Social media is changing the way that we travel. From finding travel inspiration on our news feed to using social media while in-destination, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat are riding shotgun on most everyone's travel adventures. So how exactly is user-generated content impacting people's decision to research, book and visit destinations around the world?
Before embarking on a new adventure, many travelers spend a significant amount of time scrolling through social media for inspiration. In fact, social platforms like Instagram are so effective at fueling wanderlust that it's not uncommon for destinations, hotels and establishments to invite influencers (people with a large social media following) to post about and promote their experience on their accounts. The impact of these influencers is so great that National Geographic credited them for a 14 percent tourism increase in 2015 alone. And influencers aren't the only ones impacting our urge to traverse the globe; people get that same feeling of FOMO (fear of missing out) when they see travel posts from their friends and family on Facebook, too.
Once we understand the phenomena of influencers it's easy to see why modern travelers are in it for the social media "likes." According to a study published by the University of Georgia (UGA), many people are traveling in anticipation of a "social return," aka more followers, page views and likes. The survey goes on describe what it refers to as the "bandwagon effect" and the "snob effect." Do you want to visit that hot destination popping up all over your Instagram feed? Hop on the bandwagon. Are you too cool for what's mainstream? Sorry, UGA finds you to be a travel snob.
While the terms bandwagon and snob might make us feel icky, UGA says that the trends aren't necessarily a bad thing as they act as an opportunity for destinations to boost tourism.
"Destinations with high social media potential could take advantage of the bandwagon effect and the snob effect as they wax and wane in popularity and, in turn, the resulting social value," said UGA.
However, the rise in travel popularity is sounding some alarm bells as overtourism looms over popular vacation spots such as Venice, Los Cabos and Rome. An issue that is almost certainly linked to social media use as travelers choose their destination based on how "Instagrammable" it is.
While social media in regards to travel has its negatives, it does have some redeeming qualities. For example, Twitter brings travelers together with weekly discussions using popular hashtags such as #traveltalk or #ttot (travel talk on Twitter). Anyone can participate in the discussion and it provides Twitter users with the ability to share travel tips and tricks with fellow enthusiasts. Pinterest also acts as an authentic space where site visitors can browse the travel category in search of helpful travel planning information. Sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor ensure that the holiday high doesn't end once the plane wheels hit the ground and many travelers enjoy reviewing places that they visited during their trip. Reviews of hotels, attractions and restaurants provide an honest look at experiences in-destination, unlike Instagram where everything is curated and perfect.
FOMO aside, some people do genuinely want to see your travel updates. I'm looking at you, Dad. In this case, social media is an easy and convenient way to keep us connected with people back home while we're exploring this big, big world. Just don't let it plan your vacation for you.