How Hospitality Is Using Instagram to Spin from Generation Show-Off

A woman taking a picture of an ice cream cone
How Hospitality Is Using Instagram to Spin from Generation Show-Off

As Instagram pips a billion users travel and is tipped to be the fastest growing social network in 2018, the industry cannot ignore the importance of how things look

Hotel G in Singapore has put Instagram at the forefront of its marketing machine. Its quirky vintage aesthetic and cool décor, like the crafted colourful Native American dream-catcher which fast became the most Instagrammed objet in the hotel, is what makes this hotel, well, so ‘Instaworthy’. Not to mention that it has placed an iPhone X in every room for guests to snap the perfect selfie!

In this BBC clip, Hotel G’s Natasha Shah admits to making every decision with Instagram in mind, and it’s not difficult to see why. In Asia, 55% of millennials are said to book hotels based on social media, and Instagram is a favoured platform. In June 2018 the platform announced that it had reached a billion active users, with 80% of those following at least one business brand. That is up from 800 million in September 2017, when 500 million people were said to be active daily. In 2014, Instagram had just 200 million users.

Unsurprisingly, Singapore’s Hotel G, a lifestyle brand of GCP hospitality, is not the only hotel harnessing Instapower to boost its tap millennial travellers and boost its brand kudos. According to an article in online e-zine Dezeen, architects are increasingly being asked to integrate Instagram into every aspect of hotel design and to consider the function of the spaces when doing so. The e-zine quotes the Instagram Style Guide, from Australian studio Vale Architects, which indicates that ‘the image-sharing platform now plays a key role in the success of hospitality projects’. It argues that hotel design should encourage travellers to snap and share their surroundings wherever possible.

Hotel designs should encourage travellers to snap and share their surroundings wherever possible

The implication is that it’s time to forget about building a Mexican wall, now is the time build an Instagram wall instead! ‘Instagram moments’ have become an essential in the design of hotel bedrooms and communal areas. Customers expect a unique experience that they can easily photograph, and then share – think eclectic carpets, funky wallpaper, flash mirrors.

Hotels like Spain’s Gran Hotel Miramar in Malaga and MacDonald Forest Hills Hotel & Spa in Scotland have bought into this. In print marketing the former not only recommends that guests visit the Alcabazar fortress, but also that they ‘Instagram the orange starfish above the bed in the Deluxe Sea room’. Meanwhile, guests visiting Scotland can canoe on the loch or Instagram ‘tiny goats nibbling on flowerbeds’!

And it’s not just hotels. Instagram is also transforming the way restaurants present food. According to survey by Italian chain Zizzi in 2017, 18-35-year-olds spend five whole days a year browsing food images on Instagram, and 30% would avoid restaurants with a poor presence on the platform.

Ups and downs

Sceptics might laugh but savvy marketers today understand that to stand out today hotels and restaurants must truly resonate with their audience. And social platforms, if used wisely and underpinned by data and analytics, can play an important role. Tess Mattisson, European marketing director of Choice Hotels, who will be speaking in Amsterdam, is big fan of social media as an alternative to expensive TV marketing. However, when it comes down to it, she argues that today, “using data to measure the outcomes of your activities. Marketing has become a true numbers game.

If we are talking numbers, Instagram is clearly on the up. In the view of Vale Architects, this will be the year that Instagram will overtake other social media. Reported ad revenues tell the story well. In fact, Statista estimates that Instagram’s mobile internet ad revenue will reach $6.84 billion this year. In the US, e-Marketer says the platform will generate $5.48 billion, a rise of 70% on last year. And although Facebook has kept Instagram revenues under wraps, eMarketer indicates that it already makes up 28.2% of its mobile ad revenue.

With the ease of Instagram it is possible for customers to book, barter or buy in less than 10 clicks. However, with the ups come the downs. One concern is that due to a change in Instagram’s algorithms, 70% of posts aren’t seen.

Another challenge is that hotels can be bombarded by so-called social influencers simply after a free night. The Independent reports that “luxury hotels in the Maldives are receiving half a dozen requests from self-described Instagram ‘stars’ with meagre followings requesting free rooms.

The biggest users of Instagram are aged group 18 to 29 years old, and account for 59% of the total user base

Also, not everybody is using Instagram, so it’s important to know your audience. Pew Research Center says the biggest users of Instagram are aged group 18 to 29 years old, and account for 59% of the total user base. This generation, argues travel industry veteran Mike Croucher, who has designed systems for Scandinavian Airlines and British Airways, and is now chief architect at Travelport, doesn’t want to be siloed.

“People are spending a lot more in-destination today than they used to. They are blending business with leisure and they want to post photographs of themselves doing exciting, cultural things on platforms like Instagram. They don’t have the money to buy a house or car or assets, but they are spending on the experience,” he says.

Spending they are, according to recent research from MoneySuperMarket which reveals that millennials are borrowing millions more than other age groups to pay for their holidays, with 18-34 year olds taking out over £130 million in holiday loans since 2016. Holiday loan borrowing by all other age groups combined totals around £15 million less for the same period (£119.2 million).

Hashtag, how can I forget you?

Mattisson certainly doesn’t want to own the customer but she does understand that money is well spent on platforms like Facebook and Instagram in the dreaming and planning stage. Once customers are engaged, and on the site, that’s when ad retargeting can begin, she says.

As with everything, success on Instagram doesn’t come easily; brands need the ability to adapt as the platform itself develops and understand every feature, as well as use customer data to deliver a more personalised experience.

Brands need the ability to adapt as the platform itself develops and understand every feature, as well as use customer data to deliver a more personalised experience

Using hashtags, for example, helps. Seven out of 10 hashtags used are branded, and posts with at least one hashtag can see engagement increase by around 12.6%. Instagram’s algorithm favours posts with high engagement, so posts with likes and comments are more likely to be seen.

Needless to say, posts featuring hit movies or TV shows can boost engagement for destinations. Research released this week from TUI reveals that this summer Greece, Croatia and Cyprus were the most popular destination hashtags for millennials. Made in Chelsea and Mama Mia – both made in #Croatia – helped the Eastern European country receive 759,000 Instagram mentions – an increase by over 270% since the first quarter of this year. But it was still Greece to land the top spot for most mentions on Instagram securing over 1.4 million hashtags alone between May and July 2018.

Join us in Amsterdam (Nov 28-29) to hear more from Tess Mattisson, European Marketing Director, Choice Hotels, and other senior travel executives and innovators from across the travel industry