Should Instagrammers be banned?

Should Instagrammers be banned?

There are more than 1,000 places on UNESCO’s World Heritage List and it should probably come as no surprise that there is a strong correlation between this list and the list of the most Instagrammed places on the planet. Sites like Machu Picchu, the Pyramids of Giza and Granada’s Alhambra and the Taj Mahal are incredibly photogenic and it is no surprise that they appear so frequently on social media.

Yet there is a forceful argument that social media and Instagram in particular is contributing enormously to the overtourism of these sites. Take an article in National Geographic, ‘How Instagram Is Changing Travel’, for example.

Various pieces of research such as ‘The influence of Instagram on consumers’ travel planning and destination choice’ and this older research by Google show the importance of social networks and Instagram, in particular as a source of travel inspiration. One recent study reported in The Independent newspaper found that more than two-fifths of millennials choose their travel destination based on its ‘Instagrammability’. The survey was not scientifically rigorous but it is certainly food for thought for destination marketers.

I was recently in Cambodia and visited Angkor Wat, a site that features on both lists. But what many know as Angkor Wat is actually just the main temple complex in a vast site that includes more than hundreds of temples on a site that encompasses some 400 square kilometres. Many of the other temples are equally amazing. Anyone who has been to the main temple will know just how big the crowds are there from dawn till dusk; visiting a secondary temple gives you a much better chance to get those elusive people-free shots for Instagram.

Angkor Wat, like many World Heritage sites, has seen a huge boost in the number of visitors. 25 years ago, only a few thousand tourists visited – in 2016, this number had increased to more than 2.2 million, according to Tourism Cambodia’s annual report.

There are a number of radical solutions to overtourism. Angkor Wat has almost doubled its entrance prices this year. In Australia, the more than a quarter of a million people who visit Uluru will be banned from climbing it from October 2019. In Peru, drastic new rules on tourist numbers have been introduced at Machu Picchu.

Yet is this the right approach? Perhaps the answer is to ban Instagrammers from taking pictures of them instead?

I joke and the solutions are far from easy. That does not mean we should not think hard about the problems.

UNESCO will be speaking at World Travel Market on the WTM Global Stage in one of our social media sessions ‘World Heritage: the social media and marketing challenge’ running from 15:00 to 15:45 on Monday 6th November. The session will look at the marketing challenges for World Heritage sites and dangers of overtourism in this International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development.

Mark Frary is co-founder of Travel Perspective, a social and digital consultancy working with travel companies and tourism organisations to create successful marketing campaigns He is an author and writer specialising in travel, social media and technology. He writes regularly for The Times and has written for many other publications including the Evening Standard, the Independent on Sunday, the Daily Express, Food & Travel, ABTA magazine, the easyJet magazine and Teletext.  Mark also gives expert advice to leisure and business travel companies on their social media and communications strategies and is the co-founder of Social Travel Market, an annual conference on the use of social media in travel at World Travel Market. He is the author of seven books including The Origins of the Universe for Dummies and is currently working on a biography of the ski pioneer Erna Low. Mark lives in Ampthill in Bedfordshire, UK with his wife and three children.

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