Online Media & The Traveler

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Online Media & The Traveler

This report is an overview of the relationship between social media and its influence on travelers. It is composed of five parts. Part (A) includes insights on whether social or content posts are more effective, finding that social posts have the most sway. Part (B) includes insights on the effectiveness of seeded, distributed, and native content, finding that Instagram native ads having high success rates. Part (C) examines the effectiveness of influencers, podcasts, and other media in influencing travel plans. Part (D) outlines insights related to social media's effect on different generations in influencing travel, finding that millennials and Gen Zers are very affected by social media. Part (E) includes several online travel-related insights, including case studies of recent effective campaigns and the finding that fast responses are critical for building relationships. A few relevant datapoints are repeated between sections.
Part (A): This section includes insights on whether social posts or content posts are more effective in attracting interest. The research team interpreted "social posts" to mean those originating from peers or users and "content posts" to be more traditional marketing posts originating from a brand page. Social posts appear to be more effective, though peer-like influencers who project and maintain authenticity are also effective. Content marketing is less effective, while traditional marketing is the least effective overall.

Insights Related to the Effectiveness of Social Posts

  • 52 percent of Facebook users report that seeing their friends' travel photos inspired them to travel.
  • Millennials in particular are motivated more by social posts based on their perceived authenticity.
  • 84 percent of millennials reported that user-generated content influenced their trip more than ads.
  • Destination Marketing Organizations are increasingly utilizing socially-created content rather than stock or posed imagery based on its effectiveness. This includes reposting visitor photos on social media, including social imagery in visitor guides, and uploading social photos on their websites.
  • 92 percent of online users trusted content created by their peers over traditional marketing.
  • Content marketing campaigns that are particularly unique or that find a niche are especially effective. These include Travelocity's Gnational Gnomads, a group of influencers that were selected to travel and highlight their experiences; Travel Oregon's game that mimicked the Oregon Trail, and Zenith Aircraft's 360 degree virtual flight tour.
  • While Gen Z is very connected to online influencers, the content that they are most affected by is that which is generated by their peers (rather than traditional influencer content). As such, influencers who maintain their accessibility and authenticity as peers are most effective.
  • While user-generated content is most effective of all, content marketing is more effective than traditional marketing.
  • 70 percent of social media users prefer content-marketing rather than traditional ads.
Part (B): This section includes insights on whether seeding, native, or distributed content on social media is most effective. Distributed content was interpreted to be content originating from a brand's page and distributed to targeted channels. Based on these insights, content seeding is effective for attaining a wide reach, although it has been impaired by algorithm changes. Native ads are effective at connecting with viewers, with strong results on Instagram. Distributed content is effective at targeting interested consumers, especially on Facebook.

Insights Related to the Effectiveness of Content Seeding

  • Content seeding has a wide initial reach, giving it more potential for organic spreading through trusted peers.
  • Content seeding can be expensive.
  • Content seeding through influencers yields a substantial reach, as follows:
      • Posts shared by 0 influencers were shared 706 times.
      • Posts shared by 1 influencer were shared 930 times.
      • Posts shared by 2 influencers were shared 1,210 times.
      • Posts shared by 3 influencers were shared 1,405 times.
      • Posts shared by 4 influencers were shared 1,588 times.
  • Sharing, particularly related to brands, had decreased on social media. In 2017, the amount of social sharing was half of what it was in 2015, in part because of changes to Facebook's algorithm (which are ongoing).
  • When a post is shared by a friend or family member, users are 16 times more likely to read it.

Insights Related to Native Advertisements on Social Media

  • 86 percent of social media users are say they are okay with native advertising because it does not disrupt their experience.
  • 71 percent of social media users personally identify with a brand after viewing a native ad.
  • 63 percent of brands feel that native ads increase consumer engagement.
  • 32 percent of consumers will share native ads with friends and family on social media.
  • A paid ad campaign on Instagram Stories for Hopper (a travel app) was targeted at millennial North American travelers, and it generated an 80 percent higher booking rate.
  • Instagram reported in 2017 that 120 million Instagram users per month were visiting websites, getting directions, or calling, emailing, or messaging businesses as a result of advertisements on their platform.
  • Social traffic referrals, including from native ads, declined sharply from 2015-2017, with more than half of all referrals now coming from Google sites. This is due to Facebook newsfeed changes that affected when users see ads.
  • The most effective native advertisements are ones that appear seamless to the user, such as an Instagram story with low production value that feels authentic.

