Different paths for Instagram success
Most in the industry agree that travel agents are underutilizing Instagram as a potential lead generator, but there are a handful who excel at using the social media platform.
Whether they find the key to be engagement, clean images, hashtags or something else, they all have their own recipes for success.
Here's a look at four, all of whom have five-digit follower counts and generated plenty of leads from Instagram.
SmartFlyer (@thesmartflyer), a Virtuoso agency, has a popular Instagram account overseen by the agency's managing director, Erina Pindar. About a year ago, she started to ramp up the company's posts on Instagram and now boasts more than 12,000 followers.
Pindar said the account's success is simple: "It sounds so basic, but it's good-quality images. We're pretty hard-core about that."
Images that are grainy or don't garner engagement are removed. Pindar handles SmartFlyer's Instagram account, including what gets posted; she often reposts from accounts that hashtag #smartflyer.
"I like Instagram a lot because it's visual, and travel is visual," she said. She also appreciates the strong mobile presence of social media, "because everyone does everything on their phone."
Today, social media has become like any other channel for SmartFlyer (the agency is also on Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat).
"It's not just a new channel anymore," she said. "It's very much established; it's not going away. So the sooner you figure it out, the better. If it's not for you, it's not for you. But you should at least be educated about it."
Carlos Melia started his Instagram (@carlosmeliablog) account as a way to promote his blog, posting a new photo and announcement whenever new posts went live.
"But then, the Instagram became an entity of itself, and is a completely separate outlet or medium for me to distribute things or promote," he said.
Melia, a Virtuoso agent, has more than 14,000 followers. He is also a luxury agent and focuses on posting his own travel experiences in the form of images and videos. He also manages his own account.
"It takes a lot of time, but you know what? It fits what I do as a travel agent, as well, because my clients want to see my reviews and my own experiences," he said. "So in a way it's part of the job of being a travel agent. That's why my clients trust me."
His follower count grew organically, Melia said. He attributed it to both partnering with other brands (mentioning them, and in return, having them mention him) as well as his use of multiple hashtags on each post.
"I use a lot of hashtags; I'm very well known for that," he said. "But it's working, so I'm not going to drop that anytime soon."
Samantha Murdock, an agent with CCRA International, said nearly all of her business comes from social media, mostly Instagram.
brand herself as a luxury agent via social media, she skips sales
pitches and instead portrays the type of travel she believes her clients
want to buy.
"I never tell anyone, 'Book with me, book with me,
book with me,'" she said. "But you will see me at a five-star hotel. You
will see me eating at a certain hotel or certain restaurant. And then
I'll say, 'Well, if you want to be here, also, you can.'"
Murdock handles her account (@samtravelchick), focusing on posting things attractive to her luxury clientele.
"If you're selling a certain type of thing," she said, "that's what you should post on your social media at all times."
has more than 13,500 followers, a base she attributes to being active
on the platform, updating frequently and engaging with others on
"It takes so much time," she said. "But I think it's the best way to do it, to grow organically."
Kelly Klassen (@kelly_klassen_tpi), a Travel Professionals International agent, focuses on destination weddings and family and group travel. She has built her account through engaging with others on Instagram.
"I do spend quite a bit of time on Instagram building relationships," she said.
"I comment on people's stuff. I like their stuff. I engage in people. To me, it's being able to build relationships with people, because that's how I get clients."
Klassen posts one or two times daily on her professional Instagram account. She started using it for work because she was already familiar with the platform, thanks to a personal account, and it paid off. She now has nearly 10,500 followers.
The photos she posts are a mix of destinations and Klassen enjoying herself in those places, which she said have been some of her most popular.
Klassen said the key to her success on Instagram is posting colorful, exciting photos that showcase her personality as well as engaging with others on the site. Showing an interest in others, she said, was "pivotal" to her success.
"I think those are really the main things that are going to help drive your business and get it to the point where people want to follow you, and you keep your followers," she said.