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Michelle K. Pyke
4 August 2017
The Diary of a Curious Traveller
The emergence of social media as a marketing platform is a defining feature of highly
respected and strong brands of the 21st century. It not only increases the likelihood of brand
recognition within a diverse consumer base, but it also establishes a reliable medium to
communicate with honest intentions in the face of public scrutiny. It is generally accepted that
effective social media marketing correlates with higher sales numbers and traffic to a brand’s
primary website; it is not merely a trend within the business community. GlobalWebIndex
(otherwise known as GWI) is the world’s largest study on the digital consumer. Its quarterly
report measures the latest patterns within the social networking scene by consolidating data from
more over 50,000 Internet users aged between 16 and 64. On average between 2012 and 2016,
users across all ages dedicated thirty more minutes to social networking; this particular activity
accounted for 32% of online time in 2016, with other notable categories including online
TV/streaming (15%) and online press (13%).1 Another key insight from this study was that
almost every Internet user could now be reached via social media, with 94% of digital consumers
(aged 16-64) stating that they have a personal account on at least one social platform. The fact
remains that the consumer base for businesses across the globe are becoming more involved with
online communities and it is safe to assume that future marketing practices should account for
this staggering trend. An additional piece of necessary context is the phenomenon known as
“context collapse.” GWI’s report indicates that usage on major social networks is becoming
more passive, which suggests that users prefer to browse rather than actively contribute content
to their personal platforms. This type of behaviour may cause members of the online community
to shy away from communicating directly with one another, but it also could serve as a valuable
opportunity for brands to strategically put their names out there and gain the necessary exposure
for a strong consumer base. Following this logic, I argue that the social media platforms align
with the objectives of the travel PR industry through visual mediums and critical reviews. I will
further explore the influence of Instagram, YouTube, and blogging over this particular sector and
the present market for international consumers.
The timeline of Instagram’s rise to fame helps further define the interests of modern-day
users and their innate desire to seek adventure. With its official launch in 2010, Instagram joined
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the social media community not under its current name, but as “Burbn” – a location-based
iPhone application with a complex array of options available to users including the ability to plan
future meetups with friends and of course, posting photos from previous gatherings.2 Upon
noticing that the photo-sharing aspect of Burbn was dominating all other features, Kevin
Systrom, Instagram’s CEO and co-founder, decided to scrap Burbn entirely in order to focus on a
new application that would balance simplicity and visual storytelling; thus, Instagram was born
several months later. Near the end of 2011, just one year following its launch, the application
rapidly expanded into a network of over 14 million users and served as an intangible art gallery
for 400 million images from across the globe.3 To put this into perspective, Instagram publicly
released a statement at the end of 2016 that highlighted how its community had grown to 600
million.4 There is no question that this is yet another milestone for the company. Within any
business context, it would be ill advised to ignore its promising future. The success of Instagram
introduces several key elements behind the thought process of an ordinary user that directly
relates to marketing strategies within the travel industry. During holidays abroad, capturing
moments that would otherwise be lost to time is a common habit for travellers. By carefully
constructing a portfolio of photographs, individuals can preserve a story within a tangible
medium. Given that a client for a travel agency could very likely be the national organization
responsible for promoting a particular destination worldwide, it is absolutely crucial to tap into
the behaviour of its consumer base. If 94% of digital consumers claim that they have a personal
social media account, then a clear avenue to pursue is the online world, specifically the photo-
sharing network. With the limitations of physical distance, tourism boards must establish a
virtual presence to compensate and applications such as Instagram present an opportunity to
establish a personal brand. Before visitors even consider booking flight tickets, they must have a
favourable impression on the potential returns of staying in an unfamiliar environment. Frankly,
there are certain cities that are blessed with a rich history of attracting foreigners for leisure and
business, so they may not rely on tools like Instagram in the same fashion as others. Regardless,
by capturing fragments of the local culture in action, there is a possibility of establishing an
intimate connection with the user. Beautiful Destinations is a notable example of how a creative
agency can completely restructure how the travel community exists on social media. Its audience
of more than 13.5 million people in 180 countries is the same one that is targeted by the travel
sector.5 One excerpt on its website worth mentioning is written as follows:
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Positivity, inclusion, vibrancy and colour are at the centre of our brand, and we believe
that the world is a better place if we experience new cultures and get out and travel. We
work with some of the world's best brands, governments and charities to help them
generate a return on digital media through “social-first” content and visual storytelling.

