Destination Marketing: How Instagram is changing travel

Just how Instagrammable your destination is will determine the buzzing number of young travellers who would visit your destination, according to research.

7 mins read
destination marketing

In one of his addresses to the public and press in 2019, Mombasa Governor Ali Hassan Joho said he wants to make the Kenyan coastal town “Instagrammable”. It makes a lot of sense. In today’s digital age, social media marketing is the greatest destination marketing for most travellers.

The best tourism board is on Instagram. I would love to be on a global wanderlust to the photogenic destinations on Instagram. After viewing so many travel stories and posts on Instagram, I would wish to travel to the colourful coast of Positano or visit the turquoise seas of the Maldives, or the colourful and fun-filled Taiwan.

Instagram is becoming an increasingly important part of destination marketing with users easily organising photos with hashtags or geotagging. I would be startled to find a destination that isn’t being shared this way. Most of us can look back on last year’s memorable trips and delicious cuisines just by taking to our Instagram profiles.

Instagrammable destinations

Today, brand identity is tightly tied to social media’s user-generated content, particularly Instagram. Instagram is a great marketing tool available to define and consolidate brand identity as a destination. While user-generated content paves the way on the largest photo-sharing platform (with over 121 million posts with #vacation and 125 million posts with #trip), destination marketers have the power to set the tone through the hashtag they choose to market a destination.

Instagram did its 2017 year in review trends that would shape destination marketing in 2018; highlighting trends and showcasing the different ways Instagram’s global community came to the platform to creatively express themselves and get closer to the people, things and places they love. The findings show the year’s top hashtags and most-followed celebrities, but they also give us a glimpse of where Instagrammers travelled and photographed the most, dubbed as places that are most picturesque and photogenic.

The top Instagrammed cities were London, Paris, New York City, Dubai, Moscow, Las Vegas among others whose locations happen to be popular tourist destinations and a host of many other specific location such as Disney parks toping list of most Instagrammed location. Some of top on the list of most Instagrammed places in Kenya included Nairobi city, breakfast with the Giraffes at Giraffe manor, the famous Maasai Mara, Kenyan Coastal sandy beaches and world heritage sites among others.

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Destination choices for millennials

Just how instagrammable your destination is will determine the buzzing number of young travellers who would visit your destination, according to research. A survey conducted by a UK based home insurance firm Schofields Insurance with a sample of over 1,000 UK adults aged between 18 and 33 as respondents, asked “what was most important when choosing a holiday destination…”, ‘how Instagrammable the holiday would be’ sufficed as the top motivator.

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The results show just how much focus millennials are placing on how their lives appear online. The general assumption here is if a place looks cool on Instagram, it probably is cool, and the assumption is paying off. Social ‘sharebility’ is a valuable currency, and witty hoteliers are making a killing out of this.

Visitors increasingly turn to social media to see what your destination has to offer through hundreds of listicles offered online about the world’s most Instagrammable destinations; the most popular beaches and spectacular monuments being on display in picturesque photos. For young travellers, otherwise millennials, getting a good Instagram snapshot is more important than the opportunity to soak up and mingle with the local culture.

Impact of Instagram’s destination marketing

You may ask, how is this affecting visitors and visitor numbers to your destination? In the above cited study conducted in the UK, released in 2017 the results placed Instagramming far above the importance of actual sightseeing, which ranked fifth. The results points to a trend that has implications beyond Instagram even as travellers make vacation decisions.

A research conducted by Google on ‘the five stages of travel’, says 60 percent of travellers find travel inspiration through social media. Instagram photos were found to influence the dreaming and planning stages of a destination choice decision.

Another research conducted by a group of professors drawn from various universities in the USA and published in the Tourism Management journal, indicate that ‘Social return’ – the amount of positive social feedback that social media travel posts generate – plays an important role in selecting a destination for vacation. The findings of the study also indicate that potential social return had a significantly high influence on visitors who intend to travel to a destination in future (within a year).

Peer recommendations

Various researches indicate that peer recommendations are more credible than other types of advertising. Sharing of travel stories on social media is an excellent form of peer recommendation and an important motivator for visitors; and what better platform to do peer sharing other than Instagram?

Key players in destination marketing should encourage visitors to share experiences on social platforms during and after their trip, with the intent that those posts will influence new visitors to tour. Visitor-generated stories will for a long time remain crucial.

Though an Instagram photo is only a snapshot, it provides a window into the experiences a destination offers. These experiences lumped together render more value than good customer service. When travellers visit, they sign up admission to a memorable event full of moments to share. Instagram has become an important platform used by travellers to document those memories, making many destinations visually captivating.


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