How Instagram Is Changing How We Travel

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Travel Instagram Influences Our Travel Decisions

As the market for influencer marketing swells (predicted to reach $5-10 billion by 2020), the Instagram influencer market follows closely behind (poised to reach $2 billion by 2019). Brands that realize the efficacy of a robust influencer marketing strategy lean heavily on Instagram influencers for sponsored content campaigns, as these influencers offer a direct path to highly impressionable audiences.

Along with the astronomical growth in influencer marketing initiatives, the popularity of trendy travel destinations has spiked due to the increasingly large role that Instagram and influencers play. As an imagery-based app, Instagram has enabled millions of users to share photos from their global adventures. But even the steady stream of stunning and sometimes daring imagery isn’t enough to satisfy our wanderlust—many yearn to recreate their own versions of those “Insta-famous” photos.


Travel Imagery Grows On Instagram

We begin to understand just how top-of-mind travel is when looking at hashtag usage within the Instagram platform. For instance, #travel has been used 318 million times—the 29th most popular hashtag on Instagram. Other related hashtags include:

Looking at Google Trends, “travel instagram” records lower numbers than other categories, but this search has seen the highest relative year-over-year growth. The data indicates that millions of users are posting visual content around their travel experiences and likely looking for and following similar content.


Even more interesting, 48% of Instagram users rely on Instagram photos and videos to help choose their next travel destination, while 35% of users look to Instagram to discover new places (Mediapost). But contrary to most people claiming the need to ‘unplug’ as their reason for taking vacation, nearly all Millennial travelers share their experiences on social networks while traveling.

That said, it’s no wonder our appetite for visuals influences our travel decisions. And with that insatiable hunger comes the need to share our own imagery via Instagram.

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“Instagrammable” Locations Rise in Popularity

Much to the dismay of many non-Millennials, Instagram Millennial users are flocking in droves to “Instagrammable” locations—a colloquial term used to signify a location’s photogenicity and ability to gain Instagram fame—in pursuit of scenery that will be well-received and perhaps even envied by the Instagram community once uploaded to a user’s account. “Instagrammable” locations tend to be visually striking, containing vibrant colors, iconic vistas, vivid repeating patterns, or larger-than-life structural features. According to a study conducted in the UK, 40% of Millennials choose a travel spot based on how “Instagrammable” that location is deemed. While seemingly shallow in nature, this behavior is in line with the Millennial generation’s tendency to trust their peers over brands.

Top Travel Instagram Locations


Some of the top Instagrammable travel locations show clear evidence of popularity based on hashtag usage:

Type any of these hashtags into Instagram’s search function and hundreds of thousands to millions of photos and videos will appear. Now, think about that number translated onto the actual scene and it becomes clear just how tremendous this amount can be for normally quiet and low-trafficked locations.

Travel Instagram Influencer Content Takes Off

The Instagram factor can also be attributed to a rise in influencer content meant to capture magical moments while abroad. Tourism boards have recognized the power of social media trendsetters, thus seeking them out to boost tourism. One such example occurred in 2015 in the small town of Wanaka, New Zealand. The tourism board invited and hosted influencers to post content about their travel experiences, resulting in a 14% increase in the town’s tourism. In this case, influencers provided an unquestionable and direct return on investment (ROI).

Related Post: Top Travel Instagram Influencers Affect Our Wanderlust

The Advantages And Drawbacks Of Instagram-Worthiness


It goes without saying that Instagram brings some level of benefit to beautiful, lesser-known destinations, such as the alpine town of Wanaka. These newly acclaimed “tourist traps” have grown more documentable through Instagram, thus attracting a wealth of tourism.

In the case of smaller, independent hotel brands, influencer marketing generates exposure and facilitates greater competition where larger brands previously monopolized the market:

  • John Fowler Holiday Parks (which has three family-oriented parks based in the south of England) initiated an influencer marketing campaign and experienced a 67% increase in revenue, a 630% return on investment (ROI), and a 52% increase in organic conversation rate.
  • Dreams Resorts & Spas ran a #MomsEscape campaign that generated a 12% boost in bookings year-over-year.

Large hotel brands and short-term rental marketplaces can boost their brand visibility by investing in strategic influencer marketing campaigns:

  • Starwood Hotels, a Marriott subsidiary, invested in a wide-reaching influencer campaign by partnering with five influencers to create engaging content and generate awareness, reaching 500K Instagram users and earning 17K likes on sponsored posts.
  • Airbnb derived massive success through its 37 Instagram sponsored posts with top celebrities, receiving 18 million likes and 510,000 comments with a 4% overall engagement rate. The combined reach of its Instagram campaigns totaled just under 1 billion impressions.


But we understand that too much of a good thing has the deadly potential to backfire. Despite the wealth of tourism, the health of some physical locations has suffered:

  • Devil’s Bathtub, located in Virginia, experienced enormous increases in both vehicle and foot traffic after it gained social media attention. The US Forest Service estimates the site that used to see 30 visitors a day now gets 2,000 a month, leading to overcrowding, litter, and illegal parking.
  • On August 20, 2016, China opened the world’s highest and longest glass bottom bridge, over the lush Zhangjiajie Grand Canyon. After just 13 days, the bridge was forced to close due to the thousands of tourists who swarmed the bridge, eager to capture mind-bending shots.


  • Due to overcrowding, stress on local resources, and environmental concerns, Santorini had a daily limit placed on the number of cruise ships allowed to enter on a given day.
  • A sunflower farm in Ontario, Canada invited tourists and had to shut down as selfie-taking tourists flooded the roads and trampled the flowers.

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Self-Proclaimed Influencer Demands

Influencers — often low quality — have begun to emerge in pursuit of hotel deals in exchange for their social media promotion.

  • Several luxury hotels complain that D-list Instagram influencers are inundating them with requests for multiple-night, all-inclusive stays. A five-star resort in the Maldives claimed only about 10% of those are worth investigating.
  • In a recent Instagram influencer scam, two fake accounts (one of which was a travel influencer) were created as part of an experiment. Both “influencers” received campaign offers in a mix of product and cash. Despite not accepting the offers, this incident demonstrates how easily “influencers” can dupe hotels into promising free deals.

Unsafe Photos


Even more worrisome is the lengths tourists will go to photograph themselves in order to emulate the Insta-famous shots they’ve scrolled across on the app. So socially important are the iconic selfies, that people have risked (and lost) their lives to capture them:

  • In 2015, a 24-year-old Australian student lost her footing while trying to recreate the famous shot at Trolltunga, tragically falling to her death.
  • In 2014, a Polish couple crossed the safety barrier at Cabo da Roca, Portugal, to take a selfie on the edge of the cliff and plunged to their death.

No Phone + No Instagram = Better Tourism

In an attempt to thwart the inherent issues associated with the overflow of tourists, many places prohibit the use of phones so that tourists aren’t tempted to book reservations for the sole purpose of snapping “Instagrammable” shots. Even a tiny French restaurant made the call to ban phones to shift focus back onto food, not pictures of it.

The Future Of Travel Instagram

We’ve learned that travel Instagram has the power to bring business to the tourism and hospitality industries, but it also has the unfortunate potential to make all Instagrammers more focused on social media currency over the welfare of themselves, others, and the environment.

In order to prevent further ruin to travel, users should consult Instagram to share and research destinations responsibly. It’s highly unlikely that the “Instagrammable” aspect will fade away any time soon, but it’s up to influencers and Instagram users alike to ensure that the physical landscapes we so persistently visit remain in the condition we so tirelessly attempt to depict in our Instagram photos.

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