‘Insta’ travellers: Is your travel destination ‘Insta-worthy’?

Around five years ago, Isa Khan used to successfully run a coaching institute. The Delhi-based economics teacher would travel every now and then and shoot videos of his destinations and put them up on his Instagram page. Life was good until 2020, when the pandemic struck, and his coaching institute shut down. He decided not to turn back and instead invest time in his passion—travelling and videography. Till then, he had garnered about 60,000 followers on the social media platform through his videos. During the initial months of the pandemic, he started creating videos from his previous travels and they went viral as people craved travel during the lockdown and binge-watched content around travel.

Two years later, as the pandemic is subsiding with sudden bouts of the virus every now and then, Khan has nearly half a million followers on Instagram. His page is full of ‘Reels’ on travel to beautiful locations, with soothing music in the backdrop—they almost have a calming effect on the audience and make them crave travel.

In one of his popular Reels shot on the snow-covered roads of Ladakh, Khan can be seen stepping out of his SUV and enjoying the snowfall as the popular song Pasoori plays in the backdrop. It is not like travel content was not in demand earlier, explains Khan, but “the reach has increased tremendously”. “Earlier such videos would go viral only a few times in a month. Now, it goes viral almost every time you put them up. Seeing the response and the demand, more and more users are creating travel content on Instagram and that is also another reason why it is gaining popularity,” he adds.

Pune-based pedadontist Dr Arushi Goyal, too, lives a double life—the other being the adventurous one as a traveller and explorer with her software engineer husband Prakhar Garg. They take time out to visit a new location every two months ever since they moved back to India from the US in 2019. Shortly after a year, the pandemic cancelled all her travel plans. So, she put up videos from her travels in the US to satisfy her travel urges. Gradually, they started visiting offbeat locations in Kashmir, Rajasthan, southern India, Madhya Pradesh, Thailand and Himachal Pradesh and created travel Reels for their Instagram page, ‘hungrycruisers’. They have nearly 1 lakh followers now and their videos go viral. They also make recommendation videos of places to visit. Goyal shares that they are planning their next trip to Vietnam, and she plans to go on solo trips as well and create Reels, as her husband’s work schedule remains busy.

Another popular Instagram traveller Anunay Sood has nearly 1 million followers, thanks to his travel videos. Mostly undertaking road trips, he also travels with his Instagram followers at times, which he selects himself. While he owns a marketing firm in Dubai, he is a full-time traveller. His first video went viral around one-and-a-half years ago, which was shot from a frozen river in Kashmir with nature in all its glory. He believes that the visual pleasure that people get sitting in their homes through travel content is the reason why they go viral.

There was a time when celebrities and Instagram influencers used to promote travel to certain places. But today, ordinary travel enthusiasts like Goyal and Khan are becoming the new-age travel ambassadors. Companies, too, are harnessing their popularity to promote travel and travel equipment. Khan, for instance, is a Canon India influencer. This is being called the latest trend in Instagram travel. There has also been a noted shift from revenge travel, which picked up immediately as the lockdowns ended, to impact travel, that is, travelling with a purpose.

According to the 2022 Global Travel Trends Report by MNC American Express, 72% respondents wanted to book domestic travel while 74% were willing to book their travel even if they had to cancel later, 81% wanted to travel to destinations where they could soak up local culture and 65% said they would go on their dream vacation than buy a new car. The report was curated with considerations of travellers in Australia, Canada, Mexico, Japan, India, the UK and the US.

The travel enthusiasm is also high, as the two years of the pandemic meant increased savings as offices worked from home and travel expenses were saved. A recent Booking.com research reveals that Indians are willing to spend on travel in 2022 as 72% of the country’s travellers have been saving money by avoiding trips since the start of the pandemic.

While inter-city travel increased significantly during May this year, Manish Rathi, co-founder and CEO of IntrCity SmartBus, says they have been receiving a lot of advance bookings for leisure destinations such as Goa, Shimla, Manali and Dehradun, as well as pilgrimage destinations like Tirupati, Katra, Haridwar and Rishikesh. All the buses running on these routes have a near-full capacity, according to him.

