Hash­tag heaven: in­side the world of travel’s top In­sta-in­flu­encer

With mil­lions of fol­low­ers and a dis­rup­tive me­dia busi­ness, Jeremy Jauncey could be the world’s most in­flu­en­tial trav­eller

The Star (St. Lucia) - Business Week - - FRONT PAGE - BY SI­MON USBORNE, FT COR­RE­SPON­DENT

Jeremy Jauncey’s In­sta­gram is, on the sur­face, much like so many other as­pi­ra­tional so­cial me­dia “in­flu­encer” ac­counts

Jeremy Jauncey’s In­sta­gram is, on the sur­face, much like so many other as­pi­ra­tional so­cial me­dia “in­flu­encer” ac­counts. There he is, pos­ing with a panda in Chengdu, each an­i­mal show­ing im­pres­sive white teeth. There he is, strolling at sun­set through the gar­dens of Babing­ton House, the mem­bers’ club and ho­tel in Som­er­set. And there he is, shirt­less in the Aus­trian Alps, pecs glis­ten­ing like glaciers.

Jauncey, a Scot­tish for­mer rugby player who re­tired in his twen­ties af­ter in­jur­ing his back, has 640,000 fol­low­ers. That’s a lot by any mea­sure, but his own ac­count is a sec­ondary con­cern. In 2012, the year when Face­book bought In­sta­gram for $1bn, Jauncey and his sim­i­larly pho­to­genic brother Tom be­gan shar­ing pic­tures of nice places. They gave the ac­count a sim­ple name: @ beau­ti­fuldes­ti­na­tions. You may well know it; at the time of writ­ing, it has 11.4m fol­low­ers.

Dur­ing a trip to Lon­don from his base in New York, Jauncey, now 34, meets me at his mem­bers’ club on Pall Mall. He wears a white T-shirt, blue jeans and an ex­pen­sive watch. He is, as ever, In­sta­gram-ready. But he has be­come a lot more than the buff itin­er­ant he presents to the ca­sual scroller. Beau­ti­ful Des­ti­na­tions (BD) has grown to em­ploy 40 peo­ple on “Sil­i­con Al­ley”, a stretch of Park Av­enue hum­ming with tech en­trepreneuri­al­ism. And it is grow­ing fast. In an on­go­ing hir­ing spree, Jauncey has so far poached Remi Car­lioz, global cre­ative di­rec­tor at sports­wear brand Puma, and Bren­dan Mon­aghan, for­mer pub­lisher of Condé Nast Trav­eler — a hire that un­der­lines that con­trast in for­tunes be­tween this new form of travel me­dia and the old. (Condé Nast Trav­eler’s own In­sta­gram feed has a more mod­est 1.7m fol­low­ers, and it was an­nounced this month that its US and UK ed­i­to­rial teams are to be merged).

As well as shar­ing nice pho­tos,

BD has be­come a kind of ad­ver­tis­ing and brand­ing agency. It uses slick video, data and pro­pri­etary al­go­rithms (more of which later) to boost dig­i­tal au­di­ences — par­tic­u­larly on In­sta­gram — for brands in­clud­ing Mar­riott,

Hil­ton, Shangri-La and var­i­ous tourism boards.

The ex­tent to which Jauncey’s In­sta­gram­mer life­style has col­lided with a more cor­po­rate re­al­ity is ev­i­dent at the club, where Jauncey’s new­est col­league is tak­ing notes. For five years, El­iz­a­beth Lin­der led Face­book’s po­lit­i­cal di­vi­sion in Europe, Africa and the Mid­dle East, ad­vis­ing world lead­ers on so­cial me­dia. In May, the Amer­i­can be­came ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor at BD and is about to open a Lon­don of­fice. “I’m re­spon­si­ble for comms and ex­ter­nal af­fairs — so the gov­ern­ment out­reach piece,” she tells me in unim­prov­able jar­gon, adding: “Help­ing gov­ern­ments un­der­stand the role of ci­ti­zens in the travel space is some­thing we’ll be up­skilling them on.”

