How Instagram Has Shaped Where We Travel

The travel industry is now being driven by the phenomenal persuasive capabilities of Instagram – one post at a time.


In a modern world dominated by the need to stay online and connected, it’s no surprise that social media platforms have flourished. Entities like Facebook and Instagram have gradually crept into our daily lives, yielding unprecedented influence in the way we live, our decision-making processes and the manner of garnering satisfaction from a well-engaged post.

With more than 800 million monthly active users, Instagram has grown into a behemoth of a social media platform. While there are multiple reasons why users engage with the app, Instagram relies on a very fundamental aspect that is key to its stunning success – the ability to deliver a sense of escapism.

This psychological allure is then paired with breathtaking aesthetics, producing visuals that appeal to variant interest genres, particularly the colossal body of travel enthusiasts on Instagram.

Stephen Gray, Consumer Insight Analyst at Facebook, revealed in a Facebook podcast that there are over 160 million Instagram posts that use the hashtag #travel in 2017, and up to a million travel-related searches on the platform each week.

Among the travel enthusiasts on Instagram, 70% utilize the platform to share their itineraries, while 67% use the app to seek inspiration and satisfy their wanderlust. Even those already overseas rely on Instagram, with 61% of these vacationers using the app to search for things to do. According to Gray, Instagram offers deeper insights into local cultures and traditions, delivering a more specific, immersive travel experience.


The rise of millennials


Such is the impact and influence wielded by Instagram, that more brands are beginning to sit up and take notice. As of January 2018, 61% of Instagram users belong to the age group of 18 to 34 years old. Also known as millennials, this group commands $200 billion in annual spending power, which is one of the many reasons why marketers are eyeing Instagram as a massive cash cow waiting to be milked. Travel-wise, the millennials’ purchasing power is a vital cog in a seemingly evergreen machine that performs like a self-sufficient ecosystem. It’s a machine that relies on the millennials’ thirst for travel, their Fear of Missing Out (#FOMO), and their capability of reproducing quality travel-related User Generated Content (UGC).

All the above factors are crucial to turning obscure places into trending destinations, encouraging travellers to explore unbeaten paths and providing a key source of #travelinspo. In fact, traditional advertising means are no longer as effective in raising a destination’s profile. Even the veils of paid social content can be torn down by the knowing eyes of millennials, who are able to discern authenticity, an integral quality that swings a user from being a passive viewer to an active, engaged consumer.

According to Stackla’s 2017 Consumer Content Report, consumers crave authenticity, which is a prominent trait of UGC. In a world of sponsored posts and paid influencers, the coveting of authenticity is greater than ever before (90% of millennials), and 70% of consumers are adept at distinguishing consumer-created content and brand-created content. Such numbers have altered the way people make travel plans, with UGC noted to be three times more authentic than brand-created ones.

For instance, over half of millennials have made travel plans or decided to dine at a restaurant due to consumer-created content on social media. Millenials themselves are also more inclined to share their travel experiences on mediums like Instagram, and this, in turn, stirs and builds up a constant stream of content that could spark a sense of FOMO. According to the report, FOMO impacts a person’s purchasing decisions, which further fuels the cycle of social influence.


Changing the face of tourism


As a result, destinations that were once untouched by tourists or known only to a handful, have become extremely popular due to incredible social influence. For example, Trolltunga, a breathtaking and spectacular rock formation in Norway, saw its visitor numbers leap from 500 to 40,000 between 2009 and 2014.


In 2015, the tourism board of the enthralling alpine town of Wanaka, New Zealand, decided to tap on social media to boost its visitor numbers. They began to invite and host social media influencers to post about their experiences and showcase Wanaka’s beauty and offerings. The campaign worked and social media was charmed, with Wanaka clocking the fastest tourism growth in the country at a stunning 14 per cent increase.


Lake Wanaka in New Zealand
Photo: Mariamichelle

Instagram has gradually cemented its role as the dominant wave maker in drumming up awareness for various destinations, with its image-based feed combining perfectly with the aesthetic appeal of myriad travel visuals. When this is paired with a primary hashtag and the sense of authenticity, a singular post can spread like wildfire.

The Hawaiian Tourism Board understood this concept, which led them to create #LetHawaiiHappen. Rather than banking on full-on blatant advertising, they decided to partner with influencers such as Jordan Hershall and Forster Hunting – both are known for their sojourns to some of the most scenic and breathtaking locations in the world. By using the hashtag #LetHawaiiHappen, the influencers sought out and highlighted themes like “off-the-beaten-path” and “secret spots” that appeal to both first-time and experienced Hawaiian travellers.

Hawaii’s gorgeous mountain range
Photo: Pixabay

Brand ambassadors were also engaged, comprising Hawaiian-based lifestyle influencers who possess a wealth of local expertise. Once again, consumers can simply use the hashtag and check out the various locations and experiences that these influencers have generated.

At the end of the campaign, 100,000 Instagram posts – ranging from sponsored ones to UGC – managed to reach 54% of US travellers via social media marketing and direct PR efforts. Crucially, 65% of consumers who had viewed the content were inspired to visit Hawaii within the next two of years.

The above examples have displayed a sobering fact that Instagram, and to a wider extent, social media, have evolved into more than just tools to keep in touch and stay connected. Essentially, authenticity has become a far greater currency that influences and persuades, which is an extension of how “word of mouth” works in real life, but proliferates on social media. Travel enthusiasts flock to Instagram for inspiration, understandably so because it is a medium with space for real, sincere content. Once an Instagram post gets the composition right – a cohesive blend of visual brilliance and authenticity – the pathway towards conversion is more or less assured.