This isn’t my usual type of ‘how to’ article or guide. But this has been on my mind ever since my trip to Iceland, and I felt it was a topic worth getting real about. Today, we’re discussing responsible travel, over tourism and the impact that celebrities and ‘influencers’ can have on our tourism industry.
I want to talk about responsible travel and the Justin Bieber Iceland Video ‘I’ll show you’.
Have you seen it yet?
The Justin Bieber Iceland video has been around a while – since 2015 to be exact. But the first time I discovered it was whilst researching for my trip to Iceland a few months ago.
At first glance, it seems pretty harmless. I was more blown away by the incredible scenery than anything else. But it was as I travelled throughout Iceland that it occurred to me how damaging that music video could be.
It got me thinking more about responsible travel and the impact that I, as a travel blogger, may have on the industry. Both positive and negative.
But first, let’s talk about that Justin Bieber Iceland video…
What you can expect from this article...
- 1 Why The Justin Bieber Iceland Video Could be Damaging Iceland.
- 2 The Impact the Justin Bieber Iceland Video May Have Had
- 3 How Celebrities and Influencers are Impacting on Tourism
- 3.1 What is ‘Overtourism’ and Why is it a problem?
- 3.2 How Can We Address Over Tourism?
- 3.3 What Can Influencers Do to Limit Their Damage?
- 3.4 Ways in which the tourism industry is fighting back against over tourism
- 3.5 Other Ways Instagram and Youtube are damaging the travel industry.
- 3.6 Ways in Which the Tourism Industry are Fighting Back Against Bad Behaviour.
- 3.7 What Can Be Done?
Why The Justin Bieber Iceland Video Could be Damaging Iceland.
If you’ve not watched it, then go ahead, watch it now. I’ll wait…
The scenery is stunning, isn’t it?
But did you also notice the little faux pas along the way? Maybe not. But social media influence is actually pretty subtle.
After seeing Bieber skateboard along it, maybe you want to climb on that old plane wreck for a picture for your own Instagram?
Is there perhaps a part of you who thought rolling around in that soft moss looked pretty fun?
What if I told you that old plane has survived decades but now is subjected to hundreds of people trampling on it each day – do you think it will last decades more?!
A friend told me when she visited, there was a group of backpackers drinking beers on the top of the plane wreck preventing anyone else from taking a decent photo after walking an hour to get there. Would you still want to walk there if you knew that?
What if I told you that moss was part of an extremely fragile ecosystem and that there are signs everywhere stressing how important it is that you don’t walk on it? I’m pretty sure rolling around in it is therefore pretty much frowned upon…
I saw so many tourists pulling over to stand on the moss to pose for photos. But this moss is extremely sensitive and can take 70 years to recover! Is that selfie worth damaging Iceland‘s precious ecosystem?
Then there are the outright dangerous stunts.
Swimming in the ice lagoon, well that’s not exactly sensible. As well as risking hypothermia (I mean c’mon guys there are floating chunks of ice in it!) There are also strong currents and the risk of an iceberg flipping on its side (yep they do that) causing serious harm. The icebergs stretch a long way under the water so you may not be able to see the dangers.
It’s risky enough perching on the edge of those cliffs risking loose rock fall or losing your balance but at Fjadrargljufur canyon, I’ve seen those paths myself. They are cornered off for a reason. They are worn down, steep and narrow and a huge hazard. Yet even with danger signs and barriers to prevent people from recreating the Justin Bieber Iceland video stunts, there were still fresh footprints in the dangerous narrow mud slick.
I’ve actually just heard the Canyon has been closed to tourists. Whilst this in part is due to recent weather conditions, it is also in part due to over tourism (we’ll talk about that in a minute) and the danger some tourists are exposing themselves to in order to get the perfect photo. At this point, it is unclear when or if it will reopen to tourists.
Read More: Things that can kill you in Iceland
The Impact the Justin Bieber Iceland Video May Have Had
The issue, subtle as it may seem, is that there is a ricochet effect.
It may be Bieber’s choice if he risks his own life to make a music video but that video got viewed over 400 MILLION times!
