Before I sat down and decided to write this post, I originally intended to do a post on ‘Where’s hot to travel this summer?’ As I made a mental list of places that I thought were giving major summer vacay vibes, I shortly started to consider why these places inspired me. One of which was Bali, the other being Tulum in Mexico. I realised the latter I had only recently got sight of and it was in fact through Instagram and YouTube. The former was relatively unknown to the masses prior to the rise of social media spaces like Instagram and YouTube.
According to The Telegraph newspaper in 2017 Indonesia had 13.7 million oversea tourists, up from 2.2 million in 1990. About 1 in 3 of those (4.5m) went to Bali. I really do think most of that spike happened in the last 3-5 years. Due to social media and the dawn of the information age.
As much as social media is a great way to discover new places to travel to and get an insight into what to expect, I find that the ways in which we receive these messages, how we perceive these destinations and the subsequent impact on travel trends, is in someways unsettling.
When you boil it right down the influencer and their “brand partnerships” are selling us their dream. We’ve been Instafluenced!
It is no coincidence that you suddenly feel inspired to book that retreat in Bali to give you all the zen feels. With the rise of the influencer (aka people paid by brands to post their product/service on social media) it is known that their success and income is dependent on giving an audience something to aspire to. So when brands are sending beloved influencers to gorgeous locations around the world, their view and their story is being told. But this story is being skewed in a way that the experience needs to look and feel like a dream that you too can make come true.
Tulum in Mexico came to my attention as couple of people I follow on Instagram, which happened to be ‘Instafluencers’ including the queen of all the ‘Instafluencers’ Kim ‘NGO un’ Kardashian, were all vacationing in Tulum, Mexico. Tulum is pre-Columbian Mayan walled city serving as a major port for Coba, in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo.
I mean who goes swimming with a full face of make up on. The trip was sponsored by make-up brand Lise Watier.
Having been in awe at the beauty of the location and the subject in the pic, which was the Instafluencer Allana Davison, who looked picture perfected, thanks to the perfect Lightroom settings, I proceeded to put Tulum down on my travel lust list. It did feel aspirational and beyond what my current travel fund allowed for. But the reason this is damaging is that Tulum might be more accessible and affordable than I was led to believe. Instead we got delivered a well curated image of luxury, which is sent to millions of followers around the globe, which a huge chunk will feel that they can never experience Tulum.
More times than not a commercial motivation is tied in. Brands such as Revolve take their Instafluencer brand ambassadors on group trips to places like Utah, stay in places like the 5 star luxury hotel Amangiri, which looks undoubtedly unreal. The message I’m getting from these instafluencers are that this place is full of luxuries that they can not only afford but they have an exclusive access to and get paid for the privilege. Speaking with people about certain destination it’s easy to build up a preconceived notion of ‘how expensive a place is’, ‘the type of people that visit there’ and maybe come to the conclusion that they probably can’t afford to go there or the place won’t satisfy their own travel style etc.
This doesn’t sit right with me because thinking back on my own travels I have visited places that appear to present this image of luxury and a place for the elite. Capri and Como in Italy are both places we are told of the A-listers spending months on Yachts and dining at Michelin star restaurants. But instead of Hollywood A-listers, we have the instafluencers that are supposed to be people the masses can relate to. But in fact they’re jumping on that same Yacht and blogging their five course meal at the most finest dining establishment.
When we have preconceived ideas about a place, especially sold to us by people that want to impose an idealised image for their own gain, you may lose out on the real gems a place has to offer
When I had the idea of heading to both Como and Capri, I looked into the cost of getting there and the distance to a major city close by that may have affordable accommodation. Because yes these places do have an element of luxury to it and the stories told about a place over time does result in tourism in these areas becoming more costly. But essentially I knew I can still access both places and experience it for myself. They both were incredibly beautiful, as is most of Italy, if not all. But did I have to go to the most expensive restaurant, rent a boat or stay in a grand villa? No! I could tailor the trip to suit my means and taste. It is cheap to travel to Como from Milan on a Train, and Capri on a ferry from Naples, both costing around €20. I took a boat tour around Capri that cost £16 and really got the chance to be wowed by the island.
My point is I have a totally different view of the place than what had been sold to me. The bane and beauty in Capri was the trek up the endless paths leading to the town centre. It was exhausting in 32 degrees heat, but nonetheless astonishing to smell the lemon trees blooming and see the island from a height.
When we have preconceived ideas about a place, especially sold to us by people that want to impose an idealised image for their own gain, you may lose out on the real gems a place has to offer. Or in fact find that it might not be as what the hype suggests.
But you may question isn’t that the purpose of the Cheryl is Tripping blog and social media presence. Aren’t I just showing off my vacations. In some way yes, I love to put the spotlight on places I visit, but that spotlight includes the good, bad and ugly. Travelling is a beautiful thing that our generation have the luxury to do more off, by any means. But with any place I visit I love sharing an honest account of my experience, and also give a fresh perspective on places that have been idealised or stigmatised.
Another problematic thing with Instafluencers all heading to destinations at once is the subsequent travel trends it creates with people flocking in the masses to an area. The rise of hyper-tourism in places like Bali and Thailand is no longer just serving the community in positive ways, say economically, but is now causing harm to the environment. This is worrying.
It was recently reported by the BBC that Maya beach on the island of Koh Phi Phi Leh in Thailand, made famous by film The Beach starring Leonardo ‘the social activist lothario’ Di Caprio, has been closed due to the damage to the coral reef and sea life due to over tourism. It will go through a four month period of recovery and with hope the the damage is repaired. Will this send a warning to holidaymakers on the impact of their travel choices, especially in areas that us humans co-reside with wild life? I doubt it. The drive to get the perfect snap for instagram is overwhelmingly more of an incentive than people being concerned about the environment impact.
But with people paying more attention to their social media accounts than reports on the impact tourism is having on communities and the environment, maybe it is best to leave it up to the government officials to think about caps and restricted areas, like Koh Phi Phi Leh. But knowing a little bit about how most governments work, increasing the countries GDP, is placed above sustainability.
My suggestion is be mindful about the images being shared on Instagram especially of people on vacation. Is it an influencer just sharing a very polished post and no other information about the destination? Which essentially there is nothing wrong with that. But it is up to you as the consumer to dig further and read reviews by a range of people, not just ones being paid by the tourist board or that seem to just present their highlight real. And above all really be open to an experience that isn’t smeared in the memories of an Instafluencers experience.
I hope you do find my travel journals inspiring and they seem like it’s coming from a genuine place. I currently don’t get any sponsored trips, but when I do, I’ll still give you an honest account of my experience and share through my words and photography with a well-rounded account of a place.
Have you been instafluenced to travel somewhere and did it live up to your expectation or was it very different from what the instafluencer experienced? Leave your comments below.