Tourism leaders use Instagram to win food-loving tourists


On a rainy Friday evening in June, a group of women from Miami gathered at Salt Seven — one of the busiest restaurants in downtown Delray Beach — armed with cameras and a small flash light.

As soon as the food arrived at the table, they started clicking away. Two used their iPhones, another had a larger digital camera with a specialty lens. They all have the same goal — taking the perfect picture and sharing it with their tens of thousands of social media followers.

Palm Beach County tourism officials invited the women, who all run Miami-based Instagram accounts focused on food, to spend the weekend in Delray Beach in hopes their posts would convince other food lovers from South Florida to take a trip here.

RELATED: How social media influencer sells Palm Beach County tourism

Local tourism leaders are trying to showcase southern Palm Beach County’s growing food scene in an effort to promote the area as a vacation destination for foodies across the state — particularly during the slower summer off-season when the industry typically targets travelers within driving distance of the county.

Incredible Sushi slider @salt7delray #thepalmbeaches 🔝🔝

A post shared by Eat It MIA (@eatitmia) on

The three-day trip resulted in more than a dozen socials media posts, including at least one blog post and three longer “Instagram stories,” featuring multiple photos from a number of eateries in the southern part of the county.

MORE: Culinary tours bolster Palm Beach County’s tourism menu

There’s a picture of the cinnamon roll french toast at Latitudes Ocean Grill at the Delray Sands Resort, where the group stayed. The are images of the sushi sliders at Salt Seven, and the guava cheesecake from Bamboo Fire Cafe in Delray Beach.

In all, the group’s food photos have more than 4,000 “likes” on Instagram.

Although officials say its impossible to know how many travelers outside of Palm Beach County have viewed the images or how those pictures may influence their future travel decisions — they agree the photos are likely to reach a new audience who may not have known about Delray Beach’s restaurants or night life scene.

“We are reaching a target demographic that is kind of the foodie movement,” said Kyle Gonzalez,the marketing director for Salt Seven.

The group included three social media experts — or what the marketing industry refers to as “digital influencers,” because of their ability to steer followers towards a particular product, service or establishment.

Stacy Moya, who uses the Instagram handle @BestFoodMiami, has nearly 75,000 followers. Jessica Daez, who is known on Instagram as @EatItMia has 32,300 followers. And Dana Rozansky, who runs the Instagram account, @miami_foodporn, has more than 79,000 followers.

In all, the Miami-based group has the potential to reach more than 186,000 Instagram users, many of whom live within driving distance of Palm Beach County.

During the busy winter tourist season, Discover The Palm Beaches, the county’s official tourism marketing group, focuses its efforts on tourists from cities like Boston, New York, Baltimore and Washington, D.C. Those “fly markets” are among the county’s most important tourism generators because of the large number of flights to Palm Beach International Airport.

But in the summer and early fall, tourism officials shift their focus to the state’s “drive market.”

“One of our primary markets is Miami,” said Ashley Svarney, the director of public relations and communications for Discover - the group that organized the influencer’s weekend trip. “One of the things we like to tout is the diverse culinary scene. We know that people in Miami and Ft. Lauderdale enjoy dining.”

So do most other travelers.

Roughly 93 percent of American travelers are interested in unique food and beverage experiences while traveling, according to the 2016 Food Travel Monitor released by World Food Travel Association.

Culinary travelers are more motivated to visit a destination because of a posting about food or drinks on social media. Meanwhile, 64 percent of leisure travelers chose to share their food and beverage experiences on social media, the study found.

Travelers interested in visiting Palm Beach County spend close to two hours a day on socialmedia, according to a study commissioned by Discover. Roughly one-third of those travelers pick a vacation destination based on what they have seen on socialmedia, the study found.

Discover officials said 26 percent of tourists say they partake in fine dining while visiting Palm Beach County, and 4.4 percent of those visitors say fine dining was the primary or secondary reason for their trip.

With more tourists turning to the internet for inspiration for their travel decisions, Discover has been increasingly using to social media influencers to help promote the area as a vacation destination. In addition to food, the nonprofit agency is also targeting influencers who specialize in a number of niche topics, including fashion and family travel.

The tourism group invites (and sometimes pays) bloggers, Instagrammers and other social media influencers to spend time in Palm Beach County. Discover’s members, which include area resorts, restaurants and attractions, typically provide the influencers with complementary hotel stays, meals and tickets to attractions.

In the case of the food influencers, Discover paid for some portions of the group’s meals.

In exchange, the influencers take to social media — posting a steady stream of pictures, videos and other information about Palm Beach County’s tourism hot spots.

“We are trying to build awareness about the destination,” Svarney said. “We understand that everyone is getting their news differently, and social media is one of those ways.”

Alexandra Farnsworth, the Program & Marketing Manager for the Delray Beach Downtown Development Authority, said hosting groups of social media influencers is a way to leverage the organization’s limited marketing budget.

Officials say bringing influencers here typically costs far less than traditional forms of advertisement. The social media posts, they say, could sway last-minute travel plans.

“We really want to drive staycations in the summer,” Farnsworth said. Delray “is a good place for a staycation, plus there are a ton of summer deals.”

Daez, one of the Miami Instagrammers who participated in Discover’s tour last month , said her followers frequent ask for dining recommendations.

“Food as become an experiential trend,” Daez said. “It is just as fun for people as going to a movie.”

 



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