Social media influences our travel decisions, says Danny Bryer. Picture: Getty Images.
Social media is inspiring, that’s for certain, but it’s also actively influencing decision making in travel, according to the latest research. 50 percent of people surveyed said that they pick their holiday destination based on other peoples’ photos, and a further 45 percent look to Instagram for inspiration when it comes to places to photograph and visit. The challenge to travel marketers is in harnessing these powerful tools so that they are of benefit.

The humble hashtag

The foundation of success in this competitive arena is the simple hashtag. Destination Marketing organisations have adopted these as a matter of course: the [word+city] formula has become popular across the globe. Here, we have #LoveCapeTown, #MeetSouthAfrica and #DurbanFunSeason as examples; these carry many possible applications: visitors can use them to curate holidays or research destinations, DMOs can use them to generate conversations with visitors or for use as competition mechanisms (tag us and win…) among other uses. They can be at the front of huge audiences: #PureNewZealand has in excess of 600# followers on Instagram, a vast community that gives access to other individuals and communities.
Businesses can use their local city’s hashtag, and add one of their own to piggy-back on the visibility this offers, or generate ones that will inspire. As long as they’re being used, then they are of benefit.

Deeper into data

The same research also analysed which of the world’s attractions are the most-photographed, revealing that Table Mountain is one of the top 30 most photographed landmarks worldwide, according to Instagram data. More than that, the researchers took a look at all of the most popular travel icons (Eiffel Tower, Statue of Liberty, Big Ben, etc.) and were able to tell how many pictures were taken from the exact same angle. This showed that visitors knew what spots to pitch to take pictures based on what they’d seen. Since social media speaks to a mobile-agile, younger, aspirational demographic, these users want to emulate their favourite social media accounts.
These users inspire others, they’re forward-thinking, achievement focused, fun-spirited and comfortable under their own skin, projecting this via their channels to their audiences.
The data produced from Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and other social media platforms is marketing gold, it tells you who is talking about you, what they’re saying, how often they talk, when they talk about travel and more. There are many different tools available for getting the most out of this information for your marketing campaign strategies.
The journey (and the preparation for it) is the destination
Another perspective is the way this trend has impacted tourism-reliant businesses. In the hotel industry, it’s no longer acceptable to have a static website with pictures of bedrooms and dining rooms, your potential guests want to get a taste for the destination. You can add Instagram stories to showcase the surrounding attractions, things to do so that your visitors have a real sense of what to expect by the time they arrive. They want to know some of the more unusual activities, too, so they can be the first among their friends to snap themselves doing something fun in a neighbourhood. You’re no longer at the destination, you are a living, breathing part of it.
Great food and drink shots still get the “likes” going, as do poolside cocktails, but a list of top ten things to do around the hotel will offer more, a richer browsing experience that can elicit a response.
You have this perfect opportunity to reach a global market without either you or them having to leave their homes – social media is now the front door to your own visitors.
Danny Bryer is Area Director, Sales Marketing and Revenue, Protea Hotels by Marriott.