Owen Martin
Owen Martin

When you go on vacation, how do you get advice on where to go, stay and what to do? Do you visit a travel agent or look at ads in magazines or on television? It appears (surprise, surprise!) that the way we get that information is changing.

I’m a picture taker. I hesitate to say photographer, but I’ve been taking photos since I was 7. I’m not sure if I travel to take photos, or take photos because I’m a traveler. Instead of joining a photography club, I’m on a number of online forums that seem to have taken their place, and I’m amazed at the number of posts that start off “I’m going on vacation, can anyone tell me where to go and what to see?” They’re not just asking about photographic opportunities, but looking for wider suggestions, and from people who are neither friends nor, apparently, experts.

People have stopped trusting adverts and prefer to rely on the opinions of their peers and fellow travelers, whom they’ve never met, more than the professionals. Hence the rise of TripAdvisor and review sites. The importance of Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest shouldn’t be underestimated when it comes to influencing tourism.

To Destination Marketing Organizations (DMOs), Convention and Visitors Bureaus (CVBs), accommodation providers, attractions and restaurants, the rise of social media has been what’s called a disruptor — something that has changed traditional ways of working.

Travelers like you and me can influence what others buy to an enormous extent. How often do you check TripAdvisor to find a good restaurant, or indeed look at Instagram and think, “I’d like to go there”? Large numbers of people do, and it’s having an effect on not only how travel is advertised, but how we book. By sharing your reviews and adding a hashtag to the photos you post, you’ve become a tourism promoter.

When you add #lovefl or #emeraldcoasting (or dozens of others) to your Instagram photos, there’s a great likelihood that your image will be viewed by others thinking of visiting the same place. In the United States, 68 percent of all adults use Facebook and 28 percent of all adults use Instagram. The demographics show that these are probably travelers, too.

A survey by PhoCusWright (a tourism research firm) showed that hotel guests read 6-12 reviews before booking a hotel.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that we’re not going to travel agents (in fact, travel agents are seeing a surge in business from Millennials and people who lack time to do their own searching) or other professionals, but there’s a new expert in town — you. The industry knows this and is taking notice of your opinions. They are reacting to your opinions and changing products and services accordingly.

So, keep adding reviews to TripAdvisor and Yelp. Add photos to Instagram, with a hashtag, of course. Create a Pinterest board for “My Vacation” and post your travels for Facebook friends with plenty of photos.

Oh, and if you’re on Instagram, please have a look at my “snaps” at marti9656 or check out OwenOrganization.com/gallery.

Martin Owen is an independent consultant to the tourism industry and owner of Owen Organization in Shalimar. Readers can email questions to martin@owenorganization.com.