Is Instagram Changing Travel?

Submitted by mumunmumun on 3 July 2018

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I think Instagram IS changing travel. At least to my knowledge, seeing the people around my circle. Instagram has successfully become one of the strongest travel reference online. Understandably. Many Instagram accounts have presented great photos of travel experiences, alluring people venture beyond. Some pictures even got creative and go the extra mile to show us the beautiful corners of the earth. So beautiful, that I think we should reconsider the option of ever moving to Mars. As a travel blogger for yay years, it’s been hard enough to persuade family, friends and foreigners to travel beyond Kuta or Bali and see other parts of Indonesia. With Instagram, our mission has been easier. Everyone is promoting remote and secluded places in Indonesia; Raja Ampat, Pantar Island, Wakatobi, etc, and the mass is following them. So, what’s wrong with that?

Mandatory photo at Pianemo Raja Ampat
Mandatory photo at Pianemo Raja Ampat

The idea of Instagram is changing travel really hit me in 2016, when I had the chance to host a group of content creators to a few destinations in Indonesia for a tourism campaign. It was a priceless experience because I got to see some great creators work their magic. However, it was also eye-opening to know that some creators were more ambitious on getting their (Instagram) content to an extent they didn’t care for their travel companions, the local people, nor the culture or any context whatsoever. I thought it was something happening only in Indonesia, up to that experience I realized it was a global phenomenon. It made me wonder, what exactly was I seeing on Instagram and what efforts or sacrifices happened behind it?

From then on and experiences from other travel related projects, I’ve been careful about liking posts and somewhat observing content on Instagram. I think it’s safe to say that travel photos on Instagram now have become eye candy to an extent that I would be a diabetic. It’s a whole lot of sugar I don’t need. But again, what’s wrong with this social media platform and is Instagram changing travel?

I’m no expert but here’s what I’ve learned so far.

It Takes Lives 

Too dramatic? Bear with me. My most concern of all is how there are so many places, most likely nature, that are opened up just to establish photo spots for Instagram. Most of the time it’s a wooden platform overlooking some panoramic view. It breaks my heart that some trees and plants had to be cut down solely for the purpose of photos, not to mention the stressful impact to the surrounding natural environment and the locals. Arguably locals profit but also suffer much of it. Having extra income is one thing, but it’s another having locals deal with crowds flooding the area, noise pollution and trash.

Pianemo platform
Guilty as charged! This platform was built when the previous president wanted to visit the view point.

I’m not against a good view point, God knows I enjoy it. But without proper planning and our culture of fueling people to make Instagramable places, possibly our feeds are costing us environmental damage. And don’t get me started on people dying in the effort to get a good picture, or even worse, a selfie.

The Industry is Riding the Bandwagon

Many industries have recognized travel photos and topics on Instagram to be engaging and becoming great commercial opportunities. The industry is milking it, especially tourism. Media is selling destinations as ‘Instagramable’ places and not adding any value to the destination or presenting something new and exciting as (I) expected from them. The thing is people are starting to believe it’s a norm. When media promotes a place as instagramable because they know it sells, it becomes crowded with tourists chasing for selfies. Despite that it’s good for the destination to get coverage from the media, is there enough balance of content to promote other context or that benefiting the local environment? For instance, Padar Island is very much recognized as a tourism destination, the once dirt path has now become an established staircase up to the view point slash photo point. Helpful for visitors, but there is poor content (and possibly interest) about other aspects of the island.

Padar Island 2016. Is Instagram changing travel?
It was still a dirt path in 2016 but by golly did it generate sweat.

And have you heard about the selfie tours? Yep, tours just for selfies. WTF?!

Becoming rude or polite?

Because people want a nice photo, there’s this new phenomenon where people become either rude or interestingly polite. In public places, people ask other people to shove the hell over because they’re in frame. Sometimes they’re polite, sometimes rude AF. Other cases are pictures and selfies take up so much time, some people are blocking the view for others. And I’m not just talking about beaches or parks, but also museums and galleries. People would spend a good amount of time to stand in front of exhibits just taking and retaking photos, distracting others enjoying the displayed work. Don’t get me started on ruining the art pieces.

Ironically, Indonesians in particular have successfully learned how to stay in line for Instagram spots more than they do for other public services, which is really weird but admittedly a good sign. Now, how can we make this applicable in every other aspect of our lives?

Wasn’t Traveling to Open New Horizons?   

Because a lot of traveling is now inspired by photos on Instagram, apparently people travel just to create the same photo. While that’s personal preference, I don’t think I can love another Padar Island, NTT, photo unless the caption says something interesting. There’s about 73.5K posts on #PulauPadar (Padar Island), am I to like them all?


Pulau Padar Instagram
Padar Island search by location. 

I feel that there are less variation in content helping us understand the different nature, culture, and the roots of indifference. According to Instagram, we are all traveling, but have we got a better understanding of the world?

But is this also an implication of a better economy and more affordable travel? There was a time where traveling was hard and effortful, which lead to us being more observant, taking in as much as possible. We used all of our five senses and returned with endless tales of our travels. Traveling opens our horizons, helping us understand the world beyond the assumptions that we’ve been building in our warm beds. With tickets being so affordable and our lust for filling up our feed, it seems like the only sense we care about is our sights and we dismiss everything else. I don’t argue that Instagram has also opened up my understanding of the world, but with the chase of likes and the industry supporting it, it becomes a really sharp two-way blade or possibly one side sharper than the other.

To conclude things, I think Instagram is changing travel, but it’s an ongoing process. It has now brought much good to tourism, but arguably increasing more bad. Again, I’m not against Instagram changing travel, God knows I love a good travel photo and story on the platform and Indohoy also has an ongoing account, but I’m questioning myself as to which extreme are we supporting and what to post next. As much as we think a simple double-tap on your screen is harmless, we might want to think again as it can fuel a monster that we can’t directly see. Social media life used to be ‘think twice before I post’, now it’s ‘think twice before I love’ and that couldn’t sound anymore true.

This is an growing opinion, which will evolve more in the future, I’m sure. So, I’m still opening my Instagram app and watching how we all travel on it. But more importantly, what do you think?




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Great opinion kak! Kadang aku juga kepikir begini,,, tapi di sini laen I’m guilty AF karena terkadang mengejar konten foto yang mungkin bagi kak indohoy terlalu ekstrem 🙂

2 years ago

I’m fortunate enough to start traveling before social media and smartphones came of age and I have to admit, the current travel landscape is becoming more superficial for the exact reasons you state above. For little old me, I use Instagram as a starting point on doing my research on a destination and I have quite the hard time trying to decipher how taking a kick-ass photo as an end is simply #travelgoals.