2016 was generally a good year for the travel and tourism industry. And while socio-political events did present challenges, ABTA’s ‘Travel Trends 2017’ report has shown that the holiday market was up on 2015. Similarly in social media, big changes coming thick and fast have presented challenges, but we’re certainly in a better place than we were this time 12 months ago.

And as we’re always looking to the future at Digital Visitor, we’ve put together our thoughts on the 5 biggest trends in social media that we think will affect the travel and tourism industry in 2017. The list is by no means exhaustive, but we hope it’ll help shape your marketing tactics and strategies for the year ahead, whether you’re an airline, hotel, tour operator or destination.

Trend 1; Experientialism

Back in September, we declared 2016 ‘the year of experientialism’. And while we stand by that assertion, in truth it’s a trend that will continue into 2017 and, likely, beyond. Travel brands be aware. Whether you’re an airline, tour operator or DMO, experientialism is going to impact you and your business.

Of course, experientialism isn’t a trend that will only impact social media marketing. But given the rise of the experience over material goods, social media represents a very real opportunity for travel brands to showcase their product.

You can read more about our thoughts on experientialism and promoting the ‘experience’ through social media here… But it goes without saying that social media should form part of the marketing strategy for any and every travel brand in 2017.

Trend 2; Getting Serious About Social Media

One important trend that we’ve been building towards in social media is its maturation as a marketing platform. Everyone knows about it and uses it in a personal and, usually, professional capacity, but only this year will all brands start to think about big budget social media campaigns.

Until now, social media has often been thought of as a supporting act for other marketing tactics and strategies, bundled in with other activities in proposal documents. But this will change as the monetary and brand value of social to specific industries becomes increasingly apparent.

Nowhere will this be more evident than in the travel and tourism industry, a result of the uniquely close relationship between travel and social media (think imagery and experience sharing). After all, research has shown that 52% of travellers change their plans based on social media, while 83% of holidaymakers using the internet for inspiration turn to social channels.

Trend 3; Virtual Reality

VR is a tricky beast. It’s a technology that’s been on everyone’s lips for years now. Each year it’s predicted to reach the mass market. Each year it fails. And we don’t see it happening either, at least not in the near future.

So, why do we consider it a trend? Well, VR may not have hit the big time, but it does present a compelling case for use by big brands in controlled experiential marketing settings. And it’s for this reason that travel and VR match perfectly. That social media channels – Facebook, in particular – support VR makes the case for its use by airlines, tour operators and DMOs (etc…) all the more compelling.

So compelling is VR as an experiential marketing tool, that I scarcely need to explain the concept of how it works in travel to you. But for good measure, check out how brands like Lufthansa, Quantas and Marriott have been using the technology to great success.

Trend 4; Micro-Influencers

Influencer marketing, like social media generally, is going through an important period of maturation. Something we’ve highlighted as one of the major social media trends of 2017, the move away from “celebrity” influencers is something travel brands should be keenly aware of.

Most significantly, the industry is beginning to wake up to the fact that “celebrity” influencers rarely deliver the engagement their huge fees imply. In fact, it’s much more cost-effective to work with micro-influencer who are truly influential within their specific communities. Suddenly, all brands and businesses can afford to and justify working with influencers.

Small budgets these days can result in effective campaigns across a few influential travel blogs, while big budgets can generate almost universal coverage and visibility everywhere. Remember, travel is huge across digital marketing – from blogs to social media – and influencers in 2017 should be overlooked only at your marketing peril.

You can read more on influencer marketing in 2017 in our interview with PR manager, Tara O’Connor here…

Trend 5; Data and Automation

Every year more data is collected about individuals, shopping habits and preferences. This process will again accelerate in 2017. Spearheaded by channels like Facebook and Whatsapp we are already seeing the result of this data collection (think Facebook Bots). Chatbots, personalisation, automation, whatever you want to call it, it’s coming. And soon.

Likely the most visible of these developments will be the launch of businesses on Whatsapp. By the end of 2017, we’ll likely all be receiving personalised communications, updates and reminders through the Facebook owned service. And travel brands, in particular, should educate themselves on this around the personalisation of marketing, ticket/seat sales and customer service.

Final Thoughts

The above isn’t an exhaustive list of all the trends that will affect travel brands in 2017. But we hope it gives you an insight into where your brand could and should be focusing its marketing efforts. And, remember, do let us know if you have any thoughts on any of the above.