For better or for worse, social media has changed a lot of industries, and tourism is no exception. According to a survey by home insurance company Schofields Insurance, the "social media potential" of a destination is apparently now the number one motivation for millennials’ holiday booking.
The company asked over 1,000 UK millennials (adults aged between 18 and 33) what their most important factor was when choosing a vacation destination. Lo and behold, over 40 percent of millennials listed “how [photogenic] the holiday would be” as their primary motivator. The following motivators include the “cost / availability of alcohol” (24 percent), and the more wholesome factor of “personal development” (22.6 percent) - at least there's that.
The results in order of popularity were: How ‘Instagrammable’ the holiday will be – 40.1 per cent; Cost/Availability of alcohol – 24 percent; Personal development – 22.6 percent; Chances to experience the local cuisine – 9.4 percent; Opportunities for sightseeing – 3.9 percent
So, whether you love or hate social media, here’s a list of vacation destinations that have been poorly affected—or worse, ruined—by their popularity on social media.
25 Maya Beach, Thailand - Closed Indefinitely
The famous beach In Leonardo DiCaprio’s cult classic film “The Beach” was inspired by (and filmed in) this tropical paradise – and it shows. In being literally THE Beach of paradise, it’s obviously incredible fodder for social media content.
Inevitably, this once-pristine beach became a tourist trap for photos and merchandise. It even became so crowded that people could hardly walk, let alone lay down on the sand.
However – to work out a future solution and let the beach recover – Thailand closed the beach in fall of 2018 – at first for a few months, and now “indefinitely.”
24 Cinque Terre, Italy - To Cap Or Not To Cap?
Cinque Terre - meaning "Five Lands" in English - is a series of five villages embedded into the mountains on the Italian Riviera, each accessible to the other by trek. Cinque Terre's villages are famous for their quaint, colorful homes (perfect for a #nofilter moment) as well as their limited accessibility – between them, the villages have a total of about 4,000 inhabitants and the most convenient way to get between them is by trekking. By comparison, the picturesque path drew a huge number: around 2.5 million visitors in 2015. Consequently, in 2016, a rumour circulated that the local authorities were considering implementation of a tourist cap of 1.5 million tourists.
Authorities have not announced any official limits just yet, so if you’ve considered going to the Italian coast – andiamo!
23 Great Wall Of China, China - Early Bird Or Early Worm?
The site on virtually every bucket list, everyone wants to see THE Great Wall of China. Moreover, everyone wants THE Perfect Shot, but massive tour groups descending upon very specific stretches of the wall can make that desire difficult.
Nowadays, the best way to get a photo of yourself at the Great Wall without any people lurking in the background is by hiring a private guide who will take you to the right spots at the right time. Be prepared to get up very early for your #BucketList photos; maybe even a #sunrise snap.
22 Pig Beach, Bahamas - This Little Piggy Swims!
The Official Home of The Swimming Pigs, Pig Beach is that infamous beach in the Bahamas where visitors can swim with little aquaphilic piggies! It’s an uninhabited island – save for the pigs and some cats – so you can take pictures until the cows come home.
They're pretty friendly too, which means there's potential for some stellar IG snaps. Just remember that they are wild animals and to treat them accordingly.
21 Jeju Island, South Korea - By Air, Mostly
Jeju Island is a scenic island off the coast of South Korea that boasts pristine beaches, a dormant volcano, caves, trekking trails, and a whopping 15 million tourists a year. The airport in Jeju supports around 180 daily flights, and the flight route between Jeju Island and Seoul is actually the busiest one in the world.
Typically, its tourists are Mainland Chinese visitors who use the island as a quick trip. Though – thanks to social media – the awareness of Jeju has risen and, in 2017, the island reported a 20 percent increase in visitors from the UAE alone.
Unfortunately, South Korea is considering a second airport to add even more visitors.
20 Boracay, Philippines - Once a Cesspool, Now Closed
You can find everything your social media page could ever need in Boracay—white sand beaches, palm tree resorts, surfing and sailing, and…a cesspool.
