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Can Insta-Tourism Be Compatible With Safe Mountaineering?

Britain’s mountain rescue teams have reported a sharp increase in the number of callouts over the past couple of years. According to The Times, people are being drawn to the great outdoors to take selfies with stunning backdrops such as the ridges of Ben Nevis after they have been inspired by Instagram photos.


Indeed, there is a term for this phenomenon, ‘Insta-Tourism.’ It is used to describe Instagram users who are inspired to visit beautiful places that they see on their feed, often posted by ‘influencers’ who may have been paid by a third party to travel to the destination, or at least had their travel fees paid in return for some stealth marketing exposure.


These influencers usually have several thousand loyal followers who feel as though they have an authentic connection with them. This may be because the influencer interacts with the user personally through the social media platform, or simply because the follower enjoys the content and trusts the influencer’s opinions. 


Tellingly, a survey of millennials (born between 1981 and 1996) found that 40 per cent said that the ‘instagrammability’ of a destination was the most important motivating factor when choosing where to go on holiday. Photogenic scenery is more important to this age group than personal development or sightseeing, driven by a desire to post on social media.


This phenomenon has been noted throughout the world, encouraging people to travel to destinations that they wouldn’t have previously considered. While it can be a positive trend to boost the tourism economy and expand people’s horizons, it can also impact on the environment and local population.


Another issue that has been noted by the mountain rescue teams in Britain and abroad is that people are venturing into environments with inadequate preparation. This can lead to people getting lost in the mountains due to poor navigation, disregard for the weather, unsuitable clothing, lack of climbing skills, and so on. 


Phil Kirby, chairman of Langdale Ambleside Mountain Rescue in the Lake District, told The Times that “Instagram tourism” had caused a spike in callouts. He said: “It’s a term we picked up from our colleagues in Norway a few years ago. It’s people seeing pictures of places on the internet and saying: ‘I’ve got to go and see that’.”


He added: “Instagram has expanded people’s awareness of places they can go. They pick it up and think ‘I’ll go there’ but without the necessary preparation. It’s just the way we are now. We have access to so many things we didn’t have.”


While it is a positive trend that more people are willing to be active and enjoy the outdoors, it’s important to be aware of the potential risks and to plan accordingly. Navigation is one of the biggest challenges, particularly on long mountain treks. Many people assume that they can rely on their smartphone apps to guide the way.


You should never assume that you will always be able to get an internet connection or even a phone signal when outdoors. Satellite-guided navigation apps are more reliable, but they are still dependent on a device with enough battery power. 


Phones can easily become damaged, dropped and lost in rugged outdoor environments, and battery functionality can be affected by cold temperatures. It is strongly recommended to carry back-up batteries, and to plot your route on a paper map and carry this with you as an additional navigational tool, rather than relying solely on electronic devices.


If you are venturing into high and remote locations, let someone know where you are going and what time you are expected to return. It’s a good idea to invest in a satellite messaging device and to sign up to the 999 emergency SMS text service in case you are without a phone signal. You simply need to text the word ‘register’ to 999 and follow the instructions. 


Plan your route in advance with an Ordnance Survey map that shows details such as the steepness of the terrain, and hazards such as sheer cliffs or rocky scrambles. Make sure that the route is within the capabilities of everyone in your party.


Check the weather forecast before you set off, and be prepared to turn back if conditions worsen. Dress for the weather, and pack spare warm clothing because hill climates can suddenly turn wet and cold. Pack enough food and drink to keep your energy levels up


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