A study published in the Journal of Sustainable Tourism shows that the benefits of ecotourism may now be overshadowed by social media photos. The researchers suggest that this could help guide tourism operators as they weigh the costs and benefits of attracting visitors who only care about nature and natural beauty when it can be captured on their phone.
For the paper, the researchers surveyed a panel of 786 U.S. tourists who had taken an overnight trip within the last year. According to lead author Justin Beall, the travelers reported that how these photos look may be more important to them than their own environmental values. The study also notes that this can be a problem when it comes to overcrowding in environmentally sensitive or secluded areas; it's possible that people will disrupt certain natural areas in the search for the perfect social media pic.
"What if all of a sudden you realize most of the people who showed up to your site aren't ecotourists that care about your site, but just want to get the picture?" asks Beall. "With ecotourism done well, you can have this sort of low-volume, high-value tourism. But if you have all these other people that are getting in on it, and they're not concerned about their environmental impacts, where their money goes or what they do, then it could threaten the destination's sustainability."