To­day it is Jauncey who is “up­skilling” me — on what he sees as a new era for the travel in­dus­try in which In­sta­gram’s ca­sual hash­tag van­ity is go­ing some­where more cal­cu­lat­ing and com­mer­cial. Since its launch in 2010, In­sta­gram’s most vis­i­ble im­pact on the world of travel has been the pro­lif­er­a­tion of hol­i­day snaps of du­bi­ous qual­ity and the rise of “in­flu­encers” who re­quest free stuff from ho­tels and air­lines in ex­change for a few fil­tered self­ies. But things are chang­ing, and In­sta­gram, which in June hit a bil­lion

monthly users, boasts of its tight­en­ing grip on the travel in­dus­try. Ac­cord­ing to a Face­book-com­mis­sioned sur­vey in the US in 2016, 67 per cent of us turn to In­sta­gram for travel in­spi­ra­tion. Brands in­clud­ing Vir­gin At­lantic, Airbnb and Hostel­world have flocked to the app with ads.

To con­vince me that BD works be­yond the in­flu­encer model — or purely ad­ver­tis­ing — Jauncey is scrolling through its main In­sta­gram feed. “Right, look at this one,” he says. He opens a strik­ing shot of a foot­bridge over a forested val­ley in Da Nang, Viet­nam. The pic­ture of the bridge, which opened in June and passes through gi­ant con­crete hands made to look like an­cient stone, has half a mil­lion “likes” and hun­dreds of com­ments. But like most of the pho­tos on the BD feed, it was shot by some­one else. A guy called @smash­pop gets a credit at the end of the cap­tion.

The BD feed has be­come, in large part, a gallery of pho­tos trawled from the rest of In­sta­gram. Ex­po­sure is gen­er­ally the re­ward. But such is the new re­al­ity of the plat­form that many of th­ese sub­sidiary In­sta­gram­mers are no longer chancers with iPhones. @smash­pop is Ja­son Goh, a pro­fes­sional pho­tog­ra­pher in his early thir­ties who runs his own so­cial me­dia agency in Kuala Lumpur. His In­sta­gram, which has more than 65,000 fol­low­ers, is home to his life­style shots of food, ar­chi­tec­ture and travel. He tells me he was on hol­i­day in Viet­nam with his par­ents in July. He sent up his drone to get a few shots of the bridge be­fore a se­cu­rity guard told him to delete them. “I obliged but for­tu­nately the orig­i­nal copies are still in­side the mem­ory card,” he says.

When Goh posted one of the im­ages to In­sta­gram two days later, his no­ti­fi­ca­tions came in such a storm that he had to turn off his phone. But it was when Beau­ti­ful Des­ti­na­tions asked per­mis­sion to share it a few days later that things re­ally rock­eted. Re­quests came in from me­dia or­gan­i­sa­tions all over the world, and Goh gained 23,000 fol­low­ers in a week.

This is what Beau­ti­ful Des­ti­na­tions has man­aged to per­fect: iden­ti­fy­ing what flies on In­sta­gram and ei­ther do­ing it or find­ing it, and shar­ing it with the world’s big­gest on­line travel com­mu­nity (that’s the com­pany’s claim and I could find no travel ac­counts with a big­ger fol­low­ing). A team at its New York HQ mon­i­tors #beau­ti­fuldes­ti­na­tions, a hash­tag now at­tached to more than 25m pho­tos, in a search for posts with vi­ral po­ten­tial, while also call­ing on a net­work of more than 200 “am­bas­sadors” — in ef­fect stringers whom BD can mo­bilise around the world when it needs par­tic­u­lar shots for clients (it does pay them for client work).

“What we’re look­ing at now is this ris­ing cre­ative class of young peo­ple who are in­cred­i­bly tal­ented but don’t fit into a tra­di­tional ad agency mould,” Jauncey says. “And it’s this in­sight that al­lows us to go to a coun­try and talk about build­ing their ex­po­sure.”

This is where we get to the meat of Beau­ti­ful Des­ti­na­tions — and the money. (Jauncey, who worked in e-com­merce af­ter quit­ting rugby, de­clines to talk bot­tom lines — BD is a pri­vate com­pany with no out­side in­vestors. But he will re­veal that while the In­sta­gram feed is the busi­ness’s heart and call­ing card, 90 per cent of its rev­enues come from ad cam­paigns that don’t sit on it). It took 18 months of build­ing the BD net­work be­fore a travel brand came knock­ing. Un­til then, Jauncey says that the in­dus­try, from tourism boards down, didn’t re­ally “get” so­cial me­dia, if they both­ered with it at all.

In 2014, Dubai and the Burj Al Arab Jumeirah ho­tel were run­ning a big PR push and re­alised that they should take so­cial me­dia se­ri­ously. Jauncey’s team got to work and hosted a meet­ing of in­flu­encers at the ho­tel. Lo­cals and vis­i­tors be­gan us­ing the #my­dubai hash­tag to ex­pose lesser-known shots of the city, the best of which were pro­jected on to the Burj’s sail-like ex­te­rior. Jauncey says the ho­tel’s book­ings grew 38 per cent dur­ing the month of the cam­paign.

Multi-des­ti­na­tion tourism refers to vis­i­tors who travel from one Caribbean coun­try to an­other. Th­ese may be in­ter­na­tional is­land­hop­pers who want to see every­thing the re­gion has to of­fer or Caribbean na­tives in­dulging in a stay­ca­tion

des­ti­na­tions for guests within the re­gion were the Do­mini­can Repub­lic, The Ba­hamas and Trinidad and Tobago.

Ex­pe­dia Group Se­nior Di­rec­tor of Re­sorts Rafael de Castillo said: “We’re ex­cited to re­port over­all growth in in­tra-Caribbean travel. Hote­liers in the Caribbean have a unique op­por­tu­nity to meet their sales goals by cap­tur­ing the at­ten­tion of a grow­ing seg­ment of trav­ellers in their own back­yard.”

Recog­nis­ing the po­ten­tial of th­ese back­yard vis­i­tors, Ja­maica has taken a proac­tive ap­proach, sign­ing Mem­o­ran­dums of Un­der­stand­ing with Cuba, the Do­mini­cian Repub­lic and Mex­ico to de­velop a mul­ti­des­ti­na­tion frame­work. Stake­hold­ers are ex­pected to meet later this year to be­gin strat­egy dis­cus­sions.

If suc­cess­ful, this frame­work will pave the way for fur­ther re­gional in­te­gra­tion and en­cour­age other Caribbean coun­tries to adopt the multi-des­ti­na­tion model.

CLOSER IN­TE­GRA­TION

Ex­pe­dia at­trib­uted the jump in in­terCaribbean travel to ef­fec­tive mar­ket­ing plat­forms, mar­ket in­tel­li­gence and an in­crease in con­nec­tiv­ity.

Con­nec­tiv­ity is one of the big­gest chal­lenges in de­vel­op­ing a mul­ti­des­ti­na­tion frame­work, not just in terms of trans­porta­tion but also eas­ing travel across bor­ders and be­tween coun­tries. Hop­ping from one is­land to the next shouldn’t mean end­less queues at im­mi­gra­tion; a more ef­fi­cient process to en­able re­gional tourists would al­low for multi-des­ti­na­tion visas to sim­plify the nec­es­sary pa­per­work. To fa­cil­i­tate this, des­ti­na­tions must co­or­di­nate and align their im­mi­gra­tion poli­cies. Gov­ern­ments can also take ad­van­tage of tech­nol­ogy to ease travel around the re­gion, al­low­ing tourists to ap­ply for per­mits via their mo­bile de­vices, check-in on­line and use a har­monised roam­ing sys­tem wher­ever they are in the is­lands. The pro­posed Sin­gle ICT Space, an ini­tia­tive be­ing driven by CARICOM and ex­pected to take ef­fect in 2022, will give th­ese ef­forts a boost by en­sur­ing that all Caribbean coun­tries meet a com­mon stan­dard in their dig­i­tal ca­pa­bil­ity.

Nav­i­gat­ing the Caribbean re­quires care­fully co­or­di­nated trans­port links and routes. Air con­nec­tiv­ity, of the lack of it, is a sig­nif­i­cant ob­sta­cle to growth, ac­cord­ing to the Caribbean De­vel­op­ment Bank (CDB). In May the CDB re­leased a re­port iden­ti­fy­ing the main bar­ri­ers to in­tra-re­gional con­nec­tiv­ity as high op­er­at­ing costs, reg­u­la­tory im­ped­i­ments, in­ef­fi­cient in­fra­struc­ture and in­ad­e­quate in­vest­ment. A re­duc­tion in taxes and air­port fees, com­bined with reg­u­la­tory har­mon­i­sa­tion could lead to lib­er­al­i­sa­tion of the mar­ket ac­cord­ing to the CDB which es­ti­mates that mak­ing th­ese changes could boost pas­sen­ger num­bers by 28 per cent by 2025.

A multi-des­ti­na­tion ap­proach in tourism will also in­volve co­or­di­nated mar­ket­ing ef­forts. Shar­ing pro­mo­tional ef­forts will help des­ti­na­tions share costs and de­velop a com­mon mes­sage. Last month, the Caribbean Tourism Or­ga­ni­za­tion part­nered with the Caribbean Ho­tel and Tourism As­so­ci­a­tion to launch the ‘Rhythm Never Stops’ cam­paign which high­lights the choice of des­ti­na­tions within the en­tire re­gion, em­pha­sis­ing each is­land’s unique char­ac­ter­is­tics and sell­ing points. “Vis­i­tors, past and present, have not been in­tro­duced to the of­fer­ings of our vast and di­verse re­gion,” said CHTA CEO Frank Comito. “We will change that by high­light­ing the charms con­tained in the mil­lion square miles of Caribbean Sea.”

CTO Sec­re­tary Gen­eral Hugh Ri­ley added: “In un­der­tak­ing this col­lab­o­ra­tive mar­ket­ing thrust, we hope to re­in­force the power of ‘Brand Caribbean’, defini­tively show­cas­ing and cel­e­brat­ing our di­verse cul­tural ap­peal.”

UN­TAPPED PO­TEN­TIAL

Un­like cruise tourism, multi-des­ti­na­tion vis­i­tors are stay-over tourists. They spend more, they stay longer and they re­turn home to share their ex­pe­ri­ences with friends and fam­ily in valu­able word-of­mouth mar­ket­ing.

The con­cept has huge po­ten­tial for un­tapped in­ter­na­tional mar­kets formerly con­sid­ered too far-flung for the Caribbean such as Asia and north­ern Europe. Hav­ing en­dured long-haul flights, th­ese tourists are ea­ger to make the most of their visit to the re­gion and get real value for their in­vest­ment, mak­ing them more likely to want to see two or three coun­tries in a sin­gle trip.

Spread­ing the tourist dol­lar not only ben­e­fits economies around the Caribbean, it’s also a chance for the re­gion to guard against over­crowd­ing. Sus­tain­able tourism has be­come crit­i­cal to the in­dus­try as more trav­ellers mean more pres­sure on the en­vi­ron­ment and nat­u­ral re­sources. Multi-des­ti­na­tion strate­gies of­fer Caribbean coun­tries a chance to work to­gether to lessen the tourist foot­print and pre­vent cer­tain hotspots from be­com­ing over­bur­dened.

But it’s not just a job for gov­ern­ment. The pri­vate sec­tor also has a key role to play in de­vel­op­ing multi-des­ti­na­tion tourism and any frame­work must in­volve pri­vate-pub­lic part­ner­ship. Cre­at­ing multi-des­ti­na­tion pack­ages that are at­trac­tive to cost-con­scious con­sumers will need buy-in from re­sorts, tour op­er­a­tors and other providers in the sec­tor. Branded ho­tels can look to ex­ploit­ing their links with part­ners in other Caribbean coun­tries while in­de­pen­dent op­er­a­tors can ex­plore new part­ner­ships, with the added ben­e­fit of shar­ing mar­ket­ing costs and pro­mo­tional in­vest­ment. Only by work­ing to­gether, can Caribbean tourist economies grow to­gether.

Camel riders tra­verse the desert in Abu Dhabi — an ex­am­ple of the im­ages shared by the com­pany via In­sta­gram © @beau­ti­fuldes­ti­na­tions/In­sta­gram

In­creas­ing the num­ber of in­ter-is­land ferry ser­vices op­er­at­ing in the Caribbean is a long over­due de­vel­op­ment in the re­gional travel mar­ket. In Sep­tem­ber of this year, the World Bank com­pleted a pre­lim­i­nary fea­si­bil­ity study on the im­ple­men­ta­tion of such a ser­vice de­signed to in­crease the flow of goods, peo­ple, and ve­hi­cles from the north of the Caribbean to the south. L’Ex­press des îles, the Guade­lou­pean in­ter-is­land ferry ser­vice, has been a model stud­ied by the bank

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