Skift Take

We still haven't seen much proof about a real ROI with Instagram, but the odds are better when you have users with wide audiences outside of travel.

There are social media sleepovers, Twitter trips for tweeters, and conferences for travel bloggers, so perhaps it’s only natural that crafty marketing pros would come up with a way to lure the Instagram elite to their properties, too.

Introducing the InstaMeet, where travel marketers invite some of the world’s most followed Instagrammers on junkets to snap, filter, and post their way across a destination under a unified hashtag.

Hamilton Island, a dollop of sand and bush in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, was one of the first to use this method of evoking community on a grand scale when it launched the Ultimate InstaMeet in October 2012. The event paired Australian models and reality television stars with Instagram contest winners from the U.S., and generated nearly 650 photos, 850,000 “likes,” 17,500 comments and 4,280 shares on Instagram.

The trendy Queensland (a regular feature in our top travel brands on social media roundups) retreat followed up in May 2013 with Return2Paradise, a second InstaMeet that brought Aussie Olympians, fashion designers, comedians, actresses, chefs and photographers together with Instagram competition winners from the United Kingdom and China.

Return2Paradise generated more than 700 photos, 73 of which were featured on Instagram’s “popular” photos page, visible to each of the social sharing site’s 150 million active users. Hamilton Island says it experienced A$2 million in room revenue growth during the campaign period, in addition to a 9 percent increase in room bookings when compared with the same time period in 2012. Its Instagram account, meanwhile, grew from 269 followers before the first campaign to more than 18,000 after the second.

Other Australian destinations, including the Great Ocean Road, followed suit with their own InstaMeets as the concept spread internationally from Java, Indonesia, to Sacramento, California. Instagram now even has its own guidelines for organizing InstaMeets, and encourages small-scale gatherings around the globe through its Worldwide InstaMeets (the most recent occurred on May 17-18).

Though it’s destinations that have had some of the largest InstaMeets to date, they aren’t the only ones using shared images to market their brands. Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts re-appropriated the term for its Summer of Ice Cream Love campaign last July with live InstaMeets at 19 properties, while low-cost airline Bmibaby facilitated a series of InstaMeet exchanges across Europe to create destination guides for its website.

The world’s most lavish InstaMeet occurred two months ago in Dubai. High-profile luxury hotel Burj Al Arab and Beautiful Destinations, an Instagram account with more than two million followers, jointly sponsored the event, housing ten widely followed Instagram users in 1,830-square-foot (170-square-meter) Burj Al Arab suites replete with private butlers. Organizers sent the Insta-celebrities on helicopter tours over the city, took them to the beach, got them treatments at the spa, and charged them with documenting the experience using #WorldsUltimateInstameet.

What’s the Real Reach?

Maggie Rauch of travel market research company PhoCusWright believes InstaMeets like the ones in Hamilton Island and Dubai are essentially just updated versions of an older marketing model: the press trip. “You’re taking that idea and you’re making the output from it much more immediate and more experiential,” she notes. “You have a mix of travel journalists and celebrities who have nothing to do with travel, so it gives these brands the opportunity to work with a different mix of advocates than your old school press trip.”

Rauch says that brands know they can’t just push their own content out there; they need to get actual users talking with friends. Whether this type of social sharing translates into actual bookings, however, is a matter up for debate.

Social media is thought to be particularly important when it comes to the shopping stage, where consumers trust user-generated content more than brand-generated fluff. But Rauch says most travel brands are still struggling to understand its exact influence. “I would agree that the biggest networks are certainly influential,” she says, “but measuring that has been extremely difficult.”

A PhoCusWright survey of traveler technology, released last year, found that 87 percent of U.S. travelers are active on social media. Of those, fewer than 20 percent were on Instagram, and just 31 percent said they used social media as a tool to research travel deals.

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Tags: australia, instagram, queensland, social media

Photo credit: Image from the Hamilton Island "Instameet." Hamilton Island

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