literally been ruined. It is really sad and only seems to get worse every year.

    Thanks for writing such an insightful blog. It won’t do any good, I suppose, but hopefully it deters a few people.

      kasiawrites
      13 Feb 2019
      10:58am

      Thank you for your kind words. The issue has been on my mind for some time. I too have found that people going crazy over photos ruin the experience for others. As much as I love photography and editing, I think some people take it too far. For example, removing people from your photos creates an unrealistic expectation of the place especially if the place is crowded with them in the first place. Those that show up will be shocked as they would be expecting the place to be empty. I guess that also speaks more to their lack of research ahead of time, but if they use Instagram as their inspiration they won’t find that info there in the first place.
      I hope that more people become more self aware but as long as there are “best instagramable spots in X” posts, the issue won’t end.

    runningtotravel
    12 Feb 2019
    11:52am

    I’m with you but I think we may be in the minority!

      kasiawrites
      12 Feb 2019
      1:25pm

      Well I’m glad I’m not alone ☺️ I think there are also readers out there that will appreciate more than insta-worthiness of places in my blogs. At least I hope so!

    thewonderer86
    14 Feb 2019
    1:18pm

    Oh my goodness. 40% of millennials visit a place based on its instagrammability – what a sad fact. They are missing out on so much. Travel is about seeing with your soul, letting all those sensations of history, culture, food, wash over you and lift you out of yourself, so that you see things differently. Great post Kasia.

      kasiawrites
      14 Feb 2019
      2:14pm

      Thank you! I think you summarized travel quite beautifully 🤗 To travel to a place simply because it’s instagramable is very sad. Maybe this means those not named as such will be less busy with tourists 🤷🏼‍♀️

        thewonderer86
        15 Feb 2019
        1:46am

        Let’s hope so My priority now is to find destinations before they become Instagram hits.

    thewonderer86
    15 Feb 2019
    2:06am

    Kasia, could you perhaps give a link to the original article? I would really like to read it. I’m particularly interested in what criteria made the top 3.

    Jayme
    19 Feb 2019
    9:46am

    This is a fantastic write-up! I found your statistic about millennials that choose destinations based on Instagrammability. I do like taking and sharing my travel photos on Instagram (that’s where I started before recently creating a blog) but I became frustrated with the Instagram culture and I was bored of seeing the same fifteen places featured over and over again. I hate when I see women hiking in full makeup, dresses, and heels, just to capture the one “perfect photo” that they then edit into oblivion. It’s ridiculous. It overlooks the cultural, gastronomic, and historical significance of traveling.

      kasiawrites
      20 Feb 2019
      2:57pm

      Thanks Jayme! I totally get your frustration of the Instagram culture. It’s more about how you look in a place rather than providing something interesting about that place! For me that is personally why I would go somewhere, not just how it looks on the gram.

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