TL;DR: The Internet and the rise of social media has fundamentally changed the hospitality and travel industry. The way travelers research, plan and book has shifted to mobile and social – the hospitality industry has done its best to keep up.
Inspiration First... Planning Later
Social media connects our world. It allows us to explore places and cultures before actually experiencing them. An account, hashtag or a single photo has the power to transport, inform and inspire travel decisions.
Travel planning was once a methodical process of flipping through Lonely Planet or Rick Steves books or sitting down with a travel agent. These days, travelers seek their information directly from their peers through social media.
In 2017, 87 percent of millennials said they looked to some form of social media for travel inspiration; two-thirds said they had visited a destination after seeing it on Instagram. Millennial travelers in particular are seeking out content from users they feel they can trust — their peers. A social post from a peer can feel more authentic than a review in a magazine and is more tangible than word of mouth.
Many brands in the hospitality and restaurant industries have realized this and have looked to influencer marketing to reach millennials during their travel planning. Influencers have the ability to come across authentic and invoke a certain travel envy in their followers. And while most Instagram users are aware that an influencer’s content is often paid, it can still feel more relatable than a Michelin Star rating.
Hospitality brands that have gained popularity for their “Gramworthy” locations and have found themselves nestled on an influencer’s grid can often find booming success with crowds rushing to imitate the experience. As a result, some in the hospitality industry have started introducing products, services and have even began to designing their physical spaces with Instagram in mind.
From the walls to the tabletops and even the bathrooms, owners are determined to create spaces that will invoke perfect photo opportunities. Boston Chops, a steakhouse in Boston, commissioned a $10,000 custom table with built in adjustable lighting to assist customers in creating the perfect Instagram shot. Some restaurants have gone as far as to give Instagram kits to all their diners to ensure documentation. It doesn’t just stop at the environment of a space — restaurants have created weird and wacky food, hoping their creations will go viral. Hotels have upgraded their technology and guest amenities, introducing concierge bots and Alexa-equipped rooms to stand out amongst the competition.
Sometimes the battle to stand out among the competition can lead to undesired results. As with most trends, the formula is not always perfect. Restaurants and destinations have found it difficult to stand out among the endless flow of increasingly monotonous shots of stacked hamburgers, banana leaf wallpapers and POV feet + tile shots. Others have found their Instagram-induced popularity to be overwhelming and at times damaging to wildlife and the environment. Some companies find their inboxes flooded with over-the-top requests from influencers and find themselves in the middle of a power struggle over expectations. Some locations have all together closed to tourists or influencers.
Choosing the right influencers to work with can help companies avoid certain problems. Ensuring your company is getting the most out of a paid influencer requires time and research. Make sure they match up with your brand values, that they actually connect with your desired audience and that there is a clear understanding of the expectations of both parties in the arrangement. Check out some examples of our most successful influencer projects here.
Communication is Key
Social media has dissolved the barrier between businesses and consumers. Customer service is now at our fingertips and feedback is a click away. Questions and requests can be resolved with a tweet or Facebook message. Some hotels have introduced native apps, putting concierge services right at the fingertips of the guest.
However, the nature of social media opens businesses up to public scrutiny. As we mentioned above, millennials trust their peers to provide honest feedback and social media is where they go to find this information. The visibility of both positive and negative comments means businesses must be attentive and responsive. Negative feedback left unattended reflects poorly on the establishment. Positive feedback must also be tended to, as customer engagement can be just as important as customer service.
Interested in learning more about how social impacts travel decisions? Read more here.