The Impact of Social Search on Travel

As summer heats up so does travel planning and that goes for multi-generational vacations to business class conferences. Long before the Internet, people planned trips through travel agents, word-of-mouth or articles in the good ole newspaper. These days though, travel is a completely different beast, but one thing still remains the same, word-of-mouth matters – it just might not be from the mouth of someone you know. In the age of the Internet, everyone has access to search and with search comes boundless access to socially shared, crowd-sourced information. So how are travelers using social search to determine their next destination? These days, trips are being planned, posted and thrown out to all via the social media stratosphere.


It should come as no surprise that people value visual aspects in travel planning (and life), which means platforms like Instagram and Pinterest are perfect tools for inspiration. In one study, it was found that 82 percent of respondents were influenced by Instagram in their travel planning, while another study showed that 89% of millennials plan travel activities based on content posted by their peers online. Of course, the millennial generation is known for trusting peers more so than brands or celebrity endorsements, but they aren’t the only ones going online to plan their trips. In fact, 54% of baby boomers and 51% of Generation X travelers look to online travel agencies for trip planning and are also more likely to be influenced by social promotions. Overall, when it comes to planning a trip, every generation is influenced in some way by social media.

To Post or Not to Post

It’s one thing to plan a trip using online tools, but what about posting about the trip while on the trip – whoa, that’s meta. While still on vacation, 72% of people, and 97% of those who are millennials share their travel photos. Additionally, 70% of travelers update their Facebook status, 55% like social pages specific to their destination and more than 40% post some kind of dining, hotel or activity review while still getting their vacation on. In other words, “pics or it didn’t happen.” For those that post, the majority is doing so to share their life with people close to them or with their “friends” and a little over 50% are trying to provide useful information about the destination.


So much to share, so little time. When it comes to traveling and posting, the lines are becoming blurred between experiencing the destination and sharing it. Where millennials were found to post often as a means of bragging, boomers and Gen X’ers were doing so more to keep-in-touch and communicate. With all this sharing, emotions are definitely evoked. One survey found that when friends post trips, millennials are “very motivated to travel,” boomers feel “very connected” and everyone feels “very happy” for their friends. Though there might be some FOMO and oversharing going on, our friends like what they are seeing, which means it’s safe to say share on.


Phew, being a destination is tough, you have to always be camera ready! With all the photo-ops it’s not a bad thing to get in on the action. Give some of these ideas a try:

  • Encourage visitors to use a # when they share their photo. And by encourage we mean, put that # everywhere and literally say, “use # when sharing on social” in marketing materials. No one is going to get it through osmosis.
  • Gamification. Yes, it’s a word and people love a good game. Create engagement through photo contests or review requests. No budget for a big shiny prize? No worries. Sometimes all people want is a shout-out or bragging rights.
  • Be honest. It’s very easy to fall into the social media trap and think everything is pretty and filtered in real life, but that’s not the case. Use your social platforms to tell people about the real experience. We promise they’ll appreciate knowing that the awesome photo on the top of the mountain requires a half-day hike and an hour of wait time.

No matter what side of the destination you fall on — a traveler, a resident, business owner or city professional — social media isn’t going anywhere and it will continue to impact how we plan and experience travel.