Social media platform Instagram is changing the way tourism bodies interact with potential visitors, and in the process creating celebrity photographers.
One such celebrity is Lauren Bath from the Gold Coast. Formerly a chef, she’s been so successful with Instagram, she’s swapped the kitchen to focus full-time on photography and tourism marketing.
Bath, 33, is among a handful of Instagrammers changing the way we interact with the travel industry.
There are a whopping 342,000 people following her gallery, @laurenepbath, making her hot property for tourism boards, tour companies, cruise lines and accommodation providers embracing a new way of marketing.
Bath says the social media tool offers something that’s not always represented in traditional travel media – honesty.
“With journalism and with writing, it’s really hard if you get a negative experience to write positively and to give that impartial writing,” Bath says.
She’s heard horror stories, she says, of some travel journalists lying about poor experiences because they feel obliged to write positive pieces. Instagram, arguably, shows a place as it is, even with the filters.
For those unfamiliar with Instagram, it’s a social media platform where people create photo galleries and follow each other. Many Instagrammers snap shots from their phones, put them through filters that enhance the colours and then post to their galleries. Once there, followers can ‘like’ the images and comment on them.
Bath and other popular Instagrammers have taken it to another level by using digital SLR cameras and tripods, and professionally editing images before they post to Instagram. Some people are also posting mini videos. Users can also search for themed photos through the sometimes weird and wonderful hashtags attached to images, and subsequently find new galleries to follow.
It’s a great way of advertising for tourism companies, with some photos being viewed by tens of thousands of people.
Tourism Tasmania CEO John Fitzgerald says Instagram is one of three key platforms the board is focussing on with its social media strategy.
“Our consumer research shows that the views, opinions and experiences of friends, family members and other trusted people have a significant influence on people’s holiday choices,” Fitzgerald says.
“That is why Instagram and other social platforms are becoming such an important feature of Tourism Tasmania’s new approach to marketing the state as a great holiday destination.”
Hamilton Island kicked off the Instagram bandwagon in Australia by hosting an Instameet, where influential Instagrammers and competition winners gathered, in November 2012.
Since then, the Whitsundays island and Tourism and Events Queensland have cleverly used the tool for promotion, attracting worldwide audiences with Instagram competitions.
Tourism Tasmania has also been instrumental, hosting an eight-day Instameet of main players last September.
Fitzgerald says the way people obtain information, opinions and ideas about travel and destinations is changing.
“Instagram is a fantastic `moment’ sharing platform,” he says.
“We have seen through Tourism Australia’s success that visual beauty and social media are a highly potent combination when it comes to driving interest in a destination.”
Tourism Australia’s gallery, @australia, currently has 584,000 followers, while @tasmania has 19,886. And you only need to look at the popularity of Instagram in North America and Europe to realise that it’s just at the start of its journey in Australia.
Bath believes it’s a platform that’s here to stay, along with Facebook and Twitter.
Following closely in Bath’s footsteps is Pauly Vella, a 23-year-old from the Hawkesbury region in NSW.
Although Vella has an impressive 293,000 followers, he has kept his day job as an air-conditioning and refrigeration mechanic, and therefore juggles work with his own adventures and occasional hosted trips.
He recently spent time at Taronga Western Plains Zoo in NSW and will soon be embarking on a P&O cruise to Papua New Guinea. Where you’re likely to bump into him though is on the NSW Central Coast, one of his favourite places to snap away.
Vella, who started Instagramming in February 2011, says he’s become obsessed with photography.
He likes going on Instagram every morning, posting a photo and then browsing his feed to see images of New York, Italy and elsewhere.
He agrees with Bath that Instagram offers more `real’ photos than, say, those published in tourism brochures.
“You’re getting a first-hand experience of what it’s like to either live there or be on holidays there,” Vella says.
“I think that’s really important because people are being honest.”
His tips for other Instagrammers wanting to attract more followers is to be active in the community and communicate with others. As for taking photos, it comes down to experience and thinking about what you want to capture, he says.
“The reason why I think my photography, and photography in general, is so successful is because you can convey a feeling to (followers), and that makes them feel `that’s amazing, I’d love to be there’.”
INSTAGRAM ACCOUNTS EMBRACING TRAVEL
TUULAVINTAGE – 869,000
GARYPEPPERGIRL – 807,000
AUSTRALIA – 584,000
LAURENEPBATH – 342,000
PAULYVELLA – 293,000
WORLDWANDERLUST – 49,564
WILLIAM_PATINO – 43,058
LOVETHYWALRUS – 32,545
JEWELSZEE_ – 36,259
HAMILTONISLAND – 32,775
QUEENSLAND – 21,025
TASMANIA – 19,886
RIKERAMA – 15,446
ELISAPARKRANGER – 11,481
*These figures were correct at the time of publication