Overtourism is a word that’s become a part of many people’s vocabulary lately, even though the idea itself—social and environmental damage caused by population influxes—is a problem familiar to many. Only now, we have social media to both thank and blame for spotlighting destinations, and directing an unsustainably large number of visitors to said destinations. It’s a growing issue we can all help to address. As savvy travellers, we can find ways to use the very same tools that played a role in contributing to overtourism in the first place, to instead fight it.
The problem of overtourism
Tourism to the point of overtourism is a great example of having too much of a good thing. While tourism can often bring about economic improvement to communities, overtourism can push it to the point of diminishing returns. This is especially true for modestly sized destinations that aren’t equipped to handle a sudden influx of tourists, putting a strain on local infrastructure and resources.
Ever-popular destinations like Amsterdam, Bali, Barcelona, Dubrovnik, Kyoto, Machu Picchu, Santorini, Venice and even Mt Everest have infamously suffered from overtourism. Overcrowding, noise disturbances, traffic congestion and pollution can all alter the quality of life for locals, not to mention being destructive to nature both indirectly and directly (think of tourism targeted at already-disappearing glaciers, or ecologically sensitive coral reefs). Add to that the irresponsible or disrespectful tourist behaviour you occasionally see, and you get a clear picture of why overtourism is a worrisome trend.
The problem with social media
Though not the only culprit, it’s hard to deny social media as a major force exacerbating overtourism. In fact, there is such a thing as ‘Instagram Tourism’ (or some variation of it), a clear example of social media affecting people’s travel choices. When was the last time you looked at a travel brochure or a dog-eared guide book for travel inspiration instead of your phone?
Despite all the positive things social media allows for, there’s often an unrealistic, over-glamourized representation of travel (again, Instagram being the biggest offender here), which propagates an unhealthy fixation on the perfect and pristine, or the exotic and undiscovered.
Today’s travellers can feel pressure to showcase “epic” content and media. All this hype invites other travellers who are nonethewiser to join in on the fun by trying to capture the perceived experience (and cliché photos) of seeing these “perfect” places for themselves. And who could blame them?
How we can fight overtourism with social media
Just as social media shares part of the blame for overtourism, we should keep in mind that it can also be used to reverse the problem. Even with the best intentions, we are in one way or another part of the problem; it’s on us travellers to take responsibility and help solve it in creative ways, such as:
Don’t go (or at least ask yourself, “Do I really need to go there?)
If we limit tourism, we limit its impact. By abstaining from travelling to your desired destination, you’re not adding to overtourism-related problems in that area. If you must go, visit during off-peak times. Better yet, go somewhere else entirely. There are many lesser-known (or even unknown) routes and destinations to explore in the world.
Not sharing is caring
Don’t geotag your photos or use hashtags to make your social media posts easily searchable by the general public. Of course, we don’t want to stop you from sharing secret locations you’ve discovered, but try limiting your sharing to your friends, family, and a few like-minded travellers. Publishing content on a platform with near-limitless reach isn’t always the most responsible thing to do for the destination in question.
If you’re going to post about your travels on social media, show all sides of your travel experience, not just the idealized bits. Travel is interesting enough as is and shouldn’t need an Instagram filter! This will help limit people’s assumptions about a destination and bring their expectations closer in line with reality. Use Instagram and other popular platforms to educate your followers about a place (e.g., its culture, history or geography) instead of causing envy or FOMO (fear of missing out).
Lead by example
We can inspire others to travel responsibly if we do it ourselves. Travel in the age of social media is liable to turn into a narcissistic endeavor, where we portray ourselves as trailblazing explorers, making our mark wherever we go! In reality, we’re just guests; we should keep in mind the future consequences of our present actions, by respecting the place, its history, the locals, their customs, and generations of other travellers who will visit there someday.
Say “NO” to FOMO
Don’t go somewhere just because it’s trending, or your social feed is inundating you with posts telling you where to go. When it comes to travel, don’t do it for the ‘gram, for the likes or views, or for any other form of social media validation. If you’re going to travel, make sure you do it for yourself. Let your own compass guide your journey and explore the world your own way with forethought on the impact of your travel.
How do you keep FOMO at bay and travel responsibly? Let us know your tips and techniques in the comments below!