Growing up in a resort town with high rates of attraction, I have witnessed over the last ten or so years how social media has affected our town. This summer especially, the volume of tourism was out of control. Given the pandemic, parks, campgrounds and recreational facilities were closed. Many saw this as an opportunity to camp wherever they desired. Often in areas specifically closed off for parking and overnight camping. None of this stopped the weekend-warrior, city crowds, however, from adventuring up north and all over. Nor did they respect the land either by packing out what they packed in. Leaving our town littered with other people’s trash and even feces — as public restrooms were closed.
This is not just an issue within my hometown — this is happening around the globe. Destination locations are being exploited daily, so much so that many businesses have spoken out despite recognizing the revenue they bring.
The trend of geotagging among influencer’s has become increasingly problematic for small communities who are unable to accommodate resulting floods in tourism.
There are plenty of influencers, as well as celebrities, using their platforms to provide awareness, intentionality and education — to speak on behalf of racial injustice, systemic oppression, intersectional environmentalism, political propaganda amongst many other topics. At the same time, their carelessness in regard to geotagging is becoming a recurring problem. Towns bordering national parks in particular are being most affected, Mammoth Lakes and Lake Tahoe in the Eastern Sierra, Bend and surrounding towns in the Cascade Mountains, areas in close proximity to the Rockies, McCall in Idaho, surrounding areas near Jackson Hole and the list goes on.
I am not so naive to think that individuals will stop geotagging on social media. Nor do I think the majority of influencers understand the magnitude of their actions. It is irrefutable, irresponsible and disrespectful to advertise photos and Tik Tok videos to 1 million or more followers, telling them explicitly to visit such pristine locations with a local community of merely 390 people who can’t accommodate them. Local grocery stores are running out of food in an attempt to feed the influx of individuals flocking these towns. Trash and waste is not being discarded properly. Tourism tax has skyrocketed, making it difficult for local families to afford produce in their own community.
Christine Bumatay, in a Huffpost article, found influencers’ impact on small communities, like the Philippines, to be debilitating. Boracay Island, for example, has in the past shut down for restoration due to experiencing years of over-tourism.
Bumatay spoke with White Banana Beach Club, a local business on Siargao Island, to investigate the damaging effects of influencers targeting luxury resorts and local businesses as a marketing tactic to monetize their platform.
“We are receiving many messages regarding collaborations with influencers. We kindly would like to announce that White Banana is not interested to ‘collaborate’ with self-proclaimed ‘influencers.’ And we would like to suggest to try another way to eat, drink, or sleep for free. Or try to actually work.”
Public land is under threat as a result of mass amounts of tourism, a NY Times article suggests. According to the article, Jackson Hole Travel & Tourism Board have begun asking influencers to stop geotagging photographs on social media in an effort to protect the state’s beautiful vistas. Where a once nine-mile trek up to Delta Lake would attract one to two hikers a day, there are now as many as 145 people on a given day. Because of the increase in heavy foot traffic among the trail, it has begun showing signs of erosion.
“We want people to have a real connection to nature,” Mr. Modena, a tourism-board member in Wyoming, said, “not just a page with a pin on it.”
Of course we are free to do with our social media accounts as we wish and many will continue to do so — geotagging as desired.
However, it is crucial we rethink our approach to tourism as a whole and the message we are sending to the public. It is paramount effort be made for solutions and outreach regarding mindful, sustainable tourism in heavily trafficked destinations with scarce resources and small communities at stake. Education among travelers and tourists to further advocate for minimizing our tourist footprint needs to be a priority. Instead consider using generic locations for geotagging like, “Tag Responsibly,” and hashtags like, #nogeotag.
The solution starts with us.