Travel & Social Media: Wanderlust, Crowdsourcing, and Business Implications

Currently, I am learning about marketing historic hotels in a management class. Exploring heritage as a competitive asset not only hones in on the intersection of history and marketing, but also brings up the psychological implications of nostalgia, tradition, and co-creation of travel experience. One of the rising phenomena is increasing ability to share and influence travel experiences through social media– photos, recommendations, reviews. This indeed applies to the historic hotels I am studying, but also to hotels and tourism in general. And even the wider audience who hasn’t left their homes.

 

Wanderlust

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An implication of the rise and widespread popularity of photo-sharing applications such as Tumblr, Flickr, Pinterest, and, of course, Instagram is the increasing exposure of huge populations to images of far-off places.

These beautiful images, whether professional photographs or spring break iPhone shots, increase awareness of foreign bazaars, tropical paradises, and crumbling slums. The younger generations seem to profess a “wanderlust”– a lust to wander and explore the world– through Pinterest boards and quotes on filtered landscapes.

 

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Though this no doubt increases or augments our visual perception of the world, there is the question of if this increases the desire for travel among the social media using population. Beautiful imagery encourages the idea of seeing the world, though the concept of exploration dates back thousands of years. Just as European expeditions to China would bring back oddities and luxurious fabrics, social media showcases “tokens” of these destinations. Though these tokens are arguably “real” because they are photographs, I would argue that they use the same fantastical mystique as exotic goods. The angle must be just right, the composition just so, and the colors just saturated and succulent enough to inspire yearning. This could be considered a faux-nostalgia- a nostalgia for lives not lived and experiences not had.

Crowdsourcing

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However, this yearning can often lead to action. Though it is not achievable by everyone in the broader population, there are many people who go on family vacations, abroad during college, or take trips around the world post-grad or later in life.
The people at these places can share their photographs and have that reused by others creating bucket lists. It helps create awareness of foreign places and customs and may aid in the research process for travel. This could range from what places to visit to which hotel or restaurants to book. Photos, reviews, and recommendations or lists of “Top 20 Things to do in Austin” can help narrow down options and make informed decisions.

Additionally, user-generated content and peer-reviews are proven to be much more trusted than brand created information. Social media is essentially transforming the travel industry, as seen by the decline of travel agents. Information is much more accessible and the ins and outs of a city are more transparent than ever before, empowering individual travelers and families to make plans and informed decisions themselves.

Business Implications

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Social media impacts the travel and tourism industry in ways that can be construed both negatively and positively. It threatens entrenched systems but provides tremendous opportunity to market cheaply, more effectively, and to a global audience. Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Yelp, and Pinterest can all aid in sharing beautiful professional or guest photos of your venues. This not only gives potential customers a better idea of what visiting will be like, it also may inspire others to investigate further and retain a presence in the mind of former guests. For instance, Disney’s Instagram account shares lots of photographs of its parks, including guest-taken photos and gives credit to the photographers.

Asking for guest reviews and ratings can help you tremendously. Conversely, bad reviews can cause damage, so service is paramount. People are twice as likely to share negative experiences. However, delight a guest and you could gain a vocal brand ambassador, who can, with social media, easily share their experience with the world.

 

8 comments

  1. Really interesting thoughts! As an avid traveler myself, I find social media to be hugely beneficial in a lot of ways. Not only does it let me visually explore places I want to go, but it also has a lot of practical uses. Airbnb is a an extremely successful and social form of finding lodging all over the world. I agree with you that people trust peer reviews much more than a company stated opinion. Trip Advisor is another site that allows hundreds of users to share their experiences and seek information on where to stay as well as find vacation to do lists. SM really has transformed the methods in which we can plan travel.

  2. I always have mixed feelings about sharing on SM when I’m travelling. On the one hand, I want to share the great experiences that I’m having. On the other, I’m a bit wary of being perceived as “bragging” about it. Also, it does announce to the world that I’m not at home and my home is wide open for the robbing.

    1. I agree, my family is always cautious of signaling that our home is empty, and I never say I’m home alone! Lots of times I’ll just wait until after I’m back from vacation to post anything.

      You bring up some interesting points I considered discussing in my post– the psychological implications of sharing these idyllic photos. The idea of “bragging” is not attractive, but I thought more about the receiving end i.e. the photos conjuring up the perception that this person’s life is “perfect.” Just as online bullying is a problem, I believe there is another, less obvious or intentional, problem of social media users idolizing social media celebrities and constantly comparing their lives, wealth, or bodies to these select few (who, however, obviously *choose what they share).

  3. What class are you studying the marketing of historic hotels? It sounds very interesting! I think that social media can be overused when traveling and can take away from the travelers ability to enjoy the moment. However, social media exposes us to a huge part of the world, and I would argue motivates people to travel. When I see a beautiful picture on Instagram, I try and locate where this picture came from. If the picture is very spectacular, I make a note of the place for future reference. While I do not think every moment should be documented on a trip, I do think sharing ones moments helps connect the world.

    1. It’s Applied Marketing Management with Professor Hudson! His expertise is the intersection of marketing and history and our term project is providing a consultation for Historic Hotels of America.

      I do a very similar thing in noting interesting places for future trips! It’s really an on-going research process for me.

  4. My suspicion is that the rise of Pinterest, Flickr and Instagram is certainly spurring travel efforts for plenty of young people. I recall back in the good ‘ol days of the internet (’05 ish) I would spend hours on Google Earth looking at some incredibly remote places that I would hope to someday travel to. There was a photo service called Panoramio (still exists) that’s been integrated with Google Earth for as long as I can remember in which users could share pictures organized by geographical metadata. It meant that while zooming around pixelated view of Indonesia’s Mentawai Islands on Satellite mode in Google Earth, I’d have the chance to see some high quality shots from ground level of the area. Eventually, as digital cameras started taking off around this time, and more were sharing images online, Panoramio links where everywhere on Google Earth. In fact, Google even used all these photos of popular places to build crowdsourced panoramas it dubbed ‘Photo Tours.’
    http://google-latlong.blogspot.com/2012/04/visit-global-landmarks-with-photo-tours.html
    Anyway, I do feel that social media is sparking interest among young people especially to realize the opportunity of travel. The main limiting factor remains cost, but between the social media you referenced and Snapchat’s Discover stories broadcasting other cultures, I think the world is continuing to shrink and cultural barriers will drop more and more.

    1. Thanks Ryan, that’s really interesting! I love Google Earth but I’ve never heard of Panoramio before. And great point about Snapchat’s Discover story, that’s so true. I remember watching one about Cheese Rolling at Cooper’s Hill in England (a bunch of people chasing a wheel of cheese down a steep hill) and it was fun to watch but also made me aware of a tradition I had absolutely no idea existed, and probably never would if not for Snapchat.

  5. Loved your post Alexandra. I really love and enjoy traveling a lot. Sometimes I want to share pictures and posts of new countries, cultures, and people during my trips but I am always afraid of overdoing it. My friends and family members upload pictures and posts once abroad and this helps me get an idea of what other places look like. Because I have seen amazing pictures of Maldives, Bodrum, Cannes and much more these have all been added to my to do list. Thanks to social media. As for crowdsourcing, it has totally proven successful. It engages customers and people and makes us all connected more then ever before. Finally I really liked the pictures and visuals you posted. Thanks for sharing !

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