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
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.
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.”
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