Featured Image

Influencers Are Driving National Park Visitation—How Do We Feel About This?

A new study from Georgia Tech’s School of Economics suggests a correlation between social media exposure and visitation at U.S. National Parks—more exposure often means more visitors. While we could have guessed that a correlation like this exists, it’s interesting to see some data showing that influencers are influencing, and it’s making national parks more crowded.

Or, should we say, influencers are influencing, and it’s making America more outdoorsy?

It depends on whom you ask, right? But back to the research.

Casey Wichman, associate professor of economics at Georgia Tech and author of the study, which published April 1 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, said: “There’s been a general idea that social media exposure matters for visitation, but this research shows that it matters to a very strong degree. It’s one of the main drivers of the huge increase in visitation to national parks.” 

So, just how influential is social media exposure in driving park attendance?

Wichman discovered that parks with “high social media exposure” saw a 16-22% increase in visitors compared to locations that received less exposure on platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter/X, and TikTok.

Interestingly, the study found that only positive exposure resulted in visitation increases. (“Any exposure is good exposure” need not apply here.) Photos and videos appear to be most effective at driving park attendance.

National park social media
Image by Luis Soto

National Park Attendance

According to the U.S. National Park Service (NPS), 325.5 million people visited an NPS site, which includes national parks, national historic sites, and more, in 2023. That’s about 13 million more visitors than in 2022.

Day visitors felt this squeeze, with the extent to which crowds impacted their visit depending on the park and the time of year they visited. Campers also felt the squeeze. Nearly half of campers in a recent survey by The Dyrt said they had trouble booking a camping reservation in 2023 because the campgrounds were full (across all campgrounds, not just in national parks).

Facing crowds can be frustrating, but isn’t it also a good thing that more people are exploring the great outdoors?

NPS’s mission is to preserve “natural and cultural resources and values of the National Park System for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations” (emphasis added). Visitation is the goal, then, but at what point does too much visitation affect visitors’ ability to enjoy, learn, and be inspired?

Wichman said: “If you look at news articles, social media is largely pitched as driving overcrowding and being a negative thing. But it’s not clear to me that that’s the case. Yes, we spend a lot of time on our phones, especially younger demographics, but this also suggests that social media can actually get us outside more.”

Weigh in below. What are the pros and cons of social media influencing national park visitation?

Featured Image

Now Here’s a Place You Wouldn’t Expect to Find a Snake

Featured Image

Here’s How People Get Lost in the Wild, and How They Survive

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top