That’s right: in February 2018, Rodrigo Duterte called the island of Boracay a "cesspool" due to reports of sewage flowing into the ocean and announced plans to close the island to tourists for six months from April 26, 2018.
Hey, at least the government is trying to improve the island's ecology—maybe that means better pics in 2019!
19 Salar d'Uyuni, Bolivia - Hope For Rain
You probably have at least one friend who has been here (and you’ve seen the pictures). Salar de Uyuni is the world’s largest salt flat, spanning 10,582 square kilometers (4086 square miles). It’s absolutely flat, save for a few islands of land and offers a perfectly surreal backdrop for any #Ad.
For that ultimate social media photo, the luckiest visitors get to see the beauty of the saltiest, flattest place on earth just after a rainfall - it creates a perfect mirror reflection of the sky on its surface. So plan your trips accordingly, and hope for rain!
18 Santorini, Greece - White Beauty, Crowded Chaos
Hard to make a list about tourism and not include this blue and white gem. Perhaps we have the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants to thank (or just ancient Greek history) for the well-known reputation of this series of islands. Consider seeing the otherworldly Cyclades against a marvelous Grecian sunset, reflected by the Aegean Sea...it completely makes sense that the island would be crowded.
In the off-season, one can still come to see the sunset, but the island can get rather cold and many of the shops are closed. So visitors often choose to either bring a jacket or brave the crowds. You decide!
Fun fact: technically, the whole complex of the Santorini islands is just one still-active volcano.
17 Caño Cristales, Colombia - Dramatic, And Sensitive
Caño Cristales is almost too surreal to believe: unique microorganisms living in the water project vibrant colors right before your eyes—even pink, red, and green! It also has incredible waterfalls; perfect for that one photo of you bathing in natural beauty.
Unfortunately, the recent Colombia tourism boom has put this extremely delicate ecosystem into a state of flux; so hopefully it will be protected before it’s too late! Or…maybe go before it’s too late for tourism.
16 Portofino, Italy - Small Pond, Way Too Many Fish
Another sito Italiano! Located at the top of Italy’s “shin,” Portofino is a small fisherman's village on the coast of Genoa. Of course, alongside its cousin, Cinque Terre, this town features pastel-colored houses, fancy boutiques, and - of course - you can eat delicious seafood at the restaurants overlooking the harbor that abuts its central square. Year-round, the harbor is a popular place for the wealthy to dock their super-yachts; maybe you’ll see a celeb!
Visitors can also visit a 16th-century fortress named Castello Brown, which features a museum, art exhibitions, and panoramic views of the town above the sparkling Ligurian Sea.
The perfect photo spot...for you and the thousands of other people walking around the village.
15 Marina Bay Sands Infinity Pool - Go Big Or Go Home
This iconic infinity pool at the top of Singapore’s most famous hotel was practically built for tourists, but it goes on this list anyway due to its sheer popularity.
From its website description: “Imagine yourself floating in the world’s largest rooftop Infinity Pool, gazing down on the glittering city-skyline from 57 levels above. You won’t find a more spectacular photo-taking spot anywhere in Singapore!” Enough said.
Technically, only hotel residents can swim in the pool, but residents still find ways to get in. Go big or go home, I guess.
14 Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi - Holy Place For Prayer...& Pics
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, located in Abu Dhabi, is the largest mosque in the UAE, and as it’s the key place of worship for daily prayers, Friday gathering and Eid prayers –as well as a striking photo op– it has become somewhat of a social media tourism ‘greatest hit.’
During Eid alone, it can receive upwards of 41,000 people, which may not seem like that many considering that the building complex covers an area of more than 12 hectares (30 acres). Still—celebs like Rihanna, Selena Gomez, Gigi Hadid and Kendall Jenner have taken infamous photos here.
13 The Little Mermaid (Copenhagen, Denmark) - Save Her!
This famous bronze sculpture by Edvard Eriksen is (of course) perched on a rock by the water at the Langelinie promenade in Copenhagen, Denmark. Standing at just 1.25 meters high, tourists line up for blocks to get one selfie with it, causing it to get some unwanted attention (and vandalism) from locals.