That is the leading premise of the travel industry – to share the breathtaking beauty behind even
a remote island in the North Atlantic and the pleasure in tasting full-bodied wine under the
vigilant gaze of mountain peaks. Applications such as Instagram assemble a carefully
constructed visual map that appeals to both the ordinary and luxury traveller. Without such
exposure, the efforts of Beautiful Destinations, for instance, would go to waste. It is true that it is
already difficult to distinguish between idealism and reality without the influence of
photographic filters and other visual manipulations. However, it is also known that individuals
crave the freedom to write their own story and a photograph serves as a simple, yet effective
remedy for this. Beyond the single consumer, travel agencies can obtain instant media exposure
across multiple channels because of the social nature of Instagram. Once an influencer within
one particular community expresses an interest in travelling to Malta, a European archipelago in
the central Mediterranean, there is a much higher possibility that others will at least be aware of
its existence and that is the first step towards forming a strong brand name. There are limits to
photography, however, because although an image may inspire a string of a thousand words,
those may still not be enough to persuade someone from leaving their comfortable residence.
Unfortunately, the uncertainty of travel cannot be resolved by static images, but the art of
filmmaking can address at least part of the issue.
Through the personalized nature of video, platforms, such as YouTube, are necessary to
bring an otherwise fixed visual to life; this form of technology invites viewers to physically
engage with the material and take a careful, yet necessary step towards aligning the limitations of
their reality with their dreams to be fully engaged with the world. The international nature of
YouTube is what distinguishes itself from other digital media. It is true that consumers from
across the globe can create a free account for Instagram, but there is no potential for
communication beyond the comments section. As of 2017, YouTube controls a network of over
a billion users, nearly one-third of all people on the Internet, and these very same individuals
watch a billion hours of video daily.6 Other noteworthy statistics include that the company has a
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physical, local presence in more than 88 countries and also allows users to watch clips in a total
of 76 different languages (which covers 95% of the Internet population). A likely conclusion
from this is that experiencing travel through a virtual medium is no longer an impossible feat.
Within minutes of typing a destination of interest into the search bar, viewers can access a more
personalized sneak peak of what a particular place has to offer without any concern of an
artificial filter (although I would argue that the most popular travel accounts on Instagram rely
solely on natural lighting). In 2016, Mary Meeker, a partner at the Silicon Valley venture capital
firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, released a report on Internet trends; she found that
YouTube held just over 20% of mobile video traffic and roughly 17% of fixed-access video
traffic (Netflix dominated the latter with 35%).7 With a firm hold on its current audience, this
video platform enables the travel industry to not only broadcast their brand name through another
medium but also reach out to local influencers – YouTubers who have developed a loyal
following and an eye for adventure while travelling. Even successful advertising campaigns
struggle to meet the same level of engagement as individual YouTube content creators. In 2016,
for example, Always, a leading producer of female hygiene products, launched a brand new film
for its #LikeAGirl campaign and became the number one ad on YouTube in March.8 The video
reached more than 18 million views and yet, American vlogging sensation Casey Neistat
managed to accumulate over 41 million views in a single post entitled “The $21,000 First Class
Airplane Seat.” The disparity between the two approaches introduces the concept of virtual
dialogue. In early 2014, The Boston Consulting Group, released a report on the global business
of luxury and one key insight suggested tourists remain a driving force behind the growth of
commercial brands.9 What this further implies is that luxury brands and retailers must understand
how tourism is interwoven within the seams of the local culture; the report states that businesses
must ultimately develop strategies that create brand awareness even before tourists’ physically
arrive. As mentioned before, the notion of engaging in a virtual dialogue is necessary because it
enables viewers from across the globe to become familiar with the stories of the city’s
community. Although it is through an intangible medium, travellers can obtain a snapshot of the
reality behind a foreign destination’s name – the breathtaking views, culinary scene, common
