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Instagram is Changing the Way We Travel (and Not Necessarily for the Better)

Are we Instagramming because we travel? Or are we traveling so we can Instagram?

Public Hotel New York Photo: Nicholas Koenig

Of the ten most Instagrammed hotels of 2017, seven were Las Vegas casinos—and the most popular shot for each was something you could capture without even checking in: Bellagio’s dancing fountains, the Venetian’s canals, and the Wynn’s sparkling lobby topiary were all among the highly coveted and ultra-hashtaggable images.

At Lake Como’s legendary Grand Hotel Tremezzo, the most coveted shot to capture on Instagram is of the property’s “water-on-water” pool, which floats in the middle of the lake, backed by views of the Grigne Mountains and the colorful houses of Bellagio. But most of these photos are taken from the terrace of the hotel’s bar—not from the pool itself.

“It’s been amazing for us to see this image [of our pool] become so iconic across the web,” says Grand Hotel Tremezzo’s owner, Valentina De Santis. “But how many of the photographers are actually jumping into this unique pool and feeling the sensation of being gently rocked by the waves of local boats? That is what should be on your Lake Como ‘must’ list.”

There’s no denying that social media is one of today’s greatest travel drivers, with Instagram being a primary source of inspiration. But while stunning visuals might get you to a destination, do they encourage you to actually do anything while you’re there?

“We’re just chasing likes,” says Davina Tan, a designer and Instagram influencer (@heydavina) with more than 120K followers. “Even people who aren’t doing this professionally are rushing from one place to another that they’ve seen online, just for bragging rights or to copy an Instagrammer they follow. They have a checklist of shots they want to get, and food they want to photograph, and it doesn’t matter if that food tastes great—it’s about the visuals.” Tan also notes there’s no doubt that hotels and restaurants themselves are now purposely crafting everything from their interiors to their cocktails with “viral visuals” in mind—making them complicit in what she calls an “Instagram Easter egg hunt.”

Mitch Whitten, executive vice president of marketing and strategy for Visit Fort Worth, agrees that Instagram has inherently changed the way travelers experience new things. “We are certainly in a golden age for tourism because these powerful platforms are helping travelers discover destinations with strong images and videos, and the need for few, if any, words,” he says. “Our bucket lists grow longer every time we log in.” But, Whitten notes, at this year’s South by Southwest festival, where Fort Worth hosted a number of industry panels, “we were are all concerned about travelers over-using social media, and not enjoying a trip phones-down. Travelers should seek to peel back another layer, and we in the industry would do well to encourage them to detox digitally at least a few minutes each day.”

Still, it seems luxury hotels in particular have something to gain by drawing the Instagram crowd. Properties, new and old, are increasingly relying on photo-worthy features to lure new business: At the rooftop pool of the SLS Beverly Hills, guests line up to take their photo with a half-submerged pig sculpture. Bermuda’s Hamilton Princess has become a top island attraction for its incessantly Instagrammed overwater hammocks. And the glowing escalator at Ian Schrager’s Public Hotel New York has been Instagrammed thousands of times since the hotel opened a little over a year ago.

While the industry searches for concrete solutions to inspire more travel engagement, Tan has a simple reminder: “When you’re rushing from one ‘must-get’ shot to another, it’s easy to forget you’re supposed to be having fun, so at least try to appreciate what you see in between. That’s when you might discover something no one else has.”

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