Social media can destroy tourist attractions. But sometimes Instagram’s power can be used for good. It can even save a village.
Fifteen years ago, the small Indonesian village of Ponggok could barely sustain itself. According to the South China Morning Post, residents lacked money and education, unemployment was high and those who were lucky to have jobs earned income from working on farms or in quarries. When it came to tourism, Ponggok wasn’t even a blip on the radar.
Today, the village is one of the most prosperous in the country, enjoying riches of almost $ 1 million per year.
What changed? In abstract terms, the gift of vanity, and social media’s ability to broadcast it. More concretely, the town added an attraction: A gorgeous pond named Umbul Pongokk with scores of colorful fish plus submerged couches, televisions and motorcycles. Altogether, they make for appropriately zany backdrops for posed photos.
For an entrance fee of just $ 1, snap-happy visitors sink themselves into these scenarios for photo sessions, with underwater cameras, props and snorkeling equipment available for rental if needed for about $ 5. The freshwater pond even has its own Instagram account, @Umbul_Pongokk, with over 40,000 followers, and at least one prominent fan, Indonesia’s president Joko “Jokowi” Widodo.
The brilliant plan that helped revitalize an economy was devised in 2006 by then-newly elected village head Junaedi Mulyono. Mulyono noticed that though moss-covered, the nearby pond that villagers used to bathe and wash their clothes was flowing with the water from 40 natural springs. He convinced over half the village’s 700 families to invest in a business — called Tirta Mandiri, or Water Independent — centered on the pond.
Unemployment was virtually eliminated via the stalls erected around the tourist attraction that sell souvenirs, clothing and food, and today the villagers own nearly 40 percent of the shares in the Umbul Pagokk attraction; the rest are owned by the government.
“Five years ago, there were still poor villagers. But now all the unemployed have been absorbed into Tirta Mandiri,” Mulyano told the South China Morning Post. “Our focus is to empower people to be independent.”
And Umbul Pongokk has spawned other businesses in the arenas to water management, event management and a water park. “The arrival of tourists to see Umbul Ponggok is what made the economy … grow,” says Mulyono. So thanks, Instagrammers.
If you do choose to visit Umbul Pagokk, take a deep breath, jump in, open your eyes for the photograph and don’t forget to smile.