mannerisms, and more. It is true that this information could be accessed through a guidebook or
on a number of pages on the Internet, but YouTube presents an opportunity to learn through
human interaction (or at least the closest form of it while researching). In basic terms, another’s
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daily life can be translated into a vision for the future. There is a natural curiosity in observing
the lives of strangers, but there is also a lingering feeling of longing. It may be that most are
troubled by an incomplete story, but it could also be the existence of an internal voice that
earnestly seeks adventure and a more wholesome life. Watching videos by themselves will surely
not satisfy this appetite entirely, but it serves as temporary relief for those who question the
world around them. The travel industry would not be as strong today if potential visitors could
not translate a detailed map into human terms. I argue that this is the core reason why travel
documentaries and video journals have rapidly grown in number. There will always be a demand
for open dialogue through creative mediums and there is no question that YouTube is a leader in
this particular field. Similar to photography, however, creative films still pose an issue for
curious travellers. There is no means to really store all of the information from not only the
spoken dialogue of the content creator, but also the details of the surrounding landscape itself.
By using the English language to express these insights, online writers provide a basic resource
for the background of a particular destination with a level of transparency that may not be
achieved in alternative forms of media.
Writers in the blogging and journalism scenes act as ambassadors for the tourism sector
by creating online diaries of their trips abroad, which ultimately acts as an invaluable form of
advertising with a much more engaged audience. Published in the Journal of Educational
Technology & Society, Emrullah Yasin Cifci’s piece entitled “A Review of Research on
Intercultural Learning through Computer-Based Digital Technologies” reaffirms how online
media can create an environment for individuals to rely on interpersonal communication to learn
about contrasting cultural backgrounds.10 In 2006, long before YouTube developed into its
popular brand today, thirty-nine percent of internet users, or approximately 57 million American
adults, read blogs and eight percent of internet users, or roughly 12 million American adults,
identified as bloggers themselves.11 It may come as no surprise that among these content
creators, 37% cited their “life and experiences” as the basic premise of their writing, which stood
out among other topics such as politics and government (11%) and entertainment (7%). There is
a sense of freedom in writing for a blog in that the extent of privacy is a personal choice rather
than a mere afterthought. What this means is that the author may have a voice filled to the brim
with character and authenticity in a post, but no face to compliment their words. The reader must
rely on his or her imagination to fill in the blanks. Along the same lines, Pew Internet’s report
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also noted that 55% of bloggers used a pseudonym to keep their offline life entirely separate
from their online thoughts. This distinction is especially beneficial for contacting bloggers with
potential sponsorships in mind. Since a majority of bloggers seek personal fulfilment from their
work, recording their travels aligns with their intentions as writers and also follows the specific
direction set by marketing teams for travel agencies. Without the same level of risk as vloggers
when it comes to public scrutiny, bloggers are more likely to speak with candour and their
audience will take notice. Unlike the other forms of digital media addressed previously, blogs are
physical records for curious travellers; when it comes to planning an itinerary, it is necessary to
have a written document in hand. It would be an inefficient use of time to try to extract the
essential bits of information from a photo on Instagram or transcribe commentary from a
YouTube video. Therefore blogs are essentially a means to access a wealth of data about a
destination without having to research quite to the same length as one would give alternative
media sources. Not only are bloggers potential advocates for themselves, but they can also serve
as ambassadors for travel companies. The quality of their sponsored trips abroad is a direct
reflection of the agency itself. Writers for widely circulated publications, such as national
newspapers or lifestyle magazines, are already regarded with a fairly high level of credibility
among readers, especially those who have contributed to a section or column regularly. This type
of recognition comes with a price as the brand name of a travel company is ultimately at the
mercy of a single review. Now this is a bit of an exaggeration as travel agencies generally work
