HASHTAG HEAVEN: INSIDE THE WORLD OF TRAVEL’S TOP INSTA-INFLUENCER
BD is now in the business of what Jauncey calls “nation branding . . . how does a country position itself for a future generation of traveller?” The company’s creative team travels to destinations with drones and cameras to shoot imagery for clients to use in old and new media, often also sharing that content as “paid partnership” posts on the main BD feed. Jauncey shows me a video that BD made for Bermuda. The minute-long story of an attractive young couple from New York visiting the island is as slick as anything I’ve seen on primetime TV.
Partnerships like this invariably produce clips of varying lengths as well as imagery for use on- and offline. So when does an Instagram account become a branding agency like any other? “I think Beautiful Destinations are very good at what they do, but that’s all they are,” says Paul Charles, head of London-based travel PR firm the PC Agency. “They’re just using good imagery to boost a brand.” This is not, unsurprisingly, how Jauncey sees it. He says no other agency or brand matches BD’s social expertise or following. “We have enormous capability to help brands decide what platforms to be on,” he insists.
As new clients got in touch after the Dubai gig, Jauncey says BD began to get smarter in the way it used the data that its main account generated. He recruited data scientists to build “a robust prediction engine” to show a client, for example, which of a selection of promotional images would do best on different platforms. Jauncey declines to describe exactly how these algorithms work, but he has explained previously how the “digital fingerprint” of an image — its colour, hue, brightness, and percentage of person versus landscape — can be measured against its performance to start establishing patterns.
If the industry has been slow to get smart about social media promotion, many travel brands have been influenced themselves to get Instagram ready.
Paul Charles points to one naked example in Marrakesh, where luxury hotel La Sultana installed a large empty frame on its roof to, well, frame the Atlas Mountains. It begged to be Instagrammed, but “the problem of course is that there’s no definitive proof that that has boosted sales,” Charles adds.
Colin Nagy, a travel columnist based in New York and the head of strategy at global ad agency Fred & Farid, believes the third phase of Instagram travel will be more sophisticated marketing tools that drill into monolithic follower counts, and new technology linking ads directly to bookings. “So ‘here’s a targeted deal based on your data and here’s how you book right now’,” he explains. “Right now you can have a bazillion followers but how many are real, how many have the means to spend?”
In the meantime, Jauncey says
BD’s power is to provide background inspiration, as well as its direct reaches for wallets. And beyond his opaque algorithmic approach, he says that finding a novel angle is crucial (that and shooting at sunrise or sunset). Back on his own feed, he shows me a recent photo from a trip to Jordan, where he spoke at a conference about social media and “resilience” in tourism. BD has worked with Jordan to help it reverse a steep decline in visitor numbers during the crisis in neighbouring Syria.
In some downtime after the conference, Jauncey hired a young guide for a tour of Petra. The boy led him up to a rocky promontory with a view down on the Treasury, Petra’s most famous — and photographed — temple. The boy laid a rug on the rock for Jauncey to sit on. A photo of him taken with an iPhone of the scene got more than 40,000 likes. For Lina Annab, Jordan’s minister of tourism and antiquities, the photo was a bonus beyond the BD campaign, but she’ll take it. “In today’s social media-driven world, a picture is worth tens of thousands of engagements,” she says.
As well as sharing nice photos, BD has become a kind of advertising and branding agency. It uses slick video, data and proprietary algorithms to boost digital audiences — particularly on Instagram — for brands including Marriott, Hilton, Shangri-La and various tourism boards
Jeremy Jauncey of Beautiful Destinations © @beautifuldestinations/Instagram