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Pinterest gains traction in travel industry

Courtesy Visit Gainesville

Nothing draws our eyes like a gorgeous photo. Our fascination with pretty images is a leading cause of the meteoric rise of the new social media addiction called Pinterest. In July, Pinterest had 23.3 million unique users in the United States, making Pinterest the fourth-largest traffic driver worldwide.

People go to Pinterest to be surrounded by beautiful pictures and possibilities. The photo-sharing site is a visual bookmarking tool to organize images of various themes, including wedding planning, home decorating, recipes and travel ideas. Users create their own “boards” to categorize each photo.

For example, if you see an eye-catching image of Machu Picchu in a travel article, you can “pin it” in your Pinterest account to capture the picture and the article’s link. That way, you have an easy access back to the photo and article. Pinterest displays these clippings on “pin boards,” which you can organize by theme. By searching on Pinterest you can also find “repin” images originally pinned by other users. This can start a chain of repinning, so your original Machu Picchu picture could be repinned hundreds of times.

Hundreds of convention and visitors bureaus (CVBs) have now joined the Pinterