Instagram for Travel Brands

by | Apr 6, 2017

31 min read

This article should be considered a jumping off point for travel brands wanting to start or up their Instagram game. We will cover a lot of ground in the post and go over:

Tl;dr? Check out our slides below instead or watch the webinar.


Instagram for Travel Brands

in marketing we trustShould you be on Instagram?


Focus on your target audience

The main thing you need to look at is who your audience is. Instagram has a pretty wide target audience but there are certain groups that don’t use it too much. If you’re a tour company that typically targets grey nomads, then maybe Instagram isn’t where you should be spending your time and money. It does however, really target that holy grail of most travel and tour companies which is the 25-55 year olds and for them, Instagram is quite significant.
instagram for tour operators and travel brands age distribution
Source: Business Insider Australia
So if you’re targeting grey nomads, perhaps you want to focus more of your energy into Facebook and if you’re targeting a really young audience then you might want to focus more on Snapchat. Snapchat is really taking a big chunk of the younger market, especially in the U.S. But if your business is focusing on the 25-55 year old bracket, and it probably is, especially if you’re targeting more of a female audience, then Instagram is definitely a platform you want to spend time on.

Instagram has a large audience

Instagram is definitely large enough to find your fan base. As of this time last year, Instagram had 400 million monthly active users so it’s definitely up there in terms of activity. In terms of the audience, to give you a quick breakdown, according to We Are Social that equals:

  • 104 million 25-34 year olds
  • 92 million 18-24 year olds
  • 76 million 35-44 year olds

instagram for travel brands
This should give you plenty of users to reach, especially if you’re targeting 25-34 year olds. Travel is also an extremely popular topic on Instagram, likely just after food photography and selfies.

It’s all about engagement

So should you be using Instagram? Typically when we look at social media we look at the target audience, size and reach but of course also the engagement rates. What makes Instagram so popular is it’s potential to have amazing engagement with your followers. According to Forrester Research users engage 10x more on Instagram than on Facebook and any other social media network. The numbers are through the roof when it comes to engagement compared to other platforms. While that engagement is dropping and has already dropped substantially, it’s still way above every other platform in terms of engagement.
instagram engagement for travel brands

This time last year, Instagram started updating their algorithm the same way Facebook updated theirs a couple of years back to push more interaction from family and friends over brand pages. As a result of this, according to Quintly, engagement dropped 33% that year and we wouldn’t be surprised if it was much, much greater than that now. This is really something big to take into consideration when deciding whether you should be using Instagram, however this is happening across the board. Just like on Facebook, if you want to have good interaction on Instagram then your posts really need to be outstanding and you may need to supplement that with some paid content as well, which we’ll cover later.
instagram engagement drop
We’ll try not to drown you in numbers too much, but basically here’s a look at what happened before the 2016 algorithms came into play. So in January, February and March we were sitting at around 70 to 60 engagement per 1000 followers and you can see that number dropping and dropping.
instagram engagement for travel brands
Source: TrackMaven
Now if we take a look over those last few months, it really is a sharp drop. So it all seems pretty and doom and gloom but on the up side, your average number of interactions per post, still far outweigh that of other social media networks. People are still a lot more engaged on Instagram than they are on Facebook and LinkedIn. The problem is if you’re taking a look over your performance now and look back at your historical performance, you may be thinking “What am I doing wrong? What’s happening?” Basically, the Instagram game has changed and if you’ve been on Instagram for a long time now, you’ll have already seen this happening and know that the goal post has moved, so you’ll need to change your goals with it.

in marketing we trustSuccess stories


instagram for travel brands - tourism australia

Tourism Australia

Tourism Australia is by far the most popular tourism brand on Instagram and they’re the top national destination page in the world.

  • 6 million followers
  • 181 following
  • >6,500 posts
  • 56,000 average likes per post
  • 235 average comments per post

Obviously, these are some serious figures. If you haven’t already looked them up, we highly recommend you become one of the 2.6 million followers they have over there and pay close attention to what they do.

instagram for travel brands - intrepid travel

Intrepid Travel

Another strong travel brand on Instagram is Intrepid Travel.

  • 936 following
  • >1,100 posts
  • 1,700 average likes per post

There is some great engagement happening on this account as well. Obviously Intrepid Travel is the kind of brand that has a strong community behind it given their angle of local, sustainable, small group travel. They’re a brand that’s really worth looking into on Instagram as well.

instagram for travel brands - trek america

Trek America

Trek America is a small group tour operator for the US, Canada, Alaska and Central America.

