From Empty Countryside to Overcrowded Hotspot: The Impact of Social Media on Travel Destinations

Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon in South-Iceland.Getty Images– “How Social Media Transformed Iceland’s Hidden Gem into a Tourist Hotspot”

Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon in Iceland, once a tranquil stretch of countryside, has seen an explosive rise in visitors over the past decade. Located along Iceland’s southern coast, this area was almost deserted 15 years ago. The family that farmed the land had moved to Reykjavík, and the canyon was mainly a pasture for sheep.

However, everything changed around 2013 when travelers started sharing photos of the canyon on social media. With geolocation tags, this previously hidden gem became accessible to anyone with an internet connection. The crowds grew, and in 2015, Justin Bieber’s music video for “I’ll Show You” was filmed there, amplifying its exposure. The video, showing Bieber in the canyon, has been viewed over half a billion times on YouTube, catapulting the site to fame.

The Social Media Surge

Visitor numbers skyrocketed from 3,000 to 300,000 annually. Unfortunately, the surge happened so quickly that infrastructure to support the tourists was non-existent. The landscape deteriorated into a mud pit, overwhelming the owners and the local environment.

While a celebrity like Bieber has a clear impact, everyday social media users also play a significant role. A 2019 survey revealed that nearly half of respondents looked to influencers for travel ideas, and 86% chose destinations based on posts from friends or peers. This influence was even stronger among Gen Z, with 92% of them basing travel decisions on social media content.

A 2017 survey of British adults aged 18 to 33 found that 40% prioritized the “Instagrammability” of a destination when planning vacations. A follow-up with Gen Z travelers highlighted that 43% of them chose destinations based on potential TikTok views and likes. Tourist hotspots like Disneyland, the Eiffel Tower, and Machu Picchu dominate the list of the most Instagrammed places.

Influence and Responsibility

The trend of documenting travel on social media has been criticized for echoing colonial mindsets, portraying destinations as commodities. Sean Smith of Tilburg University studies this phenomenon, noting how Instagram posts often perpetuate colonial stereotypes. Common themes include the “tropical exotic,” “promontory gaze,” and “fantasized assimilation,” all of which imply that destinations are there for consumption.

Smith argues that while we recognize the colonial undertones in traditional travel writing, we must scrutinize social media travel content similarly. Instagram, as a new form of travel writing, often lacks critical reflection on these issues.

Navigating Ethical Travel

To address these concerns, tourists don’t need to abandon social media but should use it responsibly. Questioning the content we consume and create can help. When posting, focusing on the local culture or environment rather than oneself can provide a more respectful narrative.

Ultimately, we must recognize our influence, even if our followers are just acquaintances and family. Our posts shape others’ perceptions and travel decisions, so we should strive to share content that respects and honors the destinations we visit.

 #TravelInfluence #IcelandCanyon #SustainableTravel #SocialMediaImpact #TourismTrends

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