How the Hospitality Industry Wins on Instagram

By Alex Gaggioli, November 4, 2015

Instagram and the hospitality industry are a perfect pair. The travel industry has always been visual and brands have always used images to entice guests. Brands boast about their properties with images to encourage potential guests to book and lure past guests back. Every hotel, hostel, and bed and breakfast should use Instagram to capitalize on the attention of its young, highly engaged audience.

A recent study from Yesmail showed that only 30.8% of hotel brands are on Instagram. That seems criminal as Instagram just surpassed Twitter in total users at 400 million. 75% of Instagram users live outside of the United States and more than half of the last 100 million to join are from Europe and Asia. The countries who added the most users include Brazil, Japan, and Indonesia. Instagram is an international social media hotspot and gives your property greater visibility.

Not only is it international, but also skews young. 53% of users are 18-29 which makes for a lucrative marketing opportunity (Sprout Social).

Here, we’ll build a case for Instagram with examples of the good and bad. We can’t guarantee that you will soar to 10,000 followers in 3 months, but, we can offer the tactics to create an engaged followership.

Tell Your Story

Instagram gives you the opportunity to expand your brand’s story in a different way. Your website and other social media platforms tell one side of your story, and Instagram can expand upon it in a more captivating way. A picture is worth a thousand words, so take (and curate!) pictures that resonate with who and what you are.

Properties are often good at defining who they are and what they offer. Expand upon what it is that your property is good at. Scenic travel pictures and pictures of food tend to do best on this platform, so creating a story around your property should be a fun and exciting task.

Let’s look at some examples of properties creating a noteworthy story.

Ace Hotels

We have used Ace Hotels as a noteworthy social media player several times in the past, and Instagram is where they shine. It’s true that they have a highly skilled social media team tasked with creating amazing content, but the strategy and tactics they follow can be duplicated on many different levels.

What they do right: they OWN their brand. They are happy hipsters who love their pop culture art, unique shows, and photo magazines. Ace only uploads crisp, beautiful photos which have proven to be successful.

How you can replicate: Stay true to your story and only upload carefully selected photos. It is easy to get impatient and throw up a less than savory picture with lame editing. Take the time to take a decent photo, edit it correctly, and upload it at a good time. Not everyone is a photographer–we get that. But, it is highly likely that you or someone on your staff knows how to take a decent photo and edit it using Instagram’s built in tools.

These three examples show how Ace really knows what they’re doing. First off, notice that all three photos are visually pleasing. Even if they aren’t your style, you can probably appreciate that they are decent looking photos. The first photo shows someone holding a key to their New York Hotel, and if you read the caption you see that Ace actually reposted this photo from a guest’s Instagram. Reposting guests’ photos increases engagement and encourages future guests to tag their posts.

The second photo gives a glance of Ace’s LA property without being salesy or pushy, it’s an entertaining photo that happens to show their lobby. The third photo is a historical picture with a caption that explains a piece of Pittsburgh history and then slyly mentions their new downtown Pittsburgh property at the end.

Ace has mastered the art of posting about themselves without the hard sell. They effectively tell the story of their property without pushing people away with uninteresting sales talk.

Here’s a link to their full feed.

Use the Right Hashtags and Captivating Captions

Hashtags help users and brands alike find the photos they are searching for. Hashtags such as #TravelTuesday and #Wanderlust are often used to engage with the travel community. #TravelTuesday has over 126k photos and #Wanderlust has over 10 million! You can reach potential guests with tags like these and contribute to an ever-growing community.

Include timely hashtags as well such as #Halloween or #Summer during the appropriate time periods.

We suggest creating a branded hashtag for your property. It should be short and easy to remember so that past, present, and future guests can interact with you.

Generator Hostels uses #GenLove and location-specific tags for each property like #GenParis and #GenBarcelona. These are great examples because they are easy to remember and offer guests multiple options to interact with the property.

In all three examples above, Generator includes #GenLove and their geo-based hashtags. The #GenLove hashtag has over 4,000 tweets and their location hashtags have hundreds of posts each. Not only does this let your guests interact with your property, but it also helps you find your guests on social media. You really are doing yourself a favor when you create branded hashtags. Here’s a link to their full feed.

Another example of a travel brand doing this well is Worldpackers, the volunteer worker platform for hostels around the world. They use the hashtag #Worldpackers to connect with their clientele which offers diverse pictures from around the globe.