with multiple clients from across the world, so a poorly planned trip for one would likely become
a lesson to apply for future excursions rather than a fatal end. Press trips are not the only means
to secure a mention in an article. In Steve King’s account of his breathtaking stay at Deplar Farm
in Iceland, he strategically places an advertisement for a nine-day Icelandic adventure hosted by
Original Travel, a creative luxury travel company, just beneath his story.12 The offer mentions
the specific accommodations included in the package (Deplar Farm, of course, being one of
them) and simply ends with a link to Original Travel’s homepage. It is simple and yet effective
because readers who will take the time to go through pages of King’s experiences certainly have
an interest in Iceland. By taking advantage of the right kind of audience, Original Travel is
introduced as a resource just one click away and that is a tempting offer by itself. This being
said, bloggers and journalists must be selective in who they do business with, which is why
agencies from all industries are constantly reaching out with incentives ready in hand. The public
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mission statement on both ends may be to share once in a lifetime travel experiences to world
travellers disguised as ordinary professionals in the workplace, but these relationships are
business transactions at their core, which is why a certain level of strategy is entirely relevant to
this area of digital media.
By relying on a variety of online platforms to form an appealing image of a destination,
travel agencies can extend their networks beyond their local population and ultimately act as a
connector on behalf of their clients. A report published by BCG in September of 2016
highlighted the changing demographics of the world’s population, specifically how millennials
(defined as those in their middle twenties to early thirties) compose roughly 32% of it.13 It is
important to note that the buyers of flight tickets to luxury destinations will include a fair share
of millennials, so it absolutely crucial to cater towards their spending habits and travel interests.
As mentioned before, younger consumers are more likely to be involved in the social media
sphere due to their upbringing in the digital age. What is considered to be a comfortable means
of expressing oneself for this particular generation is vastly different from the former. After
analysing the vast number of ways to approach this issue, a digital mindset is an appropriate
solution towards planning personalized outreach efforts. Without the likes of Instagram,
YouTube, and online publications, the intimate network of travellers, both luxury and
conventional, across the globe would be lost. Organizations like Beautiful Destinations offer a
glimpse into the eye of a photographer – someone who can capture the stunning movement of
light across the landscape in a single moment. There is a ceaseless balance in what humans can
perceive in reality and mere illusions of one’s imagination; by physically escaping the confines
of routine and ultimately discovering sights that bring a dream to life, the temporary anxieties of
home life are but a mere memory. Similarly, YouTube is a resource for those who find the
stillness of photographs unnerving; there may be a lack of energy behind the camera lens that
does not quite inspire a sense of deep reflection or consciousness in the solitude of one’s
thoughts. YouTubers who casually record themselves in the streets of their homeland offer a
glimpse into an alternative reality for others. By publishing online, they are essentially gesturing
in welcome to their anonymous viewers and that is a special relationship that will not break in
the coming years. Returning to platforms that heavily rely on writing, travel has always been a
matter of record keeping – while viewing the detailed journals of explorers from centuries long
ago, it is fair to conclude that language can capture the very essence of lands beyond the human
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imagination. Within a business context, effective marketing in the travel sector requires
engagement with the world – whether that is through press releases or a two-minute clip that
gives the impression that the viewer is physically there, breathing in the crisp autumn air as if to
remind oneself that the present is here to stay. As history continues to unfold, there is no
question that humans naturally crave the taste of adventure. Online platforms are an open
invitation to journeying away from home without sacrificing the temporary relief of fully
understanding one’s environment. Until the luggage is packed and waiting patiently by the
doorstep, the curious traveller should not be discouraged from stepping forth into the world
despite the fear of being consumed by the physical and emotional sensations around them. After
all, as the popular saying goes, those who wander are not always lost and neither should the
average traveller be.
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Group, 22 Sept. 2016,