At this point, we have all seen and heard about the supposed adverse effects of Instagram on travel. If you aren’t familiar, places such as Venice and Greece are overrun with tourists and the prices are going up and up for locals. Places such as Oregon and Iceland aren’t the way they used to be anymore. Heck, when I traveled to Iceland twice in 2016 vs when I traveled in 2018 there was a world of a difference. Trails were closed because they were muddied and there were tons of tourists, but otherwise, the country remained relatively the same and was as beautiful as ever.
I totally understand why locals are upset. I get why the internet warriors jump to their keyboards to critique an Instagrammer for jumping a fence to take a photo. I see where they are coming from. This isn’t to diminish the experience of places like Greece, Cinque Terre, Iceland, Oregon and more. But it is to ask the question…….
But What About Florida?
Yes, you heard me. I think it is entirely impossible to have this conversation about ruining landscapes without including Florida. [and many other places in this world too I am sure!] As a millennial and an influencer and a traveler [the trifecta that people love to hate] I have been around and seen the rise of this debate from the beginning. I have traveled to places pre and post-Instagram. But I have NEVER heard a single person talk about Florida.
Now, I am sure I am going to be crucified by the internet for saying this…but someone has to. Sure a waterfall here and a canyon there gets higher foot traffic than normal and the once green trail is muddied, but in the end, how detrimental to the environment as a whole? Is it REALLY ruining the environment and natural landscapes at a record pace as so many articles claim on the internet?
Or should we maybe also include places that are also truly suffering on a massive scale in our outrage? Of course, leaving nature to its very own is the 100% best thing to do. But the greenery around a waterfall path is muddied and the entire internet is suddenly a champion for green living. I don’t want any Joshua Tree or pristine beach to be ruined. But I also don’t want the entire bredth of the conversation to be only focused on one thing.
What all of these conversations fail to mention is Florida.
Before you say “oh well we all KNOW that there are tons of people in Florida we don’t need a discussion” STOP and think about the last time you saw ANYONE in a group on Facebook or in an article about the globalization about travel mention Florida. Are there entire Instagram accounts devoted to the overtourism and overbuilding in Florida? Do you admonish your favorite Instagrammer for going on vacation or moving to Florida? I have never seen it not a single time not once. I am sure this can be applied to many locations that maybe the internet deems as “too far gone” to even be cared about. As a native Floridian, I reject this being used as an excuse.
Our natural landscapes are raped and have been for decades as shopping mall after apartment complex is put up. People from Oregon and Iceland and many of the places that complain about the negative impact of tourists in their native place come to Florida and trash our beaches with garbage on spring break or vacation. Our wetlands are bulldozed for more malls and more housing complexes yet NO ONE TALKS ABOUT IT.
As a Native Floridian, I have seen the impacts first hand. As a child, my parents took us traveling around North America extensively. After a 4 month trip to Alaska, my parents were tired of living in the city and moved us as far into the Florida countryside as they could. This is where I grew up for my tween, teen, and early twenty years. We were 30-40 minutes away from the closest grocery store, from the closest church, from the closest mall. We had land and so did our neighbors and there wasn’t much to see or do. This was entirely the point as my parents wanted to be as far away in nature as they could get.
Every week on a 40 minute drive to Mass, I would pass by Floridian forests and fields. And year after year as I grew up I would grow heartbroken as forest patch after forest patch was destroyed to build another housing complex, another shoppping plaza, another building. This wasn’t an addition to an already buslting area, this was expansion and it would devestate the environment. I would talk with my mom and sister about how sad it was that the animals will not have anywhere to go. And when an animal gets in a neighborhood what happens? The animal is killed “for its own good.”
Now every bit of green space along the drive from my old home to my old church is filled with a building of some sort. This was not the case all of 15 years ago when I visited. How do I know? Because every week when I visit my boyfriend I pass my old church and the forest that was eventually a cow pasture is now……a massive apartment complex. It honestly makes me cry just thinking about it.
The Florida my parents tried to escape to is now gone. The little bits of rural Florida that I once knew, stripped away. And NONE OF THIS IS EVER TALKED ABOUT!
Instead, the internet casts [often rightful] judgement on people who choose to stay in Airbnbs because it drives up rental costs. Instagram and those who make a living from the platform are constantly berated as being the reason WHY the environment in these locations is being ruined [again, could be rightful].
Sure the environement in Iceland and Oregon and Bali is fragile. I GET IT! Because the environment in Florida is fragile too. Every environment is fragile. BUT WHY DON’T PEOPLE TALK ABOUT IT?
I know that Iceland has gotten so many more tourists lately, including myself because the country is beautiful, so I decided to do some research. Because in the online circle, EVERYONE talks about Iceland. Everyone is a champion for saving this country and while this isn’t wrong in any way, please simply consider this viewpoint.
In 2017, Iceland received a record 2 million visitors [population roughly 300K]. This is 6x more tourists than locals. In 2017, Florida received 116.5 million visitors [population roughly 20 million] For Florida, we received 6x as well. Yet, no one talks about Florida in all the groups on social media. No one blames the ads on the NYC subways. No one blames influencers who come to Florida and promote our beaches, our landscapes, our wildlife. No one blames the travel agents or tourism companies. No one really blames anyone because this isn’t something talked about in the same conversation as a waterfall or canyon.
