As 2018 came to a close and year-end holiday travel hit a global high, I was treated to a non-stop visual feast of travel adventures and escapades from all over the world on social media. A college friend and his wife trekked the mist-shrouded hilltops at sunrise in Thailand’s remote Nan province, a girlfriend embarked on a solo adventure across Egypt’s ancient wonders, while an acquaintance held her dream wedding in a French castle with a coterie of friends.
These images are voyeuristic windows into all the wonderful destinations and activities, giving me a serious bout of wanderlust (#FOMO perhaps?) and a peek at upcoming travel trends and preferences. Judging from my Instagram and Facebook feeds, solo travel, bypassing well-trod destinations and tailored experiences are some marked trends that I foresee will dominate in 2019.
My personal observations are largely reflective of the greater trends that travel experts in Asia-Pacific are seeing in 2019. Across all the markets, travellers’ growing appetite for experiences that go deeper and farther beyond the established destinations are a unifying theme.
Against this backdrop, Instagram has been a pivotal source of travel inspiration for many in recent years, resonating especially with the millennials. According to a recent survey conducted by Schofields, more than 40 per cent of travellers under 33 prioritise ‘Instagrammability’ when choosing their next holiday spot.
This popular social media platform in June 2018 announced that it had reached one billion active users, and it is estimated that on an average day, there are close to 351 million posts with the tag #travel.
But Instagram is more than a visual buffet of beautiful travel images. It’s proving to be a great source of destination inspiration for travel agents too. Uzaidi Udanis, managing director of Eyes Holidays in Malaysia, for instance, reveals his intentions to scour Instagram and other social media sites to get a better handle on appealing activities and destinations before transforming them into actual travel itineraries.
In 2019, we can expect many more travel brands to experiment with engaging with customers. European carrier EasyJet has rolled out the Look&Book visual search tool to enable travellers to search for a flight by uploading an Instagram screenshot to the app.
Meanwhile, Regent Taipei has introduced a new photography butler service which will see specially trained staff accompany guests to popular Instagram check-in spots in the hotel, tourists attractions and “insider photo locations” across the city and take photos for guests.
This service is driven by a desire to “reflect these trends” of “the inseparable relationship between photography, social media and travel”, said managing director Simon Wu. Frivolous this service may seem, it also shows the lengths that travel brands are going to in order to engage with a selfie-happy generation.
But powerful Instagram may be as a marketing tool in the travel and tourism, it makes me wonder how this popular social media app has fostered an unnatural approach to travel as people try to, literally, follow in the footsteps of others to mimic social media-worthy experiences.
The greater the lengths that travellers go to for the creation of these faux-spontaneous images, the more contrived and antithetical it feels to the spirit of travel. Isn’t travel about staying exploring and immersing yourself in the moment?
Or, will travelling without social media take off in 2019 perhaps?