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Within the travel trade, most would agree that this past decade has been characterized by social media-fueled tourism, and that trend is not slowing as we turn the corner into 2020.
As Millennials come into their prime spending years, it's become clear that they prioritize the purchase of memorable, life-affirming experiences over the acquisition of material possessions, and indications are that the younger Gen-Z will follow suit.
While highly authentic and "live like a local" encounters are always cited as being the most in-demand among today's travelers, data gathered as part of InterContinental ICons Research Study global survey disclosed a an interesting inconsistency: the truth is that the "Live Like a Local" approach is more of an aspiration than a reality for most travelers.
77 percent of respondents in its study said they feel the need to see (and take a selfie at) their destination's most popular tourist sites, despite 75 percent expressing the desire to experience the area's more authentic venues and venture into lesser-known parts.
The same study conducted a social media content analysis to uncover the most Instagrammed sites in popular cities around the globe.
While Facebook, Twitter, SnapChat, YouTube, etc., all have their place, Instagram numbers serve as a good barometer for social media engagement, since many Millennials and Gen-Z consumers use the app in the same way that people once relived and recorded their personal memories by compiling slideshows, or tangible photo albums, to share with friends and family. And, with social media at the forefront of everyone's minds, the potential shareability of one's travel moments is obviously a prime consideration.
The most poignant example of this trend is Paris' iconic Eiffel Tower, which was the ICon Research Study revealed to be the most overexposed icon in the world, representing 53 percent of Instagram posts coming out of Paris and fully ten percent of all relevant posts worldwide. In London, Buckingham Palace is the most-tagged tourist site; in New York, Central Park; in Sydney, the Sydney Opera House; in Mexico City, the Teotihuacan Pyramids.
So, why are today's tourists still focusing on visiting the same old "must-see" sites? Their behavior can largely be attributed to their extreme attachment to social media.
The desire for peers' online acknowledgment and validation, as well as the portrayal of an idealized image of themselves living exhilarating and carefree lifestyle, continues to be a big driver. And, what better way to draw attention to your travels than posting a pic of yourself in front of an instantly recognizable, iconic international attraction?
Survey respondents planning to travel at least once in 2020 also reported that they feel social media interactions add too, rather than detract from, their trips.
According to the ICons Research Study, 39 percent of global luxury travelers plan to invest more energy into social media when traveling during the coming year, with 55 percent saying that they believe capturing content while traveling enhances their ability to enjoy a meaningful experience.
Laurie Baratti is a San Diego-based journalist whose work has previously appeared in publications like TravelAge West, SPACE,...
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