The mermaid actually has a long history of vandalism, which dates all the way back to the early 1960s - mostly for political reasons. Maybe the vandalism will help visitors get even more likes?
12 Reykjavik, Iceland - Aurora Bo-realistic?
Ah, everyone’s favorite trekking getaway. In Iceland, you go trekking, see geysers, and maybe catch a glimpse of an Aurora Borealis – or the Northern Lights. Visitors get bussed by the hundreds to go to a “secluded” spot to see the sky light up.
The only issue is that artificial light makes the Aurora Borealis less spectacular (i.e. harder to see) and therefore, the experience is becoming increasingly tainted. Still, thanks to social media and cheap flights, Iceland is one of the world’s most visited destinations.
11 Tengalalang & Ubud, Bali - Eat Pray Loathe
Tengalalang and Ubud are tied for social media satiating destinations, as they both reside on the beautiful Indonesian island of Bali-- and have both become popular destinations for "Digital Nomads."
In Tengalalang, tourists can trek around the famous rice terraces or line up in restaurants overlooking them to go on giant swings (yes, giant swings) in order to channel some George-of-the-Jungle vibes in their photo op.
Ubud is well known for its Hindu temples and crunchy expats, providing the perfect setting for your future Eat-Pray-Love moment.
10 The Maldives - All About The Money
The Maldives is a (once) idyllic tropical nation in the Indian Ocean. A collection of 26 atolls (or a "chain of islands formed of coral") - meaning that The Maldives is the home to more than 1,000 coral islands. It is well known for its beaches, blue lagoons and extensive reefs, as well as for its photogenic luxury resorts.
In a story reported by The Jakarta Post, China and India warned tourists to avoid taking their holidays in The Maldives until further notice due to a growing political crisis and protesting.
Moreover, the tourism industry is the largest/most profitable economic industry in the island nation, and therefore the villas and transportation are much more expensive than in other (comparable) places. So maybe find another paradise to vacation in, then?
9 Bora Bora, French Polynesia - Good If You Can Get There
Bora Bora is a small (like, really small) South Pacific island in French Polynesia. Sand-fringed islets surround this beachy vacation destination, so visitors always feel like they have their own private beach. Surrounding it is a bight blue-green lagoon protected by a coral reef, also known as scuba-central.
In 2013, Matira Beach in Bora Bora made the top 10 of CNN's list of the world's best beaches. With great titles come great bragging rights. And though this pearl of French Polynesia is growing in popularity, it is still rather difficult to access, and is therefore still worth a visit...if you can get there.
8 Cuba - Half Of My Art Is In Havana
A sugar-white beach? A vintage car? Spanish colonial architecture? Cobblestone streets with a cigar in hand? All perfect backdrops for your social media fantasy. A place famed for its music, Cuban salsa music plays in the dance clubs across Havana, cabaret shows are performed at the famed Tropicana. The island is also the birthplace of the bolero, mambo and cha cha cha.
Four million people visited the country in the first nine months of 2017, making tourism the largest source of foreign currency after sugar. But make sure you hurry! Before Americans ruin it.
7 Tulum, Mexico - Hola, Paradiso
Mayan ruins, el Gran Cenote, margaritas, tacos, and – of course – beaches. Of course, Tulum has it all. Now a new-age yoga hotspot, Tulum also contains some well maintained ruins of an ancient Mayan port city (over 1,000 years old!), including a large stone structure called El Castillo (the castle).
Though, it's not the Mayan city that inspired a recent 74% spike in tourism. Tulum's “hippy” yoga vibe, garden to jungle restaurants and white sand beaches have made it the top of every influencer's list!
6 Chefchaouen, Morocco - I'm Blue, Da Ba Dee Da Ba Daa
Nicknamed The Blue Pearl, the city of Chefchaouen has become a popular destination for European tourists and, as such, there are around two hundred hotels catering to the summer influx. Why is it blue, you may ask? Well, many believe it's because the color blue theoretically keeps mosquitos away.
