Within the travel trade, the past decade has been characterized by social media-fueled tourism, and that trend is not slowing as we turn the corner into 2020.
As millennials come into their prime spending years, it’s become clear that they prioritize the purchase of memorable, life-affirming experiences over the acquisition of material possessions, and indications are that Gen Z will follow suit.
While highly authentic and “Live Like a Local” encounters are always cited as in demand among today’s travelers, data gathered as part of the InterContinental ICons Research Study disclosed an interesting inconsistency: the truth is that “Live Like a Local” is more of an aspiration than a reality for most travelers.
Seventy-seven percent of respondents said they feel the need to see (and take a selfie at) their destination’s most popular tourist sites, despite 75% expressing the desire to experience an area’s more authentic venues and venture into lesser-known parts.
The same study conducted a social media content analysis to uncover the most Instagrammed sites in popular cities around the globe.
While Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and YouTube all have their place, Instagram numbers serve as a good barometer for social media engagement. Many millennials and Gen Z consumers use the app in the same way that people once relived their travel memories by compiling slide shows or photo albums to share with friends and family. With social media at the forefront of everyone’s minds, the shareability of one’s travel moments is a prime consideration.
An example of this trend is Paris’ Eiffel Tower, which the ICons Research Study revealed to be the “most overexposed icon in the world,” representing 53% of Instagram posts coming out of Paris, and nearly 10% of all tourism posts worldwide. In London, Buckingham Palace is the most tagged tourist site; in New York, Central Park; in Sydney, the Sydney Opera House; in Mexico City, the Teotihuacan pyramids.
Why are today’s tourists still focusing on visiting the same “must-see” sites? Their behavior can be attributed to an extreme attachment to social media.
The desire for online acknowledgment and validation, as well as projecting an idealized image of living an exhilarating and carefree lifestyle, continues to be a big driver. What better way to draw attention to your travels than posting a pic of yourself in front of an instantly recognizable, iconic international attraction?
Survey respondents planning to travel in 2020 also reported that they feel social-media interactions add to, rather than detract from, their trips.
According to the ICons study, 39% of global luxury travelers plan to invest more energy into social media when traveling during the coming year, with 55% saying that they believe capturing content while traveling enhances their ability to enjoy a meaningful experience.