Is it any coincidence that the number of visitors to Iceland grew by 39% in the year following this hugely popular Youtube video? (Usual growth each year is between 20-29%)
Or is it any coincidence that the Plane wreck is now over-crowded or that areas at the canyon have had to be closed off to tourists? Or that there are now ‘danger’ signs everywhere you look. I met so many people as I travelled, who have been there before and commented on how it has changed so much in just a few years. What will it look like in another 10 years? Or 20?!
How Celebrities and Influencers are Impacting on Tourism
I’m not going to lie, it’s actually difficult talking about this topic because I feel partly responsible and I’m wrestling with my own conscience as I write this now.
I hate the word ‘influencer.’ I wouldn’t call myself an Instagrammer either. I am a writer and a photographer. Even a ‘creative’ and a businesswoman. I am predominantly a blogger, exploring and writing about my adventures and showing other people how they can too.
Yet, I do have an Instagram account. I do try to grow my following. Where social media is concerned, I can be introverted and it’s the part of being a blogger I struggle most with. But I have to do it if I want to run my blog as a business. And as I’ve said, I’m a businesswoman.
So I do post photos telling you about this amazing place I visited, encouraging you to do the same. It seems harmless but actually, am I contributing to problems within our tourism industry? Am I contributing to ‘over tourism?’
What is ‘Overtourism’ and Why is it a problem?
The tourism industry is booming. It’s one of the fastest growing industries on our planet. But the level of competition in the industry and the overcrowding at popular locations is starting to cause big problems.
Hotels are being priced out of the market by budget Airbnb’s. Wildlife is being forced out of its home – scared away by all the extra humans. Roads are becoming congested, locals are getting frustrated.
Take Trolltunga as an example. You are bound to have seen photos of this iconic location in Norway where a cliff juts out over a stunning lake, it’s Instagram gold. Problem is there are so many amazing Instagram photos out there inspiring tourists to visit this exact location that now the area is overrun with tourists.
The photos of people sitting alone on the cliff ledge lead you to believe they are alone in nature. Little do you realise there is a HUGE queue behind the photographer, everyone wanting a piece of this ‘Instagram gold.’
Not only that, but given just how many of the same photos are circulating social media, people are beginning to feel the pressure to take bigger, better photos with more ‘wow’ factor and are risking their lives in the meantime.
There are stories of people doing handstands on the ledge, even hanging off it, just to get that perfect photo.
But what is the answer?
When I get the chance to visit Norway, will I trek to Trolltunga?
Well if I’m being honest with you (and I always want to be honest) then yes, I probably will. FOMO ‘Fear of Missing Out’ would likely strike me hard and I’d have to make the trip and join the damn queue.
Because at the end of the day, this place is famous because it’s incredible. I want to experience that for myself, not just see it in photos.
The only assurances I can give you is that I certainly wouldn’t be doing dangerous stunts there then splashing them all over social media.
I would also be keeping it real and telling you about those crowds so you can make your own decision, is it worth visiting? Maybe for some, the answer will be no and those queues will start to get a little shorter.
Whilst we all have to take responsibility and understand we are all part of the problem, I do think there are “influencers” out there who are either unaware of their impact or just don’t care.
They are the influencers who post exotic, sometimes unobtainable, photos of themselves on their travels encouraging everyone to visit the same slice of paradise. They fail to mention the crowds or the social and environmental impact.
How Can We Address Over Tourism?
There are ways we can make a difference and limit our impact upon the environments where we travel. Here are just a few ways you can make a difference.
- Consider going off the beaten track. Discover somewhere new and be an explorer!
- Travel off-peak.
- When you do travel to a popular destination, make sure you try to have a positive impact upon the place you visit.
- Shop local
- Eat local
- Follow the guidelines
- Respect the places you visit
- Respect the culture and local traditions.
- If the locals are conservative then dress conservative, behave appropriately.
- Pay National Park fees
- Avoid dangerous stunts, stay safe. Remember someone might try to copy you and it could have devastating results.
- Book tours with companies who take responsible travel seriously like G Adventures and Intrepid Travel.
What Can Influencers Do to Limit Their Damage?
This is a tricky question as we want to write about the places our readers want to hear about. BUT, we can do it in a way that does more good than bad.
We need to talk openly about issues of over tourism. We need to include information in our articles about the local culture and how we should adapt our behaviours accordingly. For example in my recent Laos backpacking guide, I’ve discussed the local conservative culture and urged people to take a kayak trip rather than the lazy river booze trip that so many backpackers travel to Vang Vieng to experience.
