Why images matter in tourism marketing

An earlier, slightly different version of this article first appeared on growfoodtourism.com.

When it comes to tourism marketing, the power of visuals cannot be ignored. Take a quick look at your Instagram feed. Chances are, aside from the obligatory puppies or kittens, the rest of your feed is filled with snaps of travel (and food), from friends, brands, and influencers.

While some of the photos may not be ‘next-level’, it’s extremely likely that all the photos from brands and influencers are exceptionally framed, staged, lit, and captioned. Why? Because stellar images are driving consumer interests, conversations, and purchases. Consumers have become conditioned to expect beautiful, compelling images to populate their social feeds, and it’s not just the food and travel worlds where this is the case.

“Consumers rarely purchase something if they have not seen, touched or felt it. They must ‘experience’ the product before purchase. For example trying on clothing or a pair of shoes. In the online travel space, travellers are only able to see our products, they cannot actually ‘experience’ them. In travel, our products are experiences, so this is very important.” – Clement Wong, BeMyGuest

"Whoa, I wanna go there!" the more fun, interesting, or cool something looks, the more people want to do it. With travel, in particular, you want the photo to be so illustrative that people can imagine themselves doing that activity, visiting that market, or standing at that viewpoint. Images have the ability to make a service, food, or experience tangible by providing consumers with something visual to latch on to.

Same goes for food. It’s entirely likely that you’ve heard the phrase, “ooh, that looks good!”, more times than you can count. The better looking food is, the more crave-worthy it is. If you live in Toronto, you’ve seen the line-ups. The city is going through a bit of a phase, a phase whereby it’s perfectly acceptable to wait in line for an hour to get your paws on some kind of frozen treat. From Bang Bang Ice Cream to Sweet Jesus, line-ups for soft serve and ice cream are stretching out for blocks, and chances are, most of them are in line because they saw a picture of one of these ice cream sandwiches or soft serve cones on social media (likely Instagram), which triggered a craving.

Images are your image, especially when it comes to marketing your destination or experience.

From tours to trails, restaurants to roadside stalls, landmarks to landscapes, images matter. After all, if content is king and photos are capable of speaking a thousand words, that makes for a hell of a lot of value in images.

Marketers need to understand that generating consumer interest, especially in the travel industry, is less about the words and more about the pictures. When you tempt travellers with jaw-dropping views, irresistible city streets, or tantalizing picture of food, you immediately hook them in. Between hashtags, curated accounts, and account mapping, Instagram has quietly become one of the best travel planning resources. That’s definitely not something to ignore.

Consumers are falling over each other to purchase items or experiences that look good, that photograph well. They’re scrambling to locales that will provide that dramatic backdrop sure to impress their friends and followers. They’re in it for the photos, and guess what? That’s a good thing. Not only does it drive demand, it also drives a little thing called user-generated content (UGC), which is basically like marketing unicorn gold.