TL;DR: Social media is the new travel agent. Explorers are finding destination inspiration, planning trips and even booking getaways all on their platform of choice. What was once a linear travel marketing path is suddenly circular, offering new touch points for brands.
You probably can’t remember the last time you used a travel agent. But you can probably remember when you decided on a two-day Joshua Tree camping trip because of an Instagram post, or how you sourced out Hawaii trip itineraries on Facebook.
Social media has disrupted plenty of areas of our lives, and the way we plan travel is no exception. What was once a traditional, linear marketing funnel (discovery, research, shopping and purchase), now looks like a circle. Social provides a touch point at every part of the travel planning funnel.
New Spaces, New Places
We’re more connected than ever to not only the familiar, but also endless displays of foreign culture, sights and sounds. We have the power to discover new places and experiences whenever we want. While word of mouth still influences travel planning, 52 percent of Facebook users reported that friends’ photos inspired their own travel plans, according to WebpageFX.
A 2018 industry report by Pinterest showed that three in four travel pinners will act on what they see, often booking an unplanned trip. These are out of the 40 plus million people in the U.S. who pin travel ideas every month. People 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 if you didn't go through a travel agent, you may have needed to plan a trip to the library to research your trip. Maybe you pulled from classic go-tos like Fodor’s Travel Guides or Rick Steves’ words of wisdom.
Now, most travelers pull from peer experiences and online reviews, majority all via social media. Roughly 89 percent of millennials plan travel based on social shares by their peers, according to an article in Entrepreneur.
A 2018 Facebook study revealed that thanks to increasing mobile adoption, travelers spent five times more time on Facebook than other travel-related sites during the average trip-planning period. The same study revealed that 60 percent of millennials found ideas for their recent trips on Instagram as well. And they're looking beyond the standard tourist attractions: Travel planners are looking 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 it makes planning more convenient and immediate. Facebook data shows that of travelers who researched their last trip on mobile, 38 percent 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. Focus your organic and paid content around each phase by using thumb-stopping visuals during awareness, itinerary-based content during 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.
We have plenty of experience with this new travel planning cycle. Check out our most recent work and drop us a note on how we can help you break into the latest trends.