How Influencers Are Turning the Business of Travel on Its Head

Opinion: Over 40 percent of millennials consider ‘Instagrammability’ when selecting their next destination

The wealth of content influencers share has created the need for new jobs at tourism companies seb_ra/iStock

If you’re anything like me, your head might be spinning with how fast influencer marketing is moving.

Not only have social influencers become one of travel’s most essential marketing tools, but they have also taken over as a top source of inspiration for consumers.

In fact, more than 40 percent of millennials aged 18 through 33 consider “Instagrammability” when selecting their next travel destination, according to a recent survey by Schofields. The power of platforms like Instagram and Facebook is highly influential when it comes to molding travel preferences, but the power of social media influencers has even greater implications.

Far beyond shaping consumers’ decisions on where to go, influencers have the authority to sculpt the way new destinations become popular. This has led to an evolution in how tourism companies present their services, creating new roles within the travel industry as a byproduct.

Bringing ‘unknown’ destinations to a mainstream consumer audience

While factors like decreasing flight prices have always prompted travel to “trending” destinations, the power of influencers and social media has led to relatively unknown travel spots becoming top-of-mind for consumers.

Lake Wanaka, a small town in New Zealand’s South Island, is a great example of one of the first “Instagram Destinations,” owing a large proportion of its popularity to the influencers that publicized the region through Instagram in 2015.

The social media influencers that partnered with Lake Wanaka exposed their followers to their experiences with the town’s beautiful setting, resulting in a 14 percent increase in tourism and proving that the power of social media and the reach and engagement capacity of influencers can and should be leveraged to cultivate interest in a given destination or set of activities.

Meeting influencer-induced aspirations through marketing

Of course, social-media-savvy consumers are accustomed to the highly manufactured images they see posted by influencers and friends alike. As a result, travel and hospitality businesses have had to step up their marketing game in order to retain credibility.

Influencer-induced consumer aspirations have changed the way brands promote travel experiences to potential customers. A recent study from my company, Topdeck Travel, found that 67 percent of millennials reserve most of their money for activities and experiences when travelling. And after getting a taste of their desired travel experiences through influencer content, consumers have preset expectations on what these experiences should be like.

The implication of this? Companies should keep their customers’ expectations at the forefront of their minds in order to generate business.

Hotels and hostels, for example, are upping the ante in by channeling their efforts into presenting their spaces in the best possible light. With more elegant and elaborate displays, they are better able to entice influencers and set them up for the most alluring Insta photos possible. And even more effective? Throwing in personalized fine dining or unique amenities for influencers helps present the brand in an even more favorable manner to the consumers exposed to these experiences on social media.

Creating new roles in the travel industry

The wealth of photo and video content that influencers share with their followers has created the need for new jobs at tourism companies. Consumers check out the best travel content on social media on a regular basis, and in order to compete with enhanced aspirations, brands have introduced roles designed to cater to changing trends across social media.

For example, striking a chord with consumers, Instagram drone photography and video has become a popular way to showcase travel experiences. Travel brands have taken note of this and, as a result, have developed the need to hire team members with the ability to manage and utilize drone technology in order to produce content to match. A job like this would not have existed a decade ago.

We’ve recognized the need to evolve team member roles at Topdeck, too. Because we understand the power that influencer content has to resonate with our followers, one of our trip leaders has taken on the responsibility of capturing her experiences on the road in order to share on social. The campaign, #60SecondswithSarah, is a direct response to the changing social ecosystem, where adapting and evolving is paramount for brands.

Influencing the future of travel

Through setting the trends that dictate where consumers choose to go, motivating companies to revamp marketing tactics, creating new roles within the travel industry and overall making travel more aspirational, influencers have transformed the way we perceive travel. There’s no denying this phenomenon, and it’s only fair to speculate that time will bring even more changes. But will the momentum of influencer authority continue to build?

Increased influencer power presents more opportunities for these individuals to accept bigger paychecks. This is seen by many as a compromise to authenticity if the passion isn’t truly there—especially as followers become more aware of brand partnerships and paid posts. Other hurdles such as growing numbers of fake followers and influencer management issues on the brand side have also surfaced following the rise of influencers as a viable marketing tool.

However, with the number of social media users expected to surpass 3 billion by 2021, I am certain that influencer marketing will continue to evolve at a dizzying pace. And I, for one, can’t wait to see the new ways brands will leverage the opportunities this evolution will bring.

Mitzi Wilson is social media and content leader at group tour operator Topdeck Travel.