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.


  1. What UNESCO Heritage Site doesn’t look better without someone in front of it making a heart or a peace sign with their hands, doing yoga or jumping in the air (delete as appropriate).
    As a generation X’er when I see these generic poses, it actually puts me off from visiting.

  2. Very interesting thought. It is a fact that most ‘hidden treasures’ are not so hidden anymore. ‘we noticed too that when seeing all these instastories & instagrams from all over the world it does not look so exotic or special anymore or all got very flattered with filters. Apart from that it is complete overload on images of the same.

  3. Aline Dobbie says:

    Certainly there are those who are ruining wonderful scenic, historic or beautiful and wild places with their endless selfies and attention seeking stuff. I am a travel writer and I take photos but not of myself and with care and respect. I have witnessed the overtourism of Santorini, Dubrovnik, Venice, Cinque Terre, Amsterdam, Isle of Skye even Edinburgh….what to do.

  4. This is a highly crazy idea, “over tourism” is not generated by “instagrammers” is generated by a lack of planning. Why is it that Galápagos Islands maintain the tourism and visitation density they need to preserve that place? Because they limit the amount of tourists or visits. The same should be done to the World Heritage places or attractions, instagrammers cannot be banned, too late for that.

  5. Michael Dennis Leinster says:

    This question of mass tourism is getting very serious and destroying destinations to which tourists wish to travel. But the mass number of visitors is now becoming a serious problem. The pleasure of travelling with thousands of people massed into the centre of cities and even the open country is greatly affecting the mere idea of visiting these magnificent sights.Visitors to the volcanoe on the Island of Tenerife are no longer allowed to reach the top of the volcanoe because with over 2 million visitor, and each visitar taking one stone back as a memento of their visit is reducing the height of the volcanoe? This is a joke perhaps, but there is no doubt that so many visitors every year is seriously affecting the area.

  6. Gabriel Orentas says:

    To blame social media for over tourism is absolutely ridiculous. Are you saying that people have no brains and they just go like zombies travel to a place just because they can show it in Instagram? Seriously? And that is the cause of over tourism? So I guess that, with the same argument, you could say an obesity is caused by Instagram as well, just look at all those pictures of food, or we have a world infestation of cats because, well, people are posting too many videos of cats on Instagram, you can even say global warming is caused by social media: Hey, all that heat coming from phones, Instagram postings, video filming… it is a serious problem

    It is very easy to carry on writing a lot BS that seems to have some air of science and it’s supported by statistics and further studies by something like the World Organization for the Prevention of Social Media Addiction (WOPSMAD for short…) You never heard of it, I never heard of it, but it sounds kind of serious so “it must be true”

    Let’s not blame the tour operators, or the tourism departments, the hotel owners, or the souvenir shops, or the theme parks, or the people itself for polluting for the world heritage sites with their vacuous presence. No, no, no, people is never guilty for anything. After all we are just brainless beings helpless to the manipulative forces of our TV sets, mobile phones, video games or social media. We have no will or desire to have one. And by the way, if that is the case, What do we need Democracy for anyways?

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