Social media is our new travel agent, and it’s changing the places we go.
Next time you’re scrolling through Instagram enviously looking at vacation photos of uninterrupted views and dramatic landscapes, console yourself with the fact that behind this secluded view there are likely at least a handful of other people holding their selfie sticks, waiting to get their magic shot.
In some cases, the newfound fame brought about by Instagram and other social media platforms has helped to boost local economies and bring tourists to places they might never have discovered otherwise. In other cases, it’s creating problems for countries and cities that are simply not equipped to deal with the influx of tourists.
Check out some of the incredible locations around the world that have blown up on Instagram:
This northern island nation has seen a dramatic surge in visitors over the past few years. One reason for that is the so-called “‘Game of Thrones’ effect,” as many travelers want the opportunity to Instagram photos of themselves in the dramatic landscapes that appeared in the series. This, combined with the availability of cheap flights and some very effective marketing campaigns, has made Iceland a popular travel destination.
The number of tourists almost doubled from 566,000 to over 1 million between 2011 and 2015, according to Iceland’s tourism board. In 2016, the number of Americans visiting the country outnumbered the Icelandic population.
The country was recently likened to Disneyland by a local politician who complained that the area is now swarming with tourists. While this influx of visitors has brought a much-needed boost to the economy post-recession, it’s also pushed up prices for residents and put pressure on the infrastructure. Locals complain of tourists destroying the fragile ecosytem and leaving a mess behind them as they trample over the formerly untouched natural sites.
According to Cuba’s ministry of tourism, four million visitors went to Cuba in 2016, an increase of 13% from the year before. The tourism boom has had some consequences for the country’s residents, The New York Times reported in December 2016.
The surge in visitors has led to a food shortage, and basic food items have become completely unaffordable for locals. Local hotels and restaurants are buying up supplies in bulk for guests, pushing up prices and leaving limited amounts for locals.
The situation has been acknowledged by the Cuban government, who put caps on prices to make them more affordable for residents. This has only encouraged sellers to put products on the black market, according to The New York Times.
New Zealand has a similar appeal to Iceland: rugged and untouched landscapes that also make for epic backdrops in movies like “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit.” The beauty of the country was further promoted in the “100% Pure New Zealand” tourism marketing campaign.
Tourism is a crucial part of New Zealand’s economy. It contributes $9.7 billion to the GDP each year and employs 7.5% of the workforce.
Residents complain that tourists who are able to camp and roam wherever they like often don’t respect the environment. The country also doesn’t have the infrastructure in place to cope with the trash and human waste that’s often left behind by tourists. Bloomberg reported that there are hotel shortages and a lack of adequate parking and public toilets.
In a survey of 500 residents published by Tourism New Zealand and Tourism Industry Aotearoa in March 2017, 35% of respondents said that tourism puts too much pressure on the country.
It was inevitable that Instagrammers and travel bloggers would make their way down to Tulum to lounge on its pristine white beaches and stay in its eco-lodges. This sleepy beach town has gone from a quiet yogi paradise to a celebrity hotspot, where even one of the world’s best restaurants, Noma, hosted a $600-per-person pop-up.
According to an investigation by Newsweek, the town has struggled to keep up with its newfound popularity, and local hotels are polluting the ecosystem and dumping raw sewage into nearby rivers. One local activist described it as a “ticking time bomb,” explaining that there are no efficient processes to deal with the waste that is being dumped in the middle of the jungle.
Macchu Pichu, Peru
Macchu Picchu has a 2,500-visitors-a-day limit set by Peru and UNESCO. It has far exceeded this since 2011, drawing in nearly 1.3 million visitors to the site in 2015 alone, according to Peru’s Ministry of Foreign Trade and Tourism. Overcrowding has taken its toll on the ancient ruins, and the government has now laid out a plan to reduce the number of visitors who can come.
In the new plan, which is being implemented by 2019, tourists will be required to have guides, be kept to designated routes, and given time limits to tour the site.
Santorini is known for its white-washed hilltop houses overlooking the sea. These have now become an ideal backdrop for Instagrammers and travel bloggers.
In 2015, a record-high number of cruise ships was recorded there, with as many as 10,000 visitors in one day during the peak summer months. This summer, the local authorities have instituted a limit of 8,000 visitors a day.
Pig Beach, The Bahamas
A group of swimming pigs have long populated an island in the Bahamas, and they recently became a major tourist attraction. They’ve even made it into the Instagram posts of Donald Trump Jr.
In February 2017, seven of the pigs were found dead, and initial reports claimed that the pigs had been given alcohol and food by visitors.
National Geographic later reported that the pigs’ deaths were most likely caused by eating sand, but that tourists were not completely without blame. An inspector from the Bahamas Humane Society claimed that these swimming pigs had become so reliant on snacks from humans, it had completely altered their lifestyle.