Insights Related to Distributed Content on Social Media

  • Content obviously distributed from a brand is preferred only 19 percent of the time to content from a friend or family member.
  • 36 percent of social media users ignore social posts from brands.
  • 74 percent of consumers follow brands on social media, indicating that posts originating on brands' pages do have a wide potential audience of consumers interested in their product.
  • 96 percent of consumers interact with the brands they follow on social media. Being the originator of posts enables businesses to respond to that interaction and generate a positive relationship.
  • Facebook is by far the best platform for distributed content based on the number of users and their likelihood of making purchases from a brand they follow on that platform. 52 percent of consumers made a purchase from a brand they follow on Facebook, compared to 48 percent of consumers who follow a brand on Instagram, YouTube, Pinterest, Twitter, LinkedIn, Snapchat, and Reddit combined.
Part (C): This section includes insights on the effectiveness of different media in influencing travel plans, as well as how effective influencers are on social media. Photos, videos, and podcasts (in that apparent order) are effective in reaching travel customers based on overall popularity of consumption.

Insights on the Effectiveness of Different Media

  • 4 out of 5 millennials view travel articles and photos online, while 2 out of 3 millennials view travel videos online.
  • Serialized videos such as those put out on YouTube by Marriott are very popular and effective marketing tools, with its 2015 short film contributing to $500,000 in bookings in two months, and its 2017 short film garnering more than 9 million views to date.
  • Content marketers using video to attract visitors to their websites have a 66 percent higher conversion rate.
  • Podcasts are on the rise: 14 percent of all adults in the UK listened to a podcast at least once a week in 2019, up from 2 percent in 2014.
  • 45 percent of internet users between the ages of 25-34 regularly listen to podcasts.
  • Podcasts can provide seamless ad integration. 50 percent of podcast listeners say they are either somewhat or much more likely to consider a brand they heard about during a podcast.

Insights on Influencers

  • 17 percent of Instagram users pay attention to where celebrities are staying and base their own travel plans accordingly.
  • Explore St. Louis's recently-launched microsite that begins simply with the selection of four local influencers in four interest groups: food, beer, music, and culture. The marketing company's usage of this method for the splash page indicates that candid interviews with influencers is an effective way to attract viewers.
  • Influencers are extremely important with 92 percent of customers trusting online content created by their peers rather than traditional advertising.
  • Gen Z is especially swayed by online influencers. 45 percent follow more than 10 online influencers, while 10 percent follow more than 50.
  • The number of influencers tapped yields increasing reach, as follows:
    • Posts shared by 0 influencers were shared 706 times.
    • Posts shared by 1 influencer were shared 930 times.
    • Posts shared by 2 influencers were shared 1,210 times.
    • Posts shared by 3 influencers were shared 1,405 times.
    • Posts shared by 4 influencers were shared 1,588 times.
    • Posts shared by 5 influencers were shared 2,776 times.
Part (D): This section provides insights on social media's effect on different generations when making travel plans. Most available recent information has been focused on millennials due to the size of the demographic. Millennials and Gen Z are heavily influenced by images and deals posted on social media, while baby boomers value informative posts or content as well as reviews.

Insights Related to Millennials

  • Millennials are the largest generation of adults in the history of the United States, with a population size of 79 million.
  • 89 percent of millennials make their travel plans based on content posted by their peers on social media.
  • While 60 percent of all travelers are likely to share their travel photos during their vacation, more than 97 percent of millennials post photos and videos of their travels, thus influencing their peers to travel.
  • Millennials are much more likely to be drawn to vacation experiences that will make for exceptional photos or posts on their own social media when planning trips.
  • 78 percent of millennials would rather have a desirable experience than a desirable object, indicating the necessity of selling an experience to prospective millennial travelers.
  • Millennials are driven to take trips after viewing social media as a result of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out). 69 percent of millenniums regret not taking a last minute trip as a result of FOMO.
  • According to a 2017 study, 20 percent of millennials use Twitter and Pinterest to gain travel inspirations, compared to 87 percent who use Facebook. This indicates that Facebook is a more effective and/or commonly used travel planner for millennials.
  • 68 percent of millennials will remain loyal to travel rewards programs that offer substantial rewards in the form of cash, freebies, upgrades, or discounts.
  • Millennials are much more likely to respond to flash deals or limited-time discounts posted on social media.
  • Millennials are most attracted by advertisements that emphasize imagery and deals.
  • Millennials are less responsive to stock imagery.
  • Millennials use online travel agencies more than any other resource for booking travel.

Insights Related to Gen Z

  • Like millennials, Gen Z is interested in authentic, unique experiences that they can share on social media.
  • Instagram is the number one platform for Gen Z to form travel plans, with 50 percent of users saying it provided the best inspiration.
  • Gen Z is most attracted by advertisements that emphasize imagery and deals.
  • Gen Z is most likely to browse for travel inspiration without an initial destination in mind, making them highly influenced by both social media and advertising.

