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How Instagram changed the tourism industry

With the weather on the Spanish island of Mallorca warming up, hundreds of tourists begin flocking to the beach of Calo des Moro every day. The rush to experience the famous beach is so frantic that there is hardly space left on the narrow strip of sand to spread out a towel. Queues form as people wait for their turn to see the stunning blue waters, though many simply give up, unwilling to spend their vacation time in a line. (Also read: Bhutan sees spike in international tourists, tourism industry resurges)

Instagram photos have become a major factor in tourism (JFK/EXPA/ alliance )
Instagram photos have become a major factor in tourism (JFK/EXPA/ alliance )

Overcrowded beaches are a common sight on Mallorca, one of Europe’s most popular vacation destinations. Calo des Moro, however, is an extreme case — and many believe Instagram is to blame. A search on the social media platform reveals tens of thousands of photos in which the beach appears deserted, its turquoise blue waters dazzling in the sun. An Instagram viewer would have little idea that the reality is in fact far from this peaceful scene.

On the hunt for the perfect vacation pic

Since Instagram launched in 2010, the same phenomenon has played out time and time again: Following in the footsteps of influencers, tourists chase the perfect vacation picture, flooding places which were either much less-known, or certainly less popular than they are now.

Sometimes, the consequences are drastic. For example, the Konigsbach waterfall in the Berchtesgadener Land region in Bavaria was forced to close to visitors after the increasing numbers of day-trippers entering the area’s natural pools endangered the balance of the ecosystem.

Tourists have said in surveys that they are often encouraged to imitate Instagram photos, and certainly the platform plays an important role in their deciding for or against a particular destination. The online travel agency Expedia, for example, found that 50% of people under age 40 use social media as travel inspiration, preferring it to traditional outlets like TV shows or magazines.

Inspiration from others

“Instagram undoubtedly serves as a source of inspiration for vacationers,” says Maike Ovens from the Social Media Academy for Travel and Tourism, in the state of Hesse, Germany. She adds that the platform plays an important role, especially when people are researching destinations. Many today no longer use search engines like Google to find information about where to go on holiday, but instead search via hashtags on Instagram. “This is where they look to see what there is to do locally,” says Ovens. “If you’re not represented on Instagram, you won’t be discovered.” For tourism companies as well as destinations, there is essentially no way around the platform.

The German Hotel and Restaurant Association (DEHOGA) also sees it that way. “Communication aimed at specific target groups that includes all necessary outlets is more important today than ever before,” a spokeswoman told DW. She added that the recommendations and vacation experiences of friends and acquaintances also have a major influence on deciding where to go on vacation. It comes as no surprise that most tour operators and travel agencies use Instagram to reach customers.

An installation as a photo backdrop

“For us, Instagram is an important communication channel for giving people the travel feeling,” says Michael Faber, who runs three travel agencies in the Hunsrück and Mosel regions of Germany. His employees upload new photos every day and include very specific suggestions for where one’s next vacation could be — for example, to the Zillertal Valley in Tyrol.

There, the five-star hotel Stock Resort has also long since recognized the importance of Instagram. It put a giant iron sculpture of a pair of large wings on the hotel’s terrace to encourage people to take photos. “The goal was to create a backdrop that guests would be happy to take photos in front of; with the ulterior motive, of course, being that these photos would be shared on Instagram,” says Barbara Mitterer from the hotel’s marketing department.

A bit further south on Italy’s Lake Garda, Natasha Bontadi, responsible for the social media activities of the Garda Trentino Tourism Board, also makes use of Instagram. Bontadi uses the platform to pique peoples’ curiousity about the region, she says, by presenting little-known facts about the region and posting pictures of hidden places and stunning panoramas. “We avoid talking about well-known areas that are already tourism hotspots.” To that end, she said, they also work closely with influencers to help convey the desired message.

The immense power of pictures

“Many destinations don’t want mass tourism, but rather high-quality, managed tourism,” says Julia Stubenböck, managing director of the destination marketing agency Piroth Kommunikation in Munich, which plans social-media-related activities for tourist destinations, among other things. “The power of images is immense. You can explain something, but you can also show it.” That often works very well, she says, especially with Instagram since it’s designed for sharing pictures. Social media platforms like TikTok and Instagram have significantly increased marketing options targeting tourist destinations and companies. Certain target groups, especially millennial and Gen Z travelers, can simply be reached much better with social media platforms.

Stubenböck does not believe that people naively fall for overly embellished Instagram pictures believing their vacation will be equally picture-perfect. In fact, she says the trend is currently moving in a different direction and that “sensitivity to the fact that you can’t believe everything you see on Instagram is increasing.”

However, there is not much evidence of this on Mallorca these days. The Calo des Moro beach will likely be packed with tourists again this summer. Anyone hoping to get the perfect Instagram picture there just might be disappointed.

This article was translated from German.

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