The Tech-Savvy Tourist

Trends / Technology
Anna Dobos
Rebecca Rom-Frank
Apr 22, 2022
While travel was effectively on hold during the pandemic, Americans became even more dependent on technology—and so did the travel industry. Pew Research found that 40% of Americans used the internet or digital technology in new ways,1 and, likewise, booking websites and hospitality venues rose to the occasion with more robust solutions, from cleaning robots to contactless payments and check‑ins to more immersive online planning experiences.2 Naturally, travel and hospitality brands are hoping to demonstrate their increased digital offerings with visuals that appeal to the tech‑savvy tourist.
Technology’s influence on how we travel
At Getty Images, the mere presence of tech devices has become the go‑to symbol of technological prowess; over the course of the pandemic, our travel industry customers chose +16% more visuals containing tech devices, primarily smartphones (+23%) and laptops (+55%). But there are also a range of ways that people use technology to specifically facilitate a smoother travel experience: GPS mapping, mobile ticketing, check‑in kiosks at airports, ride‑sharing apps, or even passing the time while on a long flight, drive, or train trip.

Our latest wave of Visual GPS image testing revealed that context matters: Americans are less excited about images which merely show a person using a laptop at home than images which show someone videoconferencing from a camper van parked in a gorgeous natural setting. Aside from excitement about hybrid work, this confirms that consumers want to see the influence of technology on how we travel now. The pandemic has not only introduced more technology into our lives, it has changed the appearance of many aspects of the travel experience, and consumers want to see these reflected visually.
The rise of immersive travel planning
Travelers are planning ahead more than ever before, and tech‑savvy travelers will certainly be looking for inspiration online: Americans are now used to reading customer reviews, scrolling through vacation pics on social media, and watching personal travelogues on YouTube. Studies show that 83% of US adults prefer to book travel online, and 70% of all travelers globally are researching destinations on their smartphones3—meaning that visuals need to be more authentic, personal, and immersive than ever, in order to capture consumer attention on digital platforms.

At Getty Images, our travel industry customers responded to this industry shift by downloading twice as much video between 2019 and 2021; most of it showed sensory experiences such as sinking into a soft hotel bed, feeling the sea breeze on one’s face, or a slow‑motion martini pour. While it’s unlikely that virtual reality or the metaverse will replace real‑life travel anytime soon, over a third of American travelers said they would like to use it to preview a destination.4 Some tourism boards are dipping into this space,5 and Xbox even developed a digital tourism platform that helps people plan travel itineraries based on their favorite video games.6 So to capture attention, it's important to remember that visuals which depict scenarios related to technology may be popular, but technology also figures into how consumers will view said visuals.
Pictures of people taking pictures
Self‑reflexive scenarios of people taking smartphone pictures and selfies continue to be popular amongst our travel industry customers—and certainly, now that nearly everyone has a camera in their pocket, we might as well be tourists in our daily lives. Photography is a hallmark of modern tourism; picture‑postcards have served as souvenirs since the beginning of the 20th century, and the cliché of the tourist with a personal camera emerged along with the international travel boom of the 1950’s.7 But while our Visual GPS research confirms that US consumers have a strong preference for candid visuals, visuals which depict the act of photographing are another story.

Some travel brands have made good use of photography itself as a theme; for example, while posting about one’s vacation on social media was taboo during the pandemic, Airbnb released a video ad which showed still images in a photo album, evoking nostalgia.8 While we may take more pictures than we could possibly every share,9 the impulse to photograph is, in part, about wanting to remember. So, visuals which show pictures being taken in tandem with genuine, emotional moments of discovery, connection, love, or joy can be powerful—as long as we can see why that moment was worth capturing.
[1] Pew Research
[2] Revfine
[3] Condor Ferries
[5] HVS
[6] Rough Guides
[7] Susan Sontag, On Photography
[8] Airbnb
[9] The Conversation
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