  • >1,000 following
  • >900 posts
  • 169 average likes per post

These guys are really focusing on their unique selling point here. The uniqueness of their destinations coupled with small group travel creates something special on Instagram.

instagram for travel brands - livitaly tours

LivItaly Tours

A much smaller group this time. LivItaly Tours are a high quality touring service offering out of the ordinary tours in Italy.

  • >650 following
  • >330 posts
  • 277 average likes per post

Again, this is fantastic engagement. We’ll cover how they and the other Instagram accounts listed achieve this in the next few paragraphs.

instagram for travel brands - dkk trip

DKK Trip

A little closer to home now. DKK trip are an Indonesian private tour operator.

  • 145 following
  • >700 posts
  • 154 average likes per post

You can see they really showcase their destination in their images and while they have a smaller following, they still manage to get a great engagement rate.

instagram for travel brands - ambotis


Last one, going back to a larger tour organisation now but these guys do Instagram a little differently. They’re photos aren’t necessarily the most amazing travel shots on Instagram but they’re a lot more authentic.

  • 47 following
  • >850 posts
  • 93 average likes per post

It’s interesting to compare these guys to a brand like Tourism Australia and other big players that have a really strong Instagram game. Ambotis doesn’t look like they’re trying really hard and that makes them seem more original and authentic.

in marketing we trustDissecting success – building organic visibility

Now that you’ve got some examples, which we do recommend following and looking up, we’ll share a few tips that should work really well for making your travel brand a success on Instagram.

instagram for travel brands - hashtag to share

Hashtag to share

Hashtags are one of the main navigational aspects of Instagram. They help people to discover new content so they’re an absolute must. Many of the brands we mentioned above also use a brand hashtag. This is used by fans and followers and then the brand is able to repost the user photos on their own feed. If you’re a tour guide, ask your group to use a specific hashtag that belongs to your brand and then use that to share their experiences with your followers on your own Instagram feed. This is a win, win because it shows the users your listening but it’s also great user generated content which is going to be a huge time saver for your brand. We cannot suggest this method enough.
Tourism Australia uses this tactic and they’ve seen the largest growth in subscirbers and visibility by their fans that want to gain visibility and exposure for themselves. There are a lot of professional photographers in Australia that have seen their careers take off and their bookings fill up as a result of one of their photos being shared by Tourism Australia.
As mentioned this will save you a lot of time and energy on Instagram to get your users to do some of the hard work for you. The majority of content shared on Tourism Australia’s Instagram feed is created by their fans. Instagram is one of the more time consuming social media networks due to taking and editing those perfect shots, so use user generated content as much as you can. This should also help make you appear more authentic and less advertorial which is something we don’t want on Instagram.

Hashtags for engagement

Aside from creating your own branded hashtag for users to share content about your tours and travel experience with you, you should also be using other hashtags in order for more Instagram users to discover you. The general rule has always been that you should use around 3-5 hashtags but the reality is, when we actually look at the numbers you can share more than that.
instagram for travel brands - hashtags
According to Quicksprout, interactions per 1000 followers equals:

  • 0 hashtags = 18%
  • 5 hashtags = 43%
  • 11 hashtags = 79.5%

So the more hashtags, usually the more interaction you’ll receive. Obviously, don’t fill up your description and comments with all the hashtags you can think of though. They need to be highly relevant but try adding a couple more hashtags than you normally would and see what results you get.

Location and geo tags for engagement

As a travel brand, you’re obviously location based so this is a tip quite specific to you. Location tags are great because users can see where you’re located and you may even pop up in the search results when looking for or within that location. According to Simply Measured, Instagram posts with location tags get 79% higher engagement than those without, so obviously this is really something you’ll want to make good use of.
instagram for travel brands - avg engagement per post location tags

