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Should publishers of traditional travel guidebooks be concerned? Possibly, if this trend continues to evolve. Especially so, if Instagram becomes a more visually appealing replacement for sites like Yelp or TripAdvisor.

At a time when buzz words like “local” and “authentic” are used to describe nearly every travel experience these days, marketers are turning increasingly to social media, and to residents themselves, to come up with the very content that enables other travelers to have those very kinds of experiences.

Instagram, in particular, is increasingly becoming the channel of choice among hotels, not only for social media marketing opportunities, but as a resource for providing curated travel content for their guests, straight from the locals who live there, as well as from aspiring guests.

“Specific to travel, if you look at the travel booking process, especially the discovery and inspiration phase, traditionally that was coming from TV and print,” said Tom Jauncey, head of brand partnerships for Beautiful Destinations, a creative tech agency that helps travel brands create social media content for Instagram and Snapchat. “Now, we’re in this world of social media where consumer attention is changing. They’re not necessarily reading from magazines but looking to their phones and Instagram to find out the types of places they want to go and where they can stay.”

Jauncey added that “the most progressive hotel brands have a social-first approach, and are using that social first content across other distribution channels for marketing.” Those brands, he said, are looking for unique visual perspectives, and employing the use of aerial form drone video and photography, time lapses, and much more, to produce stunning visual content.

The latest hotels to use Instagram as a way to provide content for their guests are Starwood’s The Luxury Collection of properties, and The Embassy Row Hotel, A Destination Hotel, in Washington, D.C. Both are using Instagram in unique ways to not only engage with their guests but create content that goes beyond simple reposts or online Instagram feeds.

Somewhat similar to what Airbnb is now doing with its new City Guidebooks feature, which assembles recommended travel tips on activities from different hosts in a variety of cities, both of these brands are using Instagram communities to come up with useful guidebook, or tour-like content for their guests. Google is also reportedly working on a similar feature for its new travel assistant app that would consolidate reviews and tips from Local Guides users to create guidebook-like content for app users.

The Embassy Row Hotel’s IGDC Walking Tours

In Washington, D.C., The Embassy Row Hotel enlisted the help of a local photographers’ community, called IGDC, to help them create four different Instagram walking tours for guests this summer.

Here’s how it works: Earlier this year, IGDC ran a contest on its Instagram account for local photographers to submit their best images for certain city landmarks in and around Dupont Circle, where the hotel is located. After poring through all of the entries, IGDC and the hotel handpicked 16 winning photos and their photographers. Those photos were used to put together informational cards with maps, highlighting the most Instagrammable spots for guests to take photos and visit, and they include The Phillips Collection, the Woodrow Wilson House, the Brass Band at the metro, and the Spanish Steps, among others.

Beginning on May 6 and running through August, the hotel will have a new card each month that features four photos and four different spots for guests to explore. The debut of the first walking tour will coincide with First Friday Dupont, a neighborhood art walk.

Coincidentally, IGDC, which was established in October 2011, uses Instagram to feature photos from local photographers from throughout the D.C. area and it got its start from local photo walks and events among local shutterbugs.

“We were just formed with our photo walks and events that revolve around photography,” said IGDC Founder Holly Garner. “We create together, and our role in the city and how we document our time in the city has gotten the attention of companies and museums around town who want to tap into the local perspective.” Those other local businesses and organizations include the National Gallery, West Elm, and Drink Juicery, Garner said.

While the Destination Hotels property has invited IGDC to the hotel for events in the past, the walking tours project allowed both to work together much more closely than ever before.

“Out hotel is very active on social media, and we’ve hosted [IGDC] for dinners and events before, and we thought this would be a perfect synergy between the two,” said Sarah Vining, director of marketing for The Embassy Row Hotel. “What better than to feature these photos and tips on D.C. from the real experts on Instagram? I know when people travel, they are looking on Instagram for tips and inspiration already. We just went one step further to develop something we could give directly to our guests as soon as they arrive.”

In Garner’s opinion, asking locals to participate in delivering travel advice and tips to guests makes perfect sense.

“I think it’s a pretty smart strategy, in my opinion,” said Garner. “We are the boots on the ground, so to speak. We know this city really well. When people are visiting D.C and don’t really know it beyond tourist books, by looking at local photographers and Instagram, they get a feel for this city beyond the same old places those books tell you to go to. It can be so much more refreshing and interesting. You’re taking advice from locals, and not from people who are paid to tell you where to go or what to do.”

The Luxury Collection’s Global Explorers Campaign

Working with Beautiful Destinations, The Luxury Collection recently created an Instagram campaign inviting Instagram photographers to apply to become a “global explorer” by sharing one of their most inspirational travel moments on the social media channel and using the hashtag #theluxurycollection.

After receiving a certain number of entries, Beautiful Destinations and The Luxury Collection will pick, on a rolling basis, up to two to four photographers to send to one of its properties around the world. There, they will be asked to film video and capture photos of the destination and the hotel. That content will then be accumulated into Digital Destination Guides that guests can easily access; in fact, the guides will be the first thing they see when they sign on to use one of the hotel’s Wi-Fi networks.

On May 1, for example, The Luxury Collection announced it will be sending four photographers to Venice to capture social-first content of The Gritti Palace and Hotel Danieli, as well as the surrounding area.

Jauncey said The Luxury Collection, which had been a client of Beautiful Destinations since November 2015, came to his team with the idea of doing destination guides but wasn’t sure yet what kind of editorial format to use. “We said, ‘What if it’s all visuals?’ We pitched them the idea to use drones and video and amazing photography to sell the destinations and the experiences around them,” Jauncey said.

This campaign also marks the first time Beautiful Destinations has asked its Instagram community to participate in a campaign. “We thought it would be really interesting to plug into that community and inspire our content creators to create content for our clients and have all these great personalized stories,” said Jauncey.

Hoyt H. Harper II, global brand leader for The Luxury Collection said that, in addition to curating content developed by the Instagram community, the guides will also feature content from experts in the field, including local hotel concierges.

He also said, “We know our guests are socially active, and we know that 75 percent of our target consumers visit travel websites for fun at least once a month for fun or for inspiration. We want to provide them with that information and inspiration though the channels that they visit.”

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Tags: instagram, starwood

Photo credit: One of the winning photos from IGDC's Instagram contest with The Embassy Row Hotel. It will be featured in one of four suggested Instagram walking tours from the Washington, D.C. hotel. @freddyindc / Instagram

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