Tourism is in full swing again this summer, and with it the bad behavior of tourists. Incidents involving tourists in popular destinations have increased in recent years. Reports of a man defacing the Colosseum suggest behavior has deteriorated even in places that have rarely been problematic in the past.
What is hidden behind these heinous acts? My research shows that one answer is social media. Instagram and TikTok make it easy to find “hidden gem” restaurants and discover new destinations to add to your wish list. But the democratization of travel has had other consequences.
Because people now see their social media connections in a home environment while traveling in a foreign country, they assume (intentionally or not) that the behaviors they normally do at home are also acceptable in that vacation destination.
When we use the behavior of others to guide our own behavior, it is called social proof. People may act more hedonistic when they are on vacation. Travelers are now also using social media to see how other people are behaving. If peers at home go on vacation recklessly, it can lead to a domino effect of bad behavior.
I’ve also discovered other bad travel attitudes and habits that have emerged as a result of social media-driven tourism.
For example, the identifiable victim effect, which explains how people are more likely to sympathize with tragic victims when they know who they are. Since tourists typically hole up in hotels and resorts far from local communities, they may (mistakenly) perceive travel far from home as an opportunity to behave badly without consequences. They underestimate or ignore the impact their actions may have on local people or the economy.
When people travel to a beautiful place, it is tempting to post photos and videos on social media. But, as I said, this creates a cycle that lends itself to more self-indulgent travel.
First, visitors see their friends post photos of a place (revealed by geotagging). Then they want to visit the same places and take the same types of photos there. Eventually, they post them on the same social network where they saw the original photo.
Being able to travel with one’s social group or online connections and post about visiting the same places can be a form of social status. But this means that, in some cases, travelers put more energy into creating content than exploring, discovering or respecting local customs.
Bali is one of the destinations known for social media-induced tourism. This photogenic island is dotted with yoga retreats and has a huge appeal to influencers.
In response to tourist misbehavior, Bali has introduced new tourist guidelines in June 2023. These include rules about proper behavior in sacred temples, around islands and with locals, and respect for the natural environment.
Tourists now need a motorcycle rental permit and are not allowed to set foot on any of Bali’s mountains or volcanoes due to their sacred nature. Travelers can only stay in registered hotels and villas (this will affect many Airbnb properties). Bali has set up a “tourism task force” to enforce the restrictions, conducting raids and investigations if necessary.
A new guideline is to refrain from aggressive behavior or harsh language towards locals, government officials or other tourists, whether in Bali or online. This illustrates the role social media plays in the problem of poor tourist behaviour.
Other destinations have taken similar steps. Iceland, Hawaii, Palau, New Zealand, Costa Rica and other countries have committed tourists to abide by local laws and customs. Campaigns like “No Drama” in Switzerland, “See Vienna – not #Vienna” in Austria, “Be more like a Finn” in Finland and “How toAmsterdam” in the Netherlands aim to attract well-behaved tourists.
If those efforts are unsuccessful, some places, such as Thailand’s famous Maya Bay, have taken the further step of closing them completely, at least temporarily, to tourists.
Remember that when you travel, you are a guest of the local community. Here are some ways to make sure you get answered.
1. Do your research
Even if you are a seasoned traveler, you may not realize the impact your actions have on your local community. But some information from your own research or from local government may be enough to help you take more appropriate action. Before you go, check your guide or background information about local cultural or safety norms.
It doesn’t matter whether you agree with the customs or not. If this is a more conservative place than you’re used to, you should be aware of this — unlike the two influencers who were arrested for their explicit behavior in a Balinese temple.
2. Put down the phone…
Studies have shown that when people travel, if they focus more on their devices than their destination, they may become alienated from their surroundings.
Often, the most memorable travel experiences are when you make a meaningful connection with someone, or learn something new that you’ve never experienced before. This becomes even more difficult if you’re constantly looking at your phone.
3. …or use your influence for good
in pop’ ‘Instagram vs reality’ In the post, the influencer reveals the huge crowds and queues behind the most “Instagramworthy” spots.
Showcasing the not-so-glamorous conditions behind these iconic photos could influence your own social media connections, rethinking their personal travel motivations – are they just going somewhere to take a perfect selfie? More evidence of these conditions circulating online could lead to a larger shift in society away from social media-induced tourism.
If you feel the urge to post, try promoting your small business, and make sure you’re showing proper (and legal) decorum for the holidays.
Lauren Siegel is a lecturer at the University of Greenwich. Original article published in The Conversation; reproduced under a Creative Commons license.