Beaches shot at golden hour. Stunning mountain tableaus. Cityscapes captured on high. Stunning travel photography is some of the most liked, commented, and shared imagery on Instagram. But do all these incredible images actually inspire our travel decisions? When brands allow their offerings to be experienced through the lenses of popular Instagram influencers, does it work? Let’s examine.
More than 270 million Instagram images have been tagged with the hashtag #travel. And there’s plenty more: take hashtags like #travelblogger (18 million+), #travelgram (64 million+), and #traveling (43 million+). According to the digital influencer marketing agency Visual Amplifiers (Vamp), close to one million users search for travel-related hashtags every single week—so these posts aren’t going unnoticed.
According to Vamp, filling our feeds with inspiring travel images fills up our bucket lists too. They say 96% of Instagram users involved in its travel community are there because the content encourages them to fantasize about visiting new places. While regular travelers are publishing many of those images, the most viewed photos with the highest engagement tend to come from influencers: users with credibility in a certain industry, a large reach, and a passionate fanbase. Travel companies leverage influencers to help promote their products by inviting influencers to experience their brand and letting them showcase that experience to their fans.
Anne-Sophie Jaques’ top influencer picks
Anne-Sophie is the social media editor for Luxury Retreats
Murad and Nataly Osmann (@followmeto): “Murad and Nataly basically launched the concept of the travel influencer. They’re like a travel institution now.”
Helen Owen (@helenowen): “Helen has a lot of engaged followers; so many people love her and she’s been such a great ambassador for our brand. She’s young, cool, and classy.”
Leonie Hanne (@ohhcouture): “She represents glamorous travel and impeccable fashion: that’s my idea of perfection.”
While digital influencers typically use more than one social channel, there’s no question of which platform they spend most of their time on. A 2017 study by the influencer marketing technology agency, Zine, showed that social media influencers vastly preferred using Instagram for their brand collaborations to any other channel. In fact, the image-sharing platform was favored by 78% of those polled, compared with blogs (16%) and YouTube, Facebook, and Pinterest (a combined 7%). But are all these influencers really making an impact on travel in the real world?
Luxury Retreats Social Media Editor Anne-Sophie Jaques thinks that travel photography is uniquely authentic content on Instagram. “Every other influencer post on my feed these days seems to feature a product, and after a while, it can start to seem fake. You get the feeling the influencers promoting those products are not being themselves anymore. But travel photography is different: When someone travels somewhere and takes an amazing photo, that’s genuine. If you snap a shot in a beautiful infinity pool, there’s no faking its beauty.”
Vamp’s study says that today’s American travelers are 54% more likely to look to Instagram for trip inspiration than a magazine. Instagram’s Places tab helps users pinpoint a specific location to seek out popular restaurants or local hidden gems. For those that haven’t yet decided on their next destination, hashtags like #traveltheworld, #wanderlust, and #wheretonext can help. And you can always look to your favorite follows and see where their adventures have taken them.
“People tend to follow a few influencers per domain or per city,” says Jaques. “They completely identify with that person’s voice, and everything they say has an impact. It’s like having word-of-mouth recommendations, but even better because you feel like you know this person and you respect their opinion. Plus, there’s all the other people following that influencer who share your opinion.”
Luxury Retreats has an Instagram account with more than 100,000 followers and often exceeds 2,000 likes on a single post. Its images feature some of the world’s most gorgeous homes, stunning landscape photography, and enviable beach shots. Many of its posts are full of comments from travel-hungry users, dropping in heart emojis and tagging their friends. “We focus a lot on the experience,” Jaques says about the @LuxuryRetreats page. “What can a user actually do in a destination? Is there a secret place that nobody knows about that you can learn from us and nowhere else? That’s the luxury part of it. Our page is more than a collection of gorgeous images, it’s also that extra something that’ll make you dream, like a little-known restaurant or an off-the-beaten path activity that only our travel experts know about.”
Still, Luxury Retreats collaborates with some the most popular Instagrammers in travel. That is thanks in large part to statistics like this one: Photos showing faces get 38% more likes than those without, according to insights shared by social media software company, Sprout Social. When Luxury Retreats, with its portfolio of more than 4,000 Instagram-worthy homes, publishes an image of an influencer at one of its villas, engagement increases.
But the brand also benefits from awareness when an influencer shares branded content on their own profile. “These collaborations are super-important for both brands and users,” says Jaques. “When a user follows a travel influencer, they discover new places they’ve never heard of and they get that itch to travel. For us, it’s a great way to leverage our experience by humanizing it and revealing the adventure behind it that our customer can relate and aspire to.”
Infinity pools with never ending views. Sun-kissed snowscapes. Bare feet hanging off a cliff’s edge. These are the dreamy visuals we wake up to every morning and scroll through each night on our Instagram feeds. And if the new generation of influencers have anything to say about it, we’ll be living those travel fantasies ourselves soon enough.