Why? Is it because we are so big we don’t deserve to be talked about? Is it because our landscapes, although very useful to the ecosystem, aren’t as pretty as other parts of the world? Is it because people laugh at Florida for having all the “crazy people?” Is it because the animals aren’t as exotic?
In almost every country I have visited abroad I met someone who has visited or is planning to visit Florida. From India and Iceland to Austria and Ireland, people are just as fascinated with Florida as Americans are with Europe. I honestly can’t think of a single trip I went on where I met people and talked about travel that they didn’t mention coming to Florida for vacation.
Did you know that 900 people A DAY are moving to Florida? In the 1891, just 34,000 people lived in Florida. Now, our population is estimated 21.5 million in 2019. I have seen the first hand impacts of this. Every month [no exaggeration] there is a new massive apartment complex that pops up. One after another after another. All of our wetlands, forests, and fields are concrete. Perhaps people think that we are so far gone it doesn’t matter. Perhaps if the internet and Instagram were around in the early 1900s, people would have championed us too.
My parents have seen the first hand impacts of this living in Florida in the 1970-1980s when the water at Clearwater Beach really WAS CLEAR! What am I left with? Murkey water, without even a foot of visibility. But do the tourism ads show you this? No! They are very photoshopped and the water, while warm, is no longer clear and blue and pretty. How do I know? Because I used to swim there every week for exercise and I couldn’t even see my hand in front of my face as I did a breast stroke.
The talk about the rent rising? Yeah, that is happening in Florida too. But have you heard it shouted from the rooftops? Of course you haven’t. You have been told not to stay in an Airbnb in Barcelona or Italy but have you been told not to travel or move to Florida? My guess is you haven’t. Our rent is now egrigiously high, espcially in the Tampa Bay Area. It continues to grow so much that city officials are wondering if a rent ceiling is necessary.
More and more people are living at home or living with multiple roomates to save money on costs. If they do live alone, it is in a tiny apartment that is built out of crappy matieral that will be knocked down as soon as the next hurricane hits our area. How do I know? Because I see these complexes go up on the daily and the flimsy matieral used to make the crappy homes [sadly]. And as a native Floridian, I know this piece of plywood wouldn’t stand a chance against Mother Nature’s wrath should a hurricane hit us.
Did you know that it takes a minimum of 40 years, sometimes 100 years to restore lost wetlands? Florida has a whole lot of them and building codes are skirted constantly to build on these fragile landscapes. A mall across from my boyfriends house was put on hold for years until they could prove that the mall would still maintain the natural enviornment. News flash: it went through and there isn’t a green space left. But please, lets continue to ONLY talk about the fragile moss around waterfalls and make it the sole subject of our discussion.
The Florida landscape is beautiful and fragile just as any other ecostysm is. We are sitting on something called the aquifer which is all the fresh water our state practically floats on. We have manatees and sharks and dolphins and eagles and egrets and bears and Florida panthers. We have the Everglades and their Alligators and we have the mangroves and their fishes. This is why I totally FEEL FOR PLACES suffering from their version of overtourism.
We have a few paltry national parks, but what about the “regular” animals that live in the forests? The deer, rabbits, racoons, snakes, bugs, birds, big cats and more. The animals that are displaced when yet another housing complex or another storefront comes up? The animals that NO ONE ever talks about. The animals that find their way into someones pool and are then killed. But to the internet warriors, they aren’t as important as animals in other states and countries. And our forests and wetlands and ponds? Screenshot where you have seen someone defend them on the internet with the rigor hopping over the path to shoot and waterfall from a different viewpoint is.
So while as a native Floridian I get where people are coming from, both the local and environmental impact often are no comparsion from a little road in Hawaii that is now closed or a waterfall that now has a muddy pathway when compared to an entire state being devestated. While this is NOT a race to being the most over-touristed place on earth it is simply to say that I never hear anythig about places like Florida and our environment when these discussions surface.
In the conversation about people doing bad things on Instagram, I want malls and apartments and displaced animals included. I want the thought about. I want them known.
So to all those people who are impacted, I want to say I am very sorry and I feel for you. But please try and keep this in perspective. Try and imagine if every possible area was a road or a mall and a complex and there were no signs of slowing down. If you want to discuss the impacts, first look inward to your own thoughts. If you want to complain a tourist jumped a sign, consider if you traveled to Florida and contributed to our price hikes and never-ending building boom.
This isn’t to say that places can’t suffer the effects of overtourism, it is simply to hopefully remind people that there are those of us that are never talked about, constantly ignored, and still suffering. I don’t want you to never talk about things that are important to you, but simply to diversify the conversation.
Celebrate the good parts of what globalization has done. The money it has brought in and the new people who have been exposed to your landscape. But please realize some of us have it much worse and consider including Florida when you champion the landscape and discuss a wanderbabe stepping out of the trail for a photo. Consider Ecotourism in Florida and how you can travel ethically. I know it isn’t as glamourous as some of the fancier landscapes, but that doesn’t make our ecosystem any less important.