Milos Bicanski/Getty Images
Andrea Romano
October 23, 2017

A new study suggests something you may have already suspected as you scrolled through a friend's envy-inducing Instagram feed: Many people want to travel for the “likes” they'll get on their destination photos.

Researchers at the University of Georgia surveyed 758 people about traveling to Cuba in order to study how sharing “tourism experiences” on social media influences how people select destinations.

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The study asked about Cuba because of the “novelty” of visiting the island: Although tourism has expanded in recent years, it is still limited for most U.S. citizens.

That gives Cuba a cool factor, which the researchers surveyed participants about while also asking if — and when — they planned to visit.

Those who anticipated more “social return” — the “the amount of positive social feedback that one's social media posts will generate” — were more likely to say they planned to visit Cuba in the next year. (Meanwhile, survey participants who said they were interested in visiting Cuba in the next five to 10 years were less likely to care about social return.)

“The traveler is keenly aware of the social value of their travel and that not all travel experiences are evaluated equally,” the researchers wrote.

The study also highlights the “Bandwagon effect” and the “Snob effect,” which are what they sound like. Travelers might get on the bandwagon and visit a destination they see popping up repeatedly in their feeds, which could give a destination a boost in tourism. (We see you, Iceland.) But other travelers might be too cool to go somewhere they see as popular: The snobs are looking for “tourism experiences that are out of the ordinary (exclusivity) or unique travel experiences (uniqueness) give tourists a sense of prestige, conferring status through a perceived increase in their social standing and the sense that others will be impressed,” according to a previous study.

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According to the researchers at the University of Georgia, both effects are an opportunity for destinations to boost tourism.

“Destinations with high social media potential could take advantage of the bandwagon effect and the snob effect as they wax and wane in popularity and, in turn, the resulting social value,” they wrote.

Traveling is obviously a popular theme on Facebook and Instagram: You could just read a book on the beach or enjoy a croissant in Paris — but can you really have an amazing trip if you don't post that cabana photo or #foodstagram? (The answer is yes, you can, but we both know you're setting that shot up anyway.) Posting a picture-perfect vacation photo isn't just about the vacation, it's about status. And since status has become “likes,” posting unique destination photos could show everyone just how cool you are.

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