Thanks to the pandemic, usage of all social media platforms has surged in the last year and Instagram in particular has enjoyed a bounce. According to Mediakix, which follows influencer marketing trends, Instagram’s overall use has increased by 40 percent, since the lockdowns began last year. Now, with vaccinations becoming more widespread and social distancing measures easing, many are predicting a pending travel boom. One of the first places consumers are going for inspo: Instagram. If you’re not already on the ‘Gram or you are but have not done much, now is the time.
We’ve spoken to advisors, experts and sourced the basic information, must-dos and best tips for your business. Here’s what they had to say:
The basic reason to use Instagram: It gets your name out there. All advisors we spoke with agree that Instagram is great for overall awareness and generating inquiries from new potential clients. “As a former journalist, I’ve always thought social media is a fun, easy, effective and free way to communicate your knowledge to potential new and existing clients,” says Stacy Small, founder and CEO of Elite Travel International (@elitetravelintl) in Maui.
Honeymooners are crawling Instagram for inspiration, according to our experts. McLean Robbins, owner of Lily Pond Luxury (@lilypondluxury) in Washington, D.C. says that while 90 percent of her new business is still referral, that business she gets from the internet is all through Instagram. Melissa Wu of Woodlyn Travel (@woodlyntravel) in Los Angeles notes that while Instagram has increased her overall inquiries, she sees a lot of “tire-kickers,” that don’t end up booking right away. “My next step is improving my conversion rate of tire-kickers to bookers.” says Wu.
Laurel Levine (@thetravelsocial) has a business specializing in helping travel advisors maximize Instagram. She’s seen a big boost in inquiries for her services over the lockdown. She helps advisors in several ways, but her first tip is “Just show up: Posting Instagram stories, personal photos and showing up on live streams is what forges strong connections with potential clients.”
Levine tells clients to avoid using stock photos; instead, she advises posting photos from your own trips, as well as client trips, which shows potential clients that you are a real person who will advocate for them. Wu tells us that she avoids putting many photos of herself at various places; she feels that is a mistake some advisors make with Instagram. “My clients want to know about what they can do. They don’t need me in the image.”
You can offer enriching content people won’t find elsewhere: Showcase things the customer can actually experience on property. Wu has "upped" her social media game by creating more experiences and sharing more offers while adding insight into being a travel advisor. She has seen several benefits, she says. “Most hotels don’t showcase the day-to-day that a customer can experience. I do and people want that.”
Madeline Steuber of Steuber Travel Group (@steubertravelgrou)p, based in Philadelphia and Boston, says they completely shifted their approach to marketing and their Instagram content during the pandemic. “By focusing on the U.S. and supporting fellow small businesses, we saw a huge uptick in staycation bookings, domestic U.S. bookings and friends bookmarking us for future international trips. We are now getting inquiries from clients who saw those campaigns last year and appreciated our care for other small shops. By being ourselves, we built a relationship with our following that is now helping us book into 2022.”
Wu says by shifting her focus towards enriching content about the travel experience and hotels specifically, she’s not only increased the number of bookings but also increased the amount her clients spend at that destination when they travel. “Now, they don’t just stay at a hotel, but they also eat at the restaurant, pay for the additional experiences (fire pits, roasting marshmallows, beach movies, etc),” she tells us—these are just some recent examples of bookings at the Hotel del Coronado and the Lodge at Torrey Pines. Enriching, day-to-day-type content also serves as a reminder to clients to look for similar experiences in other destinations that they travel.
You can use Instagram as a case for using a travel advisor. Using words and visuals Wu educates her audience on the benefits of working with a travel advisor. “Most of the questions I get are about why people should book through me versus Expedia, so an ongoing theme of my Instagram shows them the reasons with photos and testimonials,” explains Wu.
During lockdown, Small of Elite Travel International says, “I have been going through years’ worth of travel photos that show where I have been and posting these on the company Instagram and Facebook page as a way to remind people seeking an experienced travel advisor that I’ve been where they want to go.”
If you have a following on another social media page, work to transition to your agency business page. Small says she also uses her personal (@stacyhopesmall) and a new page (@spiritualtravelagent) to engage clients. She is an entrepreneur and author and has worked for years to build her following on her personal page (currently, she has 12,100 followers) and is now trying to transition her personal followers to her business pages. “I am focusing on using my substantial social media channels (Twitter, Instagram, Facebook) to share my knowledge and continue to grow my clientele,” says Small. Her recently launched channel @spiritualtravelagent targets a slightly different type of traveler/info-seeker.
Using the different elements of Instagram increases engagement. Robbins from Lily Pond Luxury says her use of interactive elements—questions and polls on stories, for instance—has boosted engagement and followers. Small has begun doing more videos, “even though it is out of my comfort zone.” She feels talking directly to clients/potential clients is worthwhile and the pandemic has pushed her to pursue.
Levine recommends utilizing hashtags. “Hashtags are how potential clients find you. If you aren't using hashtags, the only people who will see your posts are current followers,” she says. “You want to have searchable posts, so using hashtags and location tags are key to reaching new clients. Instagram allows 30 hashtags and there is no penalty to using them all!” Meanwhile, Small has created her own hashtags, #NotYourAverageTravelAgent and #YouCantVIPYourself, which not only helps her track but also reinforces her expertise and reasons for using an advisor on all her travel-related posts.
Finally, there is one important thing Levine says not to do—buy followers. “For those who aren't proficient in social media, it might make sense that higher follower count equals more credibility. But the truth is buying followers is the quickest way to tank your account,” Levine says. “When you post on Instagram in particular, the algorithm shows your post to a subset of your followers, if they engage and like that post, it's shown to more people. On the other hand, if those followers don't engage (i.e. bought followers/spam follows) then the post isn't shown to more people, leaving you little to no likes and comments. The most important metric is engagement rate. If you have 300 followers and a 10 percent engagement rate, you'll have the same reach as an account with 1,000 followers and a 3 percent engagement rate.”
One of the first things Levine does for clients is to get rid of fake followers. For example, when she took over Esprit Errant Travel’s Instagram page (@esprit_errant_travel), they had almost 2,000 followers (1,500 of which were fake) and a 1.5 percent engagement rate. After removing the fake followers, she built back up the page and they now have around a 10 percent engagement rate. “The average engagement rate for travel pages on Instagram is around 5 percent, so I am proud to have doubled that benchmark,” says Levine.
Bottom line: Using Instagram is a great way to generate awareness, and, with a bit of effort, you can also engage and educate clients, build sales and bookings. It doesn’t take a huge following, just an engaged one.