We need to make sure our own behaviour is not damaging to the places we visit and make sure we are educating our readers.
Take the moss problem as an example. I’m sure many people are not aware of how important the moss is or how long it takes to recover. Standing on it for a selfie may seem harmless if you are not educated about the problem.
We can also make more efforts to visit off the beaten track places and make sure that not every single photo we post is from a top tourist attraction. The world is a huge place with so many beautiful places, there’s no need for us all to visit the same ones.
Ways in which the tourism industry is fighting back against over tourism
A lot of tourism boards are realising the effects of over tourism and are now ploughing their efforts into lesser known, less crowded destinations. Speaking with one countries tourism board at WTM, they told me they rarely work with bloggers to promote their capital any more – I mean it doesn’t really need much promotion, does it? But they are using bloggers to reach a new audience to promote rural areas and alternative cities, some of which are just as pretty.
Travel companies like G Adventures and Intrepid Travel are making a stand about responsible travel. Both support grass-roots projects and make sure they give back to the communities they visit.
Attending a talk given by Bruce Poon Tip, the CEO of G Adventures at WTM, I was impressed by their new approach to responsible tourism called the ‘Ripple Score.’
This is a score demonstrating how much of the money spent on organising tours actually goes into local businesses like hotels and restaurants owned by small local businesses rather than chains. Currently, G Adventures average ripple score is 93% across all trips meaning that 93% of all money spent is going to the right people.
I’ve travelled with both G Adventures and Intrepid Travel and their dedication to responsible travel and giving back to the communities is clearly evident on every trip I’ve taken with them. You can read about their responsible travel policies here and here.
Other Ways Instagram and Youtube are damaging the travel industry.
Sadly it’s not just over tourism that is a problem on social media. It’s irresponsible posts that encourage bad behaviour or irresponsible behaviour which can have devastating effects on the places we visit.
You only need to google ‘celebs behaving badly on holiday’ to find hundreds of articles about trashed hotel rooms, airline staff abuse and even celebs peeing in the aisle of a business class flight! Not exactly the example these people should be setting given they are looked up to by millions of people!
But it’s not just celebrities, Youtubers, bloggers and Instagrammers are at it too.
The classic example is the Instagram post of the scantily clad influencer posing at a temple in South East Asia in shorts that barely cover her bum cheeks. The sad truth is, the lack of clothes is one of the reasons they get so much attention and I have no doubt that it’s tactical. But those temples are sacred, the locals are conservative and you walking around with too much flesh on show at places of religious importance is offending them.
It’s our responsibility to lead by example.
Then there are the Instagrammers posing on monuments, flying drones in no-drone zones or getting too close to wildlife. The list goes on and on…
Ways in Which the Tourism Industry are Fighting Back Against Bad Behaviour.
It’s comforting to see that some places are taking back control of their most precious places. For example, Angkor Wat in Cambodia has created its own rules that go beyond the usual ‘your shoulders and knees must be covered.’ Rules now include not smoking in the parks, not giving money or sweets to children and banning selfies with monks. Hopefully, more places will follow suit and actually insist these rules are enforced!
Read more about Angkor Wats’ new rules here.
Update: Great news – I’ve just heard Angkor Wat has banned elephant rides! Hurrah!
What Can Be Done?
Firstly, I think we need to talk about this more. Even if it makes us uncomfortable knowing that no matter how small, as travel influencers, we have a role to play in this problem.
Influencers, celebrities, bloggers and anyone who reaches a large audience with their photos and videos need to act mindfully and consciously. We need to think before we post and make sure we are always being honest and real with our audience.
But most of all, we need to lead by example.
So here is my pledge to you.
I can’t promise never to visit iconic locations and never to take a photo of somewhere famous. But I can promise to always be honest about my experiences and make every effort to have a positive impact on the places I travel. I can promise to make every effort to educate my readers and my followers about responsible travel. I can make efforts to travel to offbeat locations as well as the more typical places. I can promise to only travel with companies and promote companies that I trust and believe in 100%
Read more: How to be a responsible traveller.
I would love to hear your thoughts about this. Or if you have any other tips about how we can make responsible travel changes? Please share this with your friends, get involved with the discussion and comment below.