As you can see from the examples above, Worldpackers uses their #Worldpackers tags to talk about their clients’ stories and experiences. Also, their captions are interesting and helpful. Sprout Social reports that character length doesn’t affect engagement. But, what’s being said does matter. Some have argued that the caption is just as important as the picture. Include wit, humor, or interesting tidbits to give your followers context.

Worldpackers also reposts pictures from their clients to build engagement like we saw with Ace.

Here’s a link to Worldpackers full feed.

Share Content Beyond Your Property

We have already seen a few examples of properties sharing content outside their hotels. You can create a more interesting Instagram feed when you include pictures of your guests, local restaurants, events, etc. While sticking true to your story as we discussed above, you can share photos that will interest your guests. For example, if you’re an adventure hostel, share pictures of your guests bungee jumping off the local bridge.

James Hotels with properties in New York, Chicago, and Hollywood share a wide range of photos both in and out of their properties.

Here you see photos from each of their properties’ local cities, but they also include information about local events and attractions. Using your surroundings to find interesting photos to share is a great way to provide continuous value to guests. A great way to keep past guests engaged is to offer fresh content. It’s likely that your hotel and it’s surroundings change over time, so keep everyone in the loop!

Here’s a link to the full feed.

Attention to Detail

The accounts that are the most popular across any industry are ones that have put time into attention to detail. This tip is closely related to accurately telling the right story. But, it is worth showing examples of properties that have taken extra care to maintain a certain aesthetic.

Urban Cowboy Bed and Breakfast located in Brooklyn, New York is a pretty amazing example of what a powerful Instagram strategy can do. From their website, it looks like they only have a five-room B&B, but they have amassed more than 27,000 followers with their unique style and attention to detail.

This account is certainly an outlier, but I wanted to include it to show what is possible with creativity and hard work. While large brands like Marriott and Hilton have access to large budgets and dedicated social media teams, it is possible for small properties to win.

Another example includes the Watson Bay Boutique Hotel located in Sydney, Australia. They have also created a huge following with their carefully crafted pictures. If you explore their hashtag, you will see that they have also caught the attention of bloggers and other popular Instagram accounts.

Post Consistently

Almost every single social media blog will tell you to post consistently, and we will say the same. You should post almost every single day on Instagram to get the best engagement. Your followers will expect to see you once a day and you will not have to worry about annoying them. Some very popular accounts will post multiple times a day, but initially, one a day is sufficient. The majority of the accounts shown above post at least once a day.  

Little Bucharest Hostel located in Romania has an Instagram with some great posts, but they don’t post consistently enough to make a significant impact. If you only post sparingly, your account is much less likely to accumulate consistent growth.

Tag Your Location

If you scroll back up to the hashtag and caption section and take a look at Generator Hostels posts, you will see that they aren’t tagged with locations. Locations appear under your name and above the picture. Tagging your pictures gives your pictures one more place for guests to find your content. Your property should have its own location so that others can also post. This creates a valuable feed that past, current, and future guests can see.

The post on the left has a location while the post on the right does not.

Missed Opportunities

Travelers and those who want to travel turn to Instagram for inspiration and to escape their daily lives. If your property is not on the platform, you are missing countless opportunities to find and delight potential guests.

Travel bloggers and travel websites write posts that include Instagram pictures, such as Hostel Worker’s article called 30 Hostels With a View According to Instagram. The Instagram posts included were from individual travelers showcasing the beautiful views they enjoyed at hostels around the world.

So naturally, after seeing these photos I wanted to see more from the same properties. But, then I shortly found out that many of them do not have accounts! The Secret Garden has a magnificent view in Quito, Ecuador but when I click on their name, I’m taken to an outdated website. With views like that, they are missing a HUGE opportunity on Instagram. Sadly, this was the case with many of the properties listed.

The Conclusion

If you have the bandwidth to post fresh images daily, then you need to be on Instagram. Point blank. No questions about it. The best way to learn about what works and what doesn’t is to follow existing popular accounts. Your property’s personal follow goals do not have to include thousands of followers and likes, but it is helpful to see what types of accounts do well.

To get started and win on Instagram:

  • Find your unique story
  • Use hashtags wisely and write captivating captions
  • Share content beyond your property
  • Pay attention to detail
  • Post Consistently
  • and most importantly, get started now  


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