The hidden cost of ‘stupid’ tourists

Tourists do the dumbest things.

If you don’t believe me, then maybe you should have joined me on my drive through Yellowstone National Park yesterday.

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Look, there’s someone trying to take a selfie with an elk! Mind those unsupervised children running into a busy highway. And look out! There’s one getting too close to a steep cliff, clutching — is that a selfie stick?

You’ve probably seen the report that a total of 12 tourists have died as a result of taking selfies. No kidding.

Coincidentally, a new survey finds that the selfie stick is the biggest travel pet peeve of 2015. Two out of every five travelers pointed at these devices as their top annoyance, according to a survey from the website

“Although you may have good intentions, carrying a selfie stick around could be seen as a sign of narcissism and self-absorption by your travel companion,” says Brandon Wade, MissTravel’s founder.

The price of stupid

The Yellowstone anecdote is no fluke, according to Kristina Portillo, who runs the site “I noticed multiple tourists trying to take selfies with buffaloes,” she says. “Yellowstone requires tourists to stay 25 yards away from the buffalo. I witnessed tourists getting within three yards, then turning their back to the buffalo to get a selfie. At one point, someone got so close they were nearly able to touch the buffalo.”

There are consequences to this behavior, needless to say.

“They range from the grown man reduced to tears after being bitten by a cute meerkat to being mauled by a lion on a walking safari,” says Hajar Ali, founder of Urbane Nomads, a travel agency. Not abstract examples, by the way. One happened in Madagascar, despite repeated warnings from tour guides. The other happened on a recent African safari, says Ali.

At the very least, these “stupid tourist” incidents result in medical bills for them. At worst, they can be fatal. It’s difficult to quantify the damage done to tourism (I’ve asked), but it’s easier to see the costs when you visit a place.

Consider all of the places once accessible to visitors that aren’t anymore because of … well, stupid tourists.

How many temples and historical buildings are now off limits because tourists helped themselves to souvenirs? How many coral reefs can no longer be dived or fished because of irresponsible visitors?

On a recent tour of Mesa Verde National Park, with its incredible native cliff dwellings, a park ranger confided that they’re considering roping off these dwellings permanently, in order to prevent more people from damaging the historic site.

And the problem is, people still cross the line. Literally.

Jody Halsted was visiting the Cliffs of Moher earlier this year.

“There are safety measures in place, but they are only as good as people following them,” she remembers. “We were there after hours with the executive director of the visitors experience and from atop O’Brien’s Tower we saw people jumping the safety barricades to get to the edges. We witnessed a couple near-falls as people sought to get as close to the edge as possible for the perfect shot.”

Shooing them away seemed to be ineffective. An official told them the barricade-jumpers would likely go back out once we left. In addition to the increased insurance costs, it makes you wonder what kind of attraction the historic bridge would be if no one could cross it.

Taking away from the travel experience

Eileen Gunn, who edits the site FamiliesGo!, says travel is a little less exciting because of the actions of a few.

“Disney bans selfie sticks,” she says. “When they search your bag it’s one of the things they look for.” She notes that other attractions ban wearable cameras like the GoPro on certain attractions.

That may not drive the cost of travel higher, but it can have a more profound effect. The loss of these photos and video — many of which would inspire other travelers to visit a place — could result in less awareness of a destination and, over time, fewer visitors.

The net effect may extend beyond a few casualties. Less access, less interest in a destination and fewer visitors. That could become a serious problem for the travel industry.

15 thoughts on “The hidden cost of ‘stupid’ tourists

  1. A few years ago, I was visiting Yellowstone Park with family. I saw a couple near one of the hot pools walking off the trail. The man walked right to the edge of the scalding hot pool to feel the water while the woman was taking pictures! Luckily, the ground didn’t give way or he would have fallen in and boiled to death! There were signs posted all over the place warning to stay on the trail. Can’t people read?

  2. The idea of a “selfie”, I can understand. (Some people are just too shy to ask a bystander to take their picture, and pictures with you in them are a lot more meaningful than the billionth picture of some famous site) But you have to be utterly without shame to be carrying around a device designed to do nothing but take pictures of yourself.

    I can totally support an attraction banning the things entirely.

  3. We were recently on Mount Haleakala, which, if you don’t know, is:
    A) dangerous because of all the loose rocks; and
    B) home to several highly endangered plants and insects.
    It is also a national park.
    We were given strict warnings to stick to the marked and paved trails, to stay off the loose rock and to be mindful of the fact that this is an ecologically sensitive area.
    Wouldn’t you know that on the morning we were up there, a rather large number of tourists decided to climb the rocks in order to get a better view, and one hero even decided it would be a grand idea to fly a drone around the place (NOT ALLOWED IN NATIONAL PARKS!)
    I don’t think I’ve ever seen national parks staff so upset as that morning, and justifiably so. Nobody was hurt, although they very much could have been. Rock slides can and do happen.

  4. Carrick-a-Rede and the Cliffs of Moher are in two different countries, several hundred miles apart. Some fact checking might be in order.

  5. Well, I had a comment in here.

    That being said, there are always going to be people doing stupid things, but with the advent of cell phone cameras, it seems it’s getting worse.

  6. On vacation in Europe, I saw a couple in Vaduz who’d stop every 10 meters to take a picture with a selfie stick

    But the bigger annoyance to me were the segway tour groups, where the people had never used a segway before and were actual hazards to people trying to walk around.

  7. But Yellowstone is really just a zoo, right? I live in the region, and I think we’re up to 5 bison attacks just this summer…mostly from stupid tourists who got too close to take selfies or walk by. (We have stupid locals too, but most of us have heard enough horror stories or have personal experiences with the local wildlife that we know to give them a wide berth.) People seem to forget that they’re not in Disneyland when they visit national parks.

  8. I don’t have a selfie stick, but I also don’t understand the hate. I mean, how does it affect you? Aside from occasionally blocking my desired path, selfie stick users have never bothered me.

    In fact, I’d say disliking someone simply for using a SS says more about you than it does about them.

    ETA: Just so we’re clear, poor behavior while using a SS is different.

  9. Hi DC,
    They shouldn’t be. Since returning to Disqus, Chris closes the comments on all articles 24 hours after publication.Yesterday’s TSA article was accidentally closed right after publication, but reopened when someone said something. Keep us on our toes! 🙂

    1. IMO, 24 hours is close to “almost immediately”. Sometimes I can’t read articles until the weekend. How about keeping them open for a week?

        1. Me again. I submitted your suggestion to Chris, and he declined to make a change. He feels that: “99 percent of our discussion happens in the first 24 hours. After that, it becomes the domain of spammers, trollers and malcontents.”

  10. See the recent deaths at the Big 4 Ice Cave in Washington.

    And for your reading pleasure:

    Death in Yellowstone: Accidents and Foolhardiness in the First National Park

    Over The Edge: Death in Grand Canyon

    and, Off the Wall: Death in Yosemite

  11. Hi Chris. Thanks so much for using a bit of my experiences this past summer in Ireland…. Only one small problem… you took 2 difference instances – one at the Cliffs of Moher and one at Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge- and merged them together. That said, we saw stupid in both places.
    At Cliffs of Moher we were with the executive director and people were jumping the barricades. When she told them to come back across not only was she treated rudely, but people actually argued with her.
    At Carrick-a-Rede people we saw people stretching themselves as close to- and sometimes over- the edges of the cliffs to get the perfect selfie. We saw one man slip… my heart nearly stopped.

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