Post Schedule

When we look at what other brands are doing, take for example, Tourism Australia, they post 3x a day. Obviously that’s huge. They have a team of people behind them and because their fans are sharing with them constantly, using their hashtag to share as mentioned above, they have an incredible bank of beautiful pictures to share all the time. This is not the norm.
There’s no loss of engagement for accounts that share more than once a day but again, you don’t want to just share anything and everything. Only share what’s beautiful and interesting and of course relevant. Stick to a schedule that works for you. We think every brand is different when it comes to their Instagram schedule so do what works for you and what you can actively commit to.
On the other side of your schedule is when you should post. A lot of people say a lot of different things about this. Adobe for example, says to do it when people wake up. A recent survey showed that 2/3 Australian’s look at their phone in the morning before talking to their partner. Sad but true. Most of us look at our phones as soon as we wake up and then again right before going to sleep at night. Adobe’s idea is to capture them at this point, right when they wake up in the morning.
Obviously you’ll need to consider you market. If you’re targeting internationally, as most travel brands would be, then this method gets a little tricky. You should find a time when the majority of your users will be awake and start with that.
instagram for travel brands - timing is everything
SumAll on the other hand, suggests you should post between 5 and 6pm as people get off work or start to get more demotivated at work and think about where they want to travel to next. It really is very dependent on your brand and your target audience.
We recommend writing down the time of posting on a piece of paper or better yet an excel spreadsheet and see what kind of engagement you get. Compare to other times as you post and draw out a pattern to figure out when the best time is for you to post on Instagram.

Words or photos?

Another question people often have about Instagram is “how important are my captions?” Well our research indicates that they’re not really important at all, minus a small amount of writing and including hashtags. According to Simply Measured, there’s no real correlation between post engagement and captions. Instagram is all about the photos, not the words, so don’t think too long and hard on what you need to write.
instagram for travel brands - caption length

Videos or photos?

Just like with captions, when it comes to videos and stories on Instagram, remember that photos is what Instagram is all about. The numbers show this. Again, according to Simply Measured, there’s still a lot more engagement per photo than per video. Obviously it’s also going to be a lot easier for you to take photos than to create videos as well, so we recommend really focusing your efforts there. Don’t completely discard videos and stories but you should first look at your photography efforts on Instagram before graduating over to including videos as well.
instagram for travel brands - engagement per content type

The camera and photos

We mentioned a little already about the quality of your photos. This is so important. Tourism Australia says that your best camera is the one you have with you but that’s true only to a point. If you’re out scouting pics, then take your DSLR, don’t just take your camera phone. Considering the vast majority of the photos on Tourism Australia’s account come from professional photographers with excellent equipment, we’re not sure how seriously they considered that statement. Of course if you spot a rare animal on your tour or something else really timely and you’ve only got your camera phone, then sure, it’s the best camera you’ve got then and there. Funnily enough though, when it comes to Instagram your camera is going to be your best friend, not your phone.
If you do happen to use your phone then don’t take the photo through the Instagram app, as it won’t be as good quality as through the general camera app on your phone. Then of course you’ll need to edit, edit, edit, no matter what camera you took the shot with. Make sure it’s cropped, you have that golden composition and take multiple shots to get the right image. Then use a filter.
A lot of people recommend using the same filter every time and I’m one of them. This is to keep a certain consistency in your feed. To get this right, have a look at several pictures you’ve just taken and just have a look at them all within the same filters and see what works best for all of them. The filter does not have to be an Instagram filter either. It can be a filter through another app or a filter of your own making through Photoshop or whatever other software you use. This will give you a consistent feed and help get people to follow your account.

in marketing we trustInfluencers

Instagram for travel brands - instagram travel influencer

Instagram is used to find new travel destinations

Now onto Influencers. Influencers are probably a bigger deal on Instagram than on just about any other platform, especially when it comes to travel. They provide the opportunity to build visibility and acquire a greater audience from someone that already has it.
Survey’s have shown that Instagram is used to find new destinations to travel to. According to Miss Travel, 35% of users use Instagram to discover new places to go. They use it to find travel inspiration.

Why it works

Instagram is where users often go to get away from brands, so by using influencers, users that already have a large following of users that trust them, it allows you to advertise your brand through a certain filter and give a certain organic feel to your brand rather than just have your standard advertisement on social media. You want to show emotion and provide inspiration organically rather than having a direct commercial approach of “I just need bookings”. It will really add a layer of interest that helps you to get infront of thousands in a way that they will respond to because influencers know exactly how to engage with their audience. It’s what they do.
instagram for travel brands - influencers
Let’s take an example. Bellagio Las Vegas got 20 influencers to be part of their Ultimate Vegas campaign. Just one of these influencers, Jack Morris, with over 2 million followers generated over 43,000 mentions for the brand. It works.

