Instagram may be changing our brains, but it’s also changed how people choose their next adventure.
People might see a photo of a destination on their feed and decide to book their tickets minutes later.
With over 346 million posts on #travel, it’s clear that Instagram is not only a getaway from our day-to-day lives — but a gateway to an actual destination as well.
In fact, a Facebook study found that 67 per cent of travel enthusiasts on Instagram use the platform to look for inspiration for new places to travel to. And a similar number (62 per cent) used Instagram to build excitement for new trips.
One country that has seen an uptick in tourists thanks in large part to Instagram, is Iceland.
The ‘exponential’ rise
Gunnar Freyr, who goes by the handle @icelandic_explorer, has been tracking #Iceland since he started on Instagram in 2014. In that time, he says, it’s “really grown exponentially” from 300,000 posts to more than nine million.
Instagram has “been really inspiring people to go and do interesting things. It brings a big world to a small place.”
The official tourism board for Iceland has noticed that a lot of people first become aware of the country as a destination through social media, with a big part of that being Instagram. Sveinn Birkir Björnsson, who is the director of communications at Promote Iceland, says between 85 and 90 per cent of visitors go to the country to see nature.
“Iceland is a photographer’s dream place, really.”
Andy To (@andyto), a multimedia storyteller with more than 142K followers on Instagram, agrees.
“You can’t help but feel inspired being in a location like that because there’s just so much beauty around you.”
So the board leveraged the abundance of content it had, to cater to what Instagrammers were already interested in. Freyr, who also works with the tourism board, says they also sponsored trips for influencers to reach a wider audience.
“Instagram has definitely played a huge role in blowing that place up,” To says.
“I’ve never personally heard about it outside of Instagram other than Iceland Air.” To recalls seeing many photographers going on influencer trips with the airline.
Brent Smyth (@fromkenya) recently travelled to Iceland — after seeing photos of the country on, where else, Instagram.
“I felt like, all of a sudden, all these people I followed were posting pictures of Iceland and it captured my imagination. It made me want to go there.”
The combination of Instagram, in addition to the pre-existing and hugely popular stopover program — which lets people who are en route to Europe or North America spend up to a week in Iceland for free — has contributed to a tourism boom in the country. Since 2014, Iceland has seen an average yearly growth rate of at least 24 per cent.
In that year, Iceland saw just under one million international visitors.
In 2017 that number ballooned to more than 2.2 million.
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The ‘Instagrammability’ factor
But what happens when a destination becomes too popular?
Forty per cent of millennials in a survey, conducted by a U.K.-based holiday rental home insurance company, said that the “Instagrammability” of a place was the most important factor in choosing where to go on vacation. “Instagrammability” ranked higher than personal development, even sightseeing.
Researchers from four universities surveyed active travellers in the U.S. (B. Bynum Boley and others determined active travellers by asking whether they travelled at least 50 miles from home in the past year.) They then dug deeper into whether positive feedback on social media travel posts affected people’s choices in travel destinations.
“The symbolic value of travel has evolved to focus heavily on the image one manicures through … social media posts of their travels,” the authors noted.
Freyr says many, including himself, are victims of this.
“I think a lot of people are coming to do things without really enjoying them. Just to kind of capture it and then move on to the next bucket list item that looks good on Instagram.”
Social media also seems to determine how happy people are with the trip itself.
“Social media ‘likes’ [have] grown to become a moderating factor in one’s satisfaction with their travel experience,” the study on “social return” noted.
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Best of both worlds
So how do you find a balance, especially when too much tourism begins to bother some local residents?
Björnsson says the tourism board has been focusing its marketing efforts on places that haven’t been experiencing the same growth, where local businesses and residents are welcoming more tourists.
The board has been in talks on “how to protect the most vulnerable places.”
Freyr agrees that Instagrammers, photographers and travellers alike should be responsible, especially in untouched or remote areas.
“Luckily, more people on Instagram are becoming kind of ambassadors of good behaviour.”