Industry Expert Insight: How Social Media is Changing The Face of Travel
It is indisputable that social media has transformed the world of travel.
From where consumers choose to why they go, things are radically different to 10 years ago. With smart phones making it easier and quicker to both take and share high quality photos and video, there has been an explosion of visual content right at the customer’s fingertips.
With the image heavy dominance of Instagram, to the realities shared by the people on the ground in the likes of TripAdvisor or Airbnb, choices can be made based on real time experiences – and not just by strong advertising, PR campaigns and/or a celebrity endorsement.
It is the people behind the cameras who dictate where customers travel, rather than the travel agent’s recommendation and a plethora of glossy brochures.
Let’s face it: before the digital age, word of mouth was key. Today, that referral “network” has gone global.
User-generated content has made the lives of marketing teams not only easier, but more authentic – meaning they too, must keep up to stay relevant. However well-edited these millions of amateur images are, they are “trusted” by consumers and used as the basis of where money is spent. Either the industry must raise the standards of its own content or it must collaborate with those who can.
Influencers too are helping to turn the industry on its head.
Increasingly, consumers trust peers or influencers more than brands or celebrity endorsed campaigns. Though not foolproof by any means, the influencer has taken on the role of “ally,” going on ahead and doing the reconnaissance work for the consumer.
From the well-curated feeds to the nitty gritty details, good and bad, shared in “stories” and “Live” features (Facebook and Instagram), there is little about the narrative which gets left untold.
From the inside of rooms to the food served to the table, each detail is carefully captured and in turn, the consumer has already been to the destination before even leaving home. In the well managed collaborations, in just a click-through from stories, the customer is even one step closer to booking.
There is no doubt that Facebook - popular with the pre-Millennial demographic - is still king, with 2.38 billion monthly active users as of the first quarter of 2019, making it the biggest social network worldwide.
And with over one billion monthly users, Instagram alone has become the new ‘landing page’ for many businesses, not least those which depend on image-driven marketing such as hotels and resorts. With Snapchat still boasting 186 million daily active users as of the end of 2018, across all ages, social is king.
The evidence is strong.
In a study carried out by Schofields, it was found that over 40 percent of millennials aged 18-33 consider ‘Instagrammability’ when selecting their next destination. At the end of the day, the choices are based on aspiration: how will this holiday be perceived online and by those we know?
But let’s also remember that the frame still does not tell it all. When seeing deserted shots of a lone tourist atop the Trolltunga cliff in Norway, more than 2,000 feet above sea level, what consumers don’t see, is the trails of hikers all waiting to take the same Instagram-worthy shot.
According to National Geographic, between 2009 and 2014, visitors to Trolltunga increased from 500 to 40,000 and much of this is attributed to social media.
New Zealand has also been a beneficiary to that end. In small town Wanaka, the news has been good. Thanks to social media and its Instagrammable scenery, there has been a 14% rise in visitors, which tourism chiefs attributed to the huge wave of Instagram related publicity to the area.
Feature accounts such as @beautifuldestinations bring these lesser known destinations to the forefront of popular culture, its 12.6m strong following on Instagram something any brand, or destination, would dream to get a square on. With technology such as GoPro and drones becoming increasingly mainstream, these accounts are as good or better than any brand generated content.
Travel is priceless. Millennials spend money on experiences over ‘things’ and travel is one of the most important. A Travelport research found that millennials spend the most on travel of all age groups, claiming that one out of three Millennials (18-34) are willing to spend $5,000 or more on their vacations.
Things have changed forever. Brands need to realise that they must up their game. Expectations have been irreversibly lifted by this new ‘fly on the wall’ world which social media has now opened, and the only way to keep afloat, is to keep up.
What are your thoughts? Let us know in the comments below.
Written by Matthew Sliedrecht.
Matthew Sliedrecht is the Director of Marketing at Cleartrip, one of the GCC's largest and fastest growing online travel agencies. This includes overseeing all PR, above the line, performance marketing (paid search, paid social and re-marketing), organic search marketing, and marketing automation.
Matthew has over a decade of experience in marketing and has worked with global and local brands in telecommunications, travel and hospitality, financial services, automotive and FMCG. Matthew excels at transforming an organisation's approach to marketing to maximise revenue, ROI & profit opportunities in a competitive and challenging e-Commerce market. Matthew has a passion for combining data with creative solutions to deliver outstanding results for brands while reaching consumers on an individual level.