How it works

Another example of an Influencer you should really look up is Lauren Bath. She has partnered with North West Tourism and the Northern Territory in Australia. She provides 3 instagram posts per day for the majority of her campaigns. She is paid a day rate and her travel costs are covered. This is really when you want to work with the top of the range influencers, these guys are professionals. She would likely tour around somewhere, pull out her tripod and take a heap of photos and then again, like mentioned, edit, edit, edit. So she’s actually more of a professional photographer than an Instagrammer but really to be an influencer on Instagram, you’re both of these things, not like on other platforms.
instagram for travel brands - influencers

How much do Instagram Influencers cost?

It turns out some Instagram Influencers probably aren’t as expensive as you might have guessed. To give you an idea of how much influencers typically charge on Instagram let’s take a look at Tribe app, which connects influencers with brands wanting to build a campaign. Between 3,000 and 20,000 followers and the ballpark rate is around $75 to $300.

Estimated Rates Per Post at Tribe App
Followers Ballpark Rate
3-20k $75-$300
20-100k $300-$600
100-250k $550-$800
200-500k $800-$1200
500k+ $1200+

If we look at the number of followers these influencers have and their engagement rates, you can see that engagement actually drops. So in many instances, it would actually serve you better to have a series of influencers you work with on a campaign rather than one really top of the range influencer. We recommend, if you want to hire influencers to work on a campaign with you, to carefully pick and choose influencers in your niche with a slightly smaller number of followers that have a really strong engagement rate in order to get better bang for your buck potentially.

Followers Engagement
1k + 5.02%
2k + 4.93%
5k + 2.47%
20k + 2.02%
100k + 0.76%

in marketing we trustInstagram as a paid platform

The first thing is when you’re going to pay for visibility and engagement on a platform like Instagram, obviously you want to make sure you’re getting a good return. According to Kenshoo, a leading digital ad software, it’s 2.5x more likely for a user on Instagram to engage with you than on any other platform, including Facebook. Even your Instagram ads will likely work better than on other networks.
instagram for travel brands - paid platform
Source: Selfstartr

Instagram targeting capabilities

When it comes to ad capabilities, since Instagram is owned by Facebook now, targeting users is incredibly simple and advanced. Facebook is probably one of the most advanced demographic targeting solutions in the world, so you can put in age, gender and location but also interest, behaviour and even connections. Because they’re one in the same, if you’ve done any Facebook advertising in the past, what you can do is transfer your custom audience into your Instagram account and create a custom audience by using previously collected customer data.
If you have an email list or phone numbers what you can do is create a lookalike audience as well. In case you don’t know what that is, you can basically just match the kind of people you’re already targeting. Say if you’re targeting a 26 year old female that loves adventure travel and you have her email address, then you can target other users that have the same behaviour, share the same story, talk about the same topics and frequent the same destinations as her. You’ll be able to target these people very effectively so this is incredibly relevant if you’re tour or activity is focused around a really specific type of customer.


instagram for travel brands - dealray exampleTo give you a few examples of travel companies using Instagram as a paid platform successfully, DealRay has been able to use Instagram ads to promote some of their deals. DealRay used destination focused video ads to intrigue Instagram users.

  • 10% increase in weekly customer acquisition
  • 5x increase in revenue over 6 months



instagram for travel brands - traveloka exampleTraveloka used a combination of link ads and mobile app install ads for its direct response campaign.

  • 23pt lift in ad recall
  • 9pt lift in brand favourability among women
  • 7% click-to-install rate


Turkish Airlines

Instagram for travel brands - Turkish Airlines exampleTurkish Airlines used Instagram ads to inspire culturally curious travellers with its #EpicFood campaign.

  • 28pt lift in ad recall (33pts among men – 4x better than Nielsen’s online average)
  • 3pt lift in message association
  • 13pt lift in brand awareness (4x higher than Nielsen’s online average)


in marketing we trustReporting and impact on your business


Instagram for travel brands - ads

Paid platform

If you’re working with Instagram as a paid platform, this is really easy. Through Facebook, you’ll have access to the same ad report, power editor and ad manager that you’re used to if you use Facebook ads. This is a really simple and effective way of tracking your performance.

Instagram for travel brands - reporting


If you’re focusing on the organic end, unfortunately Instagram really isn’t great for measuring and reporting. What you can do is put a trackable link in your profile, which is quite simple to do. However, there are a few tools that can help you track your Instagram performance, including Iconosquare, Simply Measured and Sprout Social. Usually you will need to pay for this kind of service, but if you don’t want to do that they you can manually record certain results yourself. This just depends on how advanced you want to get with Instagram. These services do offer free trials though, so take advantage of them.

Kirsten Tanner

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