Additional Generational Insights

Part (E): This section includes insights related to online media and the traveler, including platform-specific insights, recent successful online marketing campaigns, and examples of travel brands improving their image on social media.

Platform-Specific Travel Insights

  • On Pinterest, users look through photos of activities and environments to gain inspiration to plan their travel experience rather than looking at specific destinations.
  • Almost 50 percent of travelers booking vacations hear about new travel companies and destinations on Twitter after being exposed to it in their feed (not necessarily by searching for it).
  • Hotels on Instagram are most successful when they: empower their own brand identity, make it easier to communicate to travelers, connect users with destinations, and distribute their product well.
  • 76 percent of users on Pinterest make a travel-related decision based on what they've seen on Pinterest in the past three months, according to the platform's data.
  • Pinterest has integrated personas that help advertisers pinpoint their market. These personas are “the Group Vacationer, the Culture Chaser, the Spa Sojourner, the Adventure Lover and the Eating Explorer.” The personas are effective according to a recent Carnival Cruise Line campaign that saw a 14 percent click-through rate increase and a decrease in cost-per-click by 71 percent.
  • The top six locations tagged with #travel on Instagram in March 2016 were: Paris, France; Istanbul, Turkey; New York, New York; London, United Kingdom; Venice, Italy; and Maldives.
  • Women are most likely to buy something based on recommendations on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, while men are more likely to buy something based on YouTube and Twitter ads.
  • Social media posts are very influential on those who use it to plan a trip. After using social media, 33 percent of users changed their hotels, 10 percent switch resorts, 7 percent traveled to another country, and 5 percent switched airlines. This indicates the importance of a strong social media presence for destinations wishing to entice visitors.

Examples of Recent Successful Marketing Strategies Through Social Media

  • Tourism boards are increasing their visibility by utilizing hashtags in social media. Texas Tourism increased the number of visitors to by 33 percent after creating #TexasToDo.
  • Hotels and restaurants are similarly utilizing social media to promote their visibility by hosting social events complete with hashtags. Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants used guest photos tagged with #KimptonWeddings rather than staged photos to provide authentic, user-generated content that they were able to capitalize on as it was shared with the social network of each guest.
  • Soho House utilizes lifestyle imagery on Instagram to draw its users to book at its locations in New York, London, and Chicago.
  • Intrepid Travel has successfully launched its own hashtag campaign on Instagram, which has gone viral. #beintrepid now has more than 50,000 tags from users.
  • Norwegian Cruise Line has their own viral hashtag, serving to advertise what they offer through customers' own experiences. #cruisenorwegian has over 50,000 tags on Instagram.

Travel Brands Are Improving Retention with Social Media

Social media has proven to be an ideal platform for brands in travel-related industries to improve their brand reputation and encourage future business. Speed of response is key.
  • Between March 2013-February 2015, there was a 59 percent increase in tweets at brands in the travel, transportation, and hospitality industries.
  • 53 percent of Twitter users expect a brand to respond to their Tweet within an hour, increasing to 72 percent if it is a complaint.
  • Companies that respond quickly and with a sincere manner develop a strong reputation among their current and potential customers. American Airlines and JetBlue are two examples of this.
  • Airbnb manages multiple social media accounts and monitors comments on multiple social media profiles to rapidly respond to any customer concerns, earning it a high reputation from users.
  • Rather than funneling all of its customers through a global account, Air France has divided its customer service and users into regions to enable a fast, prompt response. The effect has given it an excellent reputation on social media.

