If you ask any person with a mobile device when the last time they booked a vacation through a travel agent was, they may give back a strange, are-you-serious glare. However, they will probably recall last year’s two-day Joshua Tree camping trip inspired by an Instagram post, or how they openly sourced Hawaii vacation itineraries on Facebook.
Social media has disrupted plenty of areas in our lives, and the way travel plans are finalized is no exception. What was once a traditional, linear marketing funnel (discovery, research, shopping, and purchase), now forms a circle – social is a touch point at every part of the redesigned travel planning routine.
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New Spaces, New Places
We’re more connected than ever to the familiar, and endless displays of foreign culture, sights, and sounds. We have the power to discover new places and experiences at a swipe of our finger. While word of mouth still influences travel planning, 52 percent of Facebook users report that friends’ photos inspired their own travel plans, according to WebpageFX.
A 2018 industry report by Pinterest found three in four travel pinners will act on what they see, often booking an unplanned trip. There are 40-plus million users in the U.S. who pin travel ideas every month. The aspiring social-savvy are flocking to re-create iconic shots from Instagram, even at environmental and overall safety costs. Social is the place to go for travel inspiration, even when you least expect it.
Planning Makes Perfect
It’s incredible to think that only years ago, a trip to the library may have been necessary to research your trip if you didn’t hire a travel agent. Remember reading the classics, like Fodor’s Travel Guides or Rick Steves’ words of wisdom?
Now, most travelers pull from peer experiences and online reviews, via social media. Roughly 89 percent of millennials plan travel based on social shares by their peers, according to Entrepreneur.
A 2018 Facebook study revealed travelers spent five times more time on Facebook than other travel-related sites during the average trip-planning period due to increased mobile adoption. The same study revealed that 60 percent of millennials found ideas for their recent trips on Instagram. These ambitious travelers are looking beyond the standard tourist attractions too.
Travel planners have started to connect with locals before their trips — often seeking cultural ambassadors to show off the best parts of a city or place. Airbnb quickly jumped on the trend with its Experiences offering.
Break out the Wallet
If travelers are finding travel inspiration online, they’re definitely booking it digitally too. Mobile is the main driver as planning becomes more immediate and convenient. Facebook data shows 38 percent of travelers who researched their last trip on mobile, also booked on mobile. These are the same travelers who drew inspiration from social, mainly from peer experiences.
Once booked, these visitors will share their own trip photos plus reviews, sparking additional interest from their followers. Purchase decisions tie back into new discovery and awareness, completing the circle.
Join the Circle
Brands should play a part in the new travel planning journey. Each step is another opportunity to connect with and inspire current and future fans. Travel brands must focus organic and paid content around each phase by using thumb-stopping visuals while raising awareness, itinerary-based content during the planning and clear calls to action for booking. We recommend using hashtags and user-generated content (UGC) to highlight the very best of your destination as well as its advocates, thus bringing social conversations full circle.