Discover Instagram’s impact on our travel choices and how it’s influencing the photos we take.
Amanda Breakwell | AUSTRALIA
Instagram photos are changing the way we holiday. The way we plan our journeys and the list of must-see sites are more likely to be defined by a photo seen on Instagram rather than a brochure in the travel agent. With Instagram tourism becoming so influential, how is this affecting the kinds of photos we take on our travels?
The rise of Instagram
With a third of all internet users owning an Instagram account, uploading a total of around 95 million photos every day, it’s hard to believe that it’s only eight years since this popular social media platform burst onto the scene.
Now owned by Facebook, Instagram’s influence on the way we view the world and make travel choices has been nothing short of phenomenal. Whilst travel seekers once mainly sought inspiration from holiday brochures or guidebooks, they’re now turning to high-ranking Instagram feeds to decide where to venture to next. In essence, Instagram is the internet’s version of a global travel brochure.
The power of Instagram
Whether posing on a deserted beach or in front of an iconic global landmark, such images uploaded to Instagram have an immense hold on viewers, making them crave the opportunity to experience the same thing. With 48% of people relying on Instagram to inspire their next getaway, and an engagement rate that’s ten times greater than Facebook, the influential power of Instagram can’t be ignored.
Instagram tourism made easy
Instagram even makes it easy for users to facilitate their travel plans based on photos that have captured their attention. With geotagging, viewers can identify the location of an image and conduct further searches, while saved posts of must-visit photos can be organised into collections. If you see a travel photo you like, the addition of outbound links means you’re now just a click away from booking your dream holiday.
Instagram favourites spark tourism boom
Thanks to the lure of pictures posted on Instagram, many destinations have seen an upsurge in tourist numbers – and tourist boards couldn’t be more grateful. Breathtakingly scenic Trolltunga in Norway, a rocky outcrop that makes the perfect selfie platform, has seen visitor numbers spike from 500 to 40,000 between 2009 and 2014, largely due to Instagram tourism. The unique landscape of Iceland has also captured the attention of Instagrammers, with Seljalandsfoss waterfall a particular highlight. Tourist numbers to Iceland doubled between 2011 and 2015, with American tourists outnumbering the Icelandic population in 2016 alone. Instagram postings have also played a role in boosting visits to the Seychelles, Hungary, Bhutan, Indonesia, Myanmar, Cuba and Portugal.
In some locations, you can even hire your own Instagram guide who will gladly show you the best sites to snap selfies, that are sure to garner scores of likes.
Looking back over the years to the very first moments of my photography journey & feeling so grateful for everyone who has supported me along the way… ✨✨✨ ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ I remember when I first discovered black and white film photography with an old second-hand 35mm camera. It opened up a whole new world for me and since then I’ve always been searching for both new & old types of cameras that inspire me. I’ve partnered with @gumtreeaus to reflect on my journey this far – I love being able to experiment with different camera set ups and the freedom of using the marketplace to buy & sell my equipment over the years. #SellersOfGumtree
Instagram tourism influencers
Businesses have been quick to recognise the huge potential Instagram has as an advertising platform, with many savvy firms collaborating with top influencers on the site to serve as brand ambassadors. Lake Wanaka Tourism Board in New Zealand is a great case in point, where in 2015 they invited Instagram’s influencers to share their photos of the region. As a result, tourist figures shot up by 14%, representing the fastest growth rate in New Zealand at the time.
One couple, who are based in Bali, are even paid enormous sums by brands to travel the world and post captivating photos on Instagram. This couple are so influential at gaining trust from their followers and affecting their travel choices that they can earn thousands of dollars for a single photo.
What makes an Instagram travel photo more influential than one in a holiday brochure?
Arguably, consumers see an Instagram photo as a real and personal depiction, and not a campaign created by a marketing department. Essentially, Instagram has become an online review platform of destinations – and since 84% of people are swayed by the opinions of others, with 92% of consumers trusting influencers over brand advertising, it’s easy to see how Instagram outperforms holiday brochures with its powers of persuasion.
Telling half the story
Yet, Instagram photos don’t always give the complete picture. They’re often as set up as those depicted in glossy brochures. A selfie taken at a beauty spot may give the impression that someone has the place all to themselves, but the photographer may have cleverly omitted the hoards of other insta-tourists waiting patiently in line to capture that very same scene. With Instagrammers taking the same selfie as those they follow, this encourages homogeneity of images rather than diversity. In some cases, Instagrammers looking to boost their profile might manipulate what photos they post to favour the platform’s algorithms.
The negative impact of Instagram tourism
Captivating Instagram shots have boosted tourism numbers in many destinations, which can help local economies, providing extra jobs and income. But, in some places, this swell in visitor numbers is having a detrimental effect, causing overcrowding and environmental degradation. Tragically, some tourists have even lost their lives attempting daredevil selfie poses, or by ignoring safety or warning signs. Photogenic Cuba has become a tourist magnet, but the visitor increase has caused food prices to become unaffordable for locals. Stunning Santorini in Greece with its white-washed hilltop houses overlooking an azure sea is an Instagramming favourite, but a surge in visitors has meant local authorities have had to put a cap on the number of day-trippers. Macchu Pichu in Peru has also experienced record visits in recent years, with measures introduced to restrict tourist numbers.
Instagram photography: inspiration or lack of?
Photographers wanting to shun filling their Instagram accounts with ubiquitous, me-too shots to gain social approval should instead focus on capturing accurate representations of places, rather than romanticising them. How many times have you seen the same shot over and over again? Lake Wanaka Tree, the Devil’s Bridge, the Church of the Good Shepherd and the Capilano Suspension Bridge are typical examples that spring to mind. If you’re going to photograph a popular spot, try different vantage points or perspectives. Visit during unseasonal/off-peak times of the year when places can look vastly different. Capture images your own way. Show the world who you are and what you see through your own eyes. We have entered an era where artistic originality and authenticity is lacking, so seek to capture unique moments, not likes.
Instagram can certainly be a fantastic source of inspiration for your next travel adventure. Or, just to gain a glimpse of the world from a different viewpoint. However, if you do use Instagram as a holiday planning tool, look beyond the Instagram-worthiness of a destination. Don’t let this platform define the photos you take on your trip, with a view to boosting your ratings.
Keeping it real and remaining mindful, respectful and safe lets you share your own unique experiences without following the masses. You can even keep your photo location a secret by not adding a geotag. This certainly makes sense if you’re shooting at a sensitive, vulnerable or protected site.
Instagram is a great resource to introduce us to new or remote travel destinations. But, remember that not everything you see on this site is real, as photos often only tell half the story.
These magical locations may look remote, but could well be packed with thousands of other tourists. If you visit with the idea you’ll get the place all to yourself, you could end up bitterly disappointed. Therefore, don’t make any assumptions or build any expectations about the photos you see on Instagram.
It’s also crucial to remain mindful on your travels. Respect the locals and their land in this new Insta-touristic boom. Some places aren’t geared to large crowds, and a surge of tourists could lead to environmental degradation.
With regards to photography, we firmly believe that Instagram is a great source of inspiration, but use it wisely. Think outside the box and don’t limit your creativity. There’s a fine line between inspired by and copied from, so always put your own spin on your shots.
Don’t become a clone of other Instagrammers. Strive to be different and original and tell a visual story from your own point of view. Two photos of the same scene will share some similarities. But, if you inject your own personality, perspectives and ideas into a shot, it can be wildly different.