–Soenke Pietsch (‘21)
Crystal clear waters reflecting the sun’s rays, fisher boats effortlessly rocking on the water, a mountain reflecting itself on the surface of the water: a breathtaking scene that seems to be an oasis, free of mass tourism and yet to be discovered. At least, that is what you thought when you saw the picture, while scrolling through your online-feed. Although these idyllic images may seem far flung and untouched, pictures such as these are becoming ever more common, although their aesthetics make them seem like the opposite: secret, individual, and unique discoveries. The main perpetrator of this divide: the photo-sharing platform Instagram.
Under the hashtag #Phuket, one can find over 7.3 million posts that follow the basic outline of an oasis, captured from every angle imaginable. And new pictures are added every day. “Idyllic Peace” or other forms of word play can be found in most of these pictures’ captions or outright “hash tagged” for everyone to see. By marking these places through the location-service of Instagram, the captured scenery often soars in popularity, becoming a vacation destination inside a span of only a few weeks. Instantly becoming well-known around the world, these places can often not cope with the sudden influx of new tourists, seeking to capture similar images. More often than not, these places are the scene of tremendous change, ranging from mile-long traffic jams to wildly parked vehicles to humongous trash piles left behind by tourists. Naturally, the residents, having to deal with these changes, are annoyed by their newly won popularity.
The power of these seemingly simple posts should therefore never be underestimated. Laura Jaeger, an employee of Tourism Watch, an organization working to make travel more sustainable, expresses “these places have little to no control, over what ends up on social media platforms. Travelers need to be aware that there are choices online impact other places, and the people that live there”.
Sunbathing on the beach in 80 degree weather, this seems like a distant problem. However, wherever one looks, tourists are taking photos, staging themselves or the background for the perfect snapshot for their vacation post. Yet, the work that is done to capture these ‘perfect’ image is often unknown.
The Italien blogger Sara Melotti uses the photos she captures for Instagram too, but is critical of the social media. “Instagram ruins these places. A new tide of young mass tourism has developed. Young people travel, only to take pictures for their social media and show others ‘I was here’ instead of truly experiencing and enjoying their travel destinations.”, says Melotti. The 30-year old has therefore chosen to stop marking the exact location of her photos. She does want to reveal and hurt the places she (respectfully) visits by kicking off a wave of mass tourism. For example, a temple on Bali that was completely unknown a couple of years ago, sees hundreds of tourists at 4 o’clock in the morning nowadays to take a picture of the sunrise, after a famous blogger posted a picture of it online.
For places such as these, a special new word that describes how worthy a place is for taking pictures for social media has emerged: “Instagramability”. One british study conducted by the insurance company “Shofields” in 2017, found that 40% of all 18-33 year olds chose their travel destination based on how well they could take photos that would do well on their social media pages.
Crystal clear waters reflecting the sun’s rays, fisher boats effortlessly rocking on the water, a mountain reflecting itself on the surface of water sounds like the perfect destination for anyone seeking to stray away from the beaten paths of mass tourism. Posting a picture with only oneself and the untouched environment seems to be the definition of an idyll. However, if people would switch to the selfie setting on their phones that take these idyllic pictures, one would probably see a mass of other people waiting to take the same, calming picture.