Trending destinations

Daniel D’Souza, president and country head—holidays, SOTC Travel, agrees that with the pandemic restricting people to their homes, most customers have rebuilt their bucket lists drawing inspiration from Reels, pictures and videos shared by their favourite influencers. “The importance of domestic tourism has exponentially increased over the past year and customers are indulging in unique experiences. The influence of social media has resulted in a shift to experiential holidays with a remarkable uptick in demand for domestic holidays by over 180%, surpassing our pre-pandemic numbers,” he says, adding that experiential holidays have become the need of the hour and customers are keen to experience trending destinations on their favourite pages.

Travel agencies share that at times, customers come to them with requests of packages for trending destinations that are also picturesque and where they can shoot pictures and videos. Rajeev Kale, president and country head, holidays, MICE, Visa, Thomas Cook (India), agrees that social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook and YouTube are proving to be exceptionally inspirational in driving travel demand.

“We have witnessed a surge in queries for both favourite locales as well as hidden gems which have been trending on social media—with customers looking forward to recreating those amazing videos and photos and live the experience. Across the country’s travel and hospitality segment, social media has been a boon in catalysing revival for leisure and ‘b-leisure’ travellers and the industry as a whole,” he says.

Kale adds that customers want to explore extraordinary ‘Insta-worthy’ stay options such as heritage homes, havelis and villas. “Travellers are continuously seeking hidden gems and interested in exploring outdoor adventures that are famous on social media with thrilling videos—such as biking trips, hiking, bungee jumping, paragliding, jungle safaris and extraordinary experiences like a picnic lunch in the middle of an apple orchard, swimming with the sharks, living in a glass igloo, staying in a tree house in the middle of a jungle, etc,” he adds.

From the two-year slump, Instagram travel trends are also giving the travel sector a good boost. According to data shared by World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), in India, the tourism sector is expected to grow 6.9% annually to $460 bn by 2028, even as the National Council of Applied Economic Research (NCAER) reports that Indian tourism won’t recover to the pre-pandemic levels until 2026.

Yet, social media has also helped in popularising unexplored places and stirring tourism in these locations, says a Yatra.com spokesperson. Destinations like Ladakh, Gujarat, Karnataka and Kashmir, among others, have picked up owing to travel boards, influencers and travel brands including online travel agencies (OTAs) that are promoting and sharing similar content. ‘Instagrammable’ spots, snapping pictures in iconic locations and social shareability have become important aspects of travel as well, adds the spokesperson.

The travel fever has also been high on Twitter ever since travel has resumed, with conversations around it being stirred and pictures and experiences shared on the platform.

According to Twitter, there was a 28% increase in travel recommendations on the microblogging and social networking platform in 2021 as compared to 2020. The trending topics included ‘Europe Travel’, ‘Urban Exploration’, ‘Business Travel’, ‘Hiking’, ‘National Parks’ and ‘Camping’, while 2021 travel sub-topics included tweets around travel type (26%), experience (20%), destinations (43%) and accommodations (11%).

In fact, the Instagram travel trend fever has been so high that a Dubai-based company was formed just for that. Named ‘All for the Gram’, the travel firm offers ‘Insta-worthy’ destination packages in Dubai and the UAE for people to curate good content, targeting the millennial and the Gen-Z consumer base.

On the international front, Aloke Bajpai, group CEO and co-founder of Indian AI-based online travel portal Ixigo, says the pent-up demand is also because of the last two years that went by in lockdowns. “There is a lot of pent-up demand, especially for international travel, and we have noticed travellers are increasingly turning towards Instagram now to create their narrative through unique travel pictures. Millennials are preferring to opt for experiential holidays to offbeat destinations like visiting vineyards in Tuscany. Travellers are opting for adventure activities that they can flaunt on social media like skydiving in Dubai and scuba diving in Maldives,” adds Bajpai.

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