  • "In fact, 52% of Facebook report that friends’ photos have inspired travel plans."
  • "Many hotels and resorts have turned to running social contests and campaigns to ensure that they get some credit for their guests’ social activity. Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants used guests’ wedding photos instead of staged, professional photographs to market their wedding venues. The campaign encouraged guests to take photos, tag them with the hashtag #KimptonWeddings – and ultimately to create user-generated content for the brand that was free, authentic, and repurposed across its marketing channels."
  • "According to a recent survey from Adweek, 52% of Facebook users dream about vacation when on the channel, even when they aren’t planning a specific trip. This is due to FOMO. the fear of missing out, which is especially a common feeling among Millennials. When asked, 69% of millennials regretted not taking a last minute trip due to their #FOMO. This is why user-generated content has become a popular source of inspiration for modern travelers and often impacts the initial decision to make a trip among the younger generation."
  • "The Booking survey found that 17% of users paid attention to where celebrities stay and look for similar lodging."
  • "Besides being able to look at 702 million comments and reviews on the platform, travelers can now get tips and recommendations from other users that follow them, save recommendations, and make reservations."
  • "Many DMOs are already pulling in social images for galleries on their websites, reposting visitor photos on social media, and some are beginning to include social imagery in their visitor guides."
  • "The microsite began with a soft launch in December and will be pushed through social media channels starting in June. In the meantime the site has already engaged more than 20,000 Facebook users organically. Visitors to the microsite navigate to an average of 3.77 pages per session over an average of almost 4 and a half minutes."
  • "According to Twitter, there has been a 59% increase in tweets aimed at brands in travel, transportation, and hospitality industry between March 2013 and February 2015. A full 53% of users expect a brand to respond to their tweet within an hour, and this figure rises to 72% if the tweet is a complaint."
  • "Studies show that 92% of customers trust online content created by peers above all other forms of advertising, and this is especially true in the travel industry. Millennials now look to their favorite bloggers, vloggers, Instagrammers, and YouTubers for their next travel inspiration, rather than traditional advertising."
  • "Not only can immersive storytelling simulate the excitement of exploring a new destination, it can offer your customers an opportunity to experience their wildest travel fantasies from their desks – like the folks at Zenith Aircraft and StoryUp have done with their 360-degree virtual flight demos."
  • "Since launching an in-house content studio in 2014, Marriott has led the way in producing high-quality, engaging content that delivers major returns. Its 2015 short film effort, “French Kiss,” for instance, drove more than $500,000 in bookings in less than two months. And when it comes to serialized projects, its success is no less. The staggeringly popular “Two Bellmen” franchise has garnered crazy amounts of plays on YouTube, with more than 9 million views on the third installation alone – and counting."
  • "The list was compiled by analyzing which destinations were listed most frequently on the bucket lists of müvTravel users."
  • "There’s a new traveller in town: Generation Z. Forecast to be the largest group of consumers by 2020, Gen Z'ers are digital natives ready to conquer the world."
  • "Visitors to the site can create a personalized three-course menu and are then served up a custom itinerary tied to their chosen dishes’ origins. They can view short videos about how each dish is prepared, local ingredients, and the Puglia landscape and culture. The platform also offers customized travel itineraries based on the menu selections and allows users to share on social media and via email."
  • "Puglia Expedia"
  • "Gen Z and Millennial travelers are influenced the most by imagery and deals in advertising while ads with informative content and reviews speak more to Boomers. "
  • "Content marketing is currently the preferred marketing approach because it offers something valuable to consumers. It can educate readers or viewers about a certain industry, teach them how to make the right purchasing decisions, or simply entertain them. This can lead to increased customer engagement and loyalty."
  • "Web users are more likely to view a piece of content that’s been recommended by someone they trust rather than an ad or sponsored post. This is why targeting these trusted people is so vital."
  • "They can even be obstructive, going so far as to blocking the content the reader actually cares about. Native content, on the other hand, blends in seamlessly with the rest of the content. Even when they recognize native content as an ad, most people don’t care, since it doesn’t interrupt their experience."
  • "Based on a sample of 100 million posts published in 2017, social sharing of content has been cut in half since 2015."
  • "Tourism Ireland saw a 33% drop in bounce rate, and 335% increase in dwell time from content distribution."
  • "True, some people would ignore their friend’s social post (20%), but an even greater 36% would ignore a brand’s social post. Additionally, 81% of people said that they would rather see a friend’s social post rather than a brand’s."
  • "Content statistics from 2018 show almost half of all millennials listen to podcasts, and many of the bigger companies out there, including General Electric, McDonald’s, and eBay, already have their own branded podcasts."
  • "Research undertaken this spring by UK radio and audio measurement company RAJAR found 14% of adults listen to a podcast at least once a week, up from 2% in 2014, with listeners across all age groups."
  • "More than half of podcast listeners say that they are somewhat or much more likely to consider a brand they learned about in a podcast ad. Brand recall studies are typically quite high for podcast advertising. In fact, podcast advertising has been found to increase key metrics like awareness, ad recall, affinity, recommendation and purchase intent."
  • "Although Airbnb has a separate social media account for providing customer service, the company also manages comments on other social media profiles to make sure all worried customers get their problems solved."
  • "We will also prioritize posts from friends and family over public content, consistent with our News Feed values."
  • "Intrepid Travel is not doing too badly either with their viral hashtag, #beintrepid which has garnered nearly twenty thousand tags. Encourage your clients to use your hashtag on their Instagram content as it not only promotes visibility on the platform but also establishes your brand as one that people trust and are happy to associate themselves with."
  • "We also have more than 1M monthly active advertisers—up from 200K this time last year—and, in the last month, over 120M Instagrammers visited a website, got directions, called, emailed or direct messaged to learn about a business."
  • "People and brands can use social media to connect with each other; 74% of consumers follow brands on social media, and 96% of these consumers interact on social media with the brands they follow. "