However, another theory states that Chefchaouen was painted blue by immigrants when they sought refuge in the 1930s. According to this theory, the blue hue symbolizes the heaven in the sky, and is therefore meant to serve as a reminder to lead a spiritual life. Or to serve as fodder for your social media #aesthetic.
5 Petra, Jordan - Think Pink!
Petra, Jordan is a mysterious world wonder, and remains Jordan's greatest tourist attraction, and the apple of its eye. Famous for a specific (and massive) façade that is 30 meters wide, 43 meters high, and which is carved out of the sheer, PINK rock-face, dwarfs everything around it.
Carved by an Arabic culture called the Nabataeans, Petra is extremely unique city with a vast history of over 2000 years! That’s really old. Maybe your photo can get over 2000 #LikesForYears?
4 Phuket, Thailand - Salt Life, Night Life
Phuket is a rainforested, mountainous island in the Andaman Sea, and home to some of Thailand’s most popular beaches on its western shore. Phuket City, the capital, and Patong, the main resort town, boast both shops and a sizzling nightlife.
Phuket is well known for its beauty and its nightlife, so be prepared for some late nights. It is a classic base for backpackers doing the whole Southeast Asia thing, so it can get extremely crowded in the high season. But sometimes you just gotta say—Phuket!
3 Machu Picchu, Peru - Don't Come Again, Please
Machu Picchu is another wonder of the world, and boy is it spectacular! Set in the Peruvian Andes, Machu Picchu is an ancient Incan citadel that was embedded between two mountains (Mount Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu), way up high in the jungle - in order to protect it from invasion. Combined with this literal purpose of self-protection, it is also surrounded by a very sensitive ecosystem, and for this exact reason the Peruvian government has not invested in much tourist infrastructure there. So it's definitely not easy to reach.
But that doesn't keep the tourists from coming in droves. The sheer volume of visitors making pilgrimage to see the 15th century UNESCO world heritage site set against its verdant jungle landscape has been quite damaging.
Notoriously in 2014, more than 1.2 million people visited Machu Picchu, which ended up breaking the country's limit of 2,500 visitors per day. Further plans to curb numbers will be expanded in 2019, including mandating that tourists hire a guide (and watchman) and narrowing down the number of access paths.
2 Barcelona, Spain - "Pare, Por Favor!"
With 82 million visitors in 2017 alone, the entire country of Spain is experiencing a massive tourist boom, though it's cities like Barcelona that are feeling the brunt of the strain. Thanks to iconic sites like the Sagrada Familia, Park Guell, Las Ramblas and the beautiful mountain vistas that surround the urban areas—Barcelona is facing overcrowding and rising prices.
It’s become such a problem that residents have taken to the street to protest vast tourism. Ada Colau (Fun Fact: she's Barcelona's first female mayor) has tried to curb the tourism rates by freezing licenses for all new hotels / holiday rental apartments, proposing a new "Tourist Tax," and even straight up limiting visitor numbers via a cap. Perhaps a bit extreme, but you've never seen crowded till you've walked on Las Ramblas at peak hours.
1 The Louvre & The Eiffel Tower, Paris - The Classics
Of course these two touristy locations make it on our list! Attracting between 82.5 million and 83 million foreign visitors last year, France remains the most popular country for tourists in the world.
At the Louvre, one can stand on blocks to take home one of the most touristic photos of all time—touching the top of the pyramid.
Now that we've reached the end of our list, we can't forget the destinations that just missed out. TheTravel's Honorable Mentions go to: The Leaning Tower of Pisa; the Taj Mahal, India; Buckingham Palace, London; Christ the Redeemer, Rio; Sistine Chapel, Rome; Times Square, New York City; The Pyramids, Giza; Amsterdam, The Netherlands; The Colosseum, Rome; and Venice, Italy
References: Independent, CNN, Business Insider, Travel + Leisure, Lonelyplanet, The Jakarta Post, Iceland Mag, Reuters, NY Daily News, The Telegraph, Trip Advisor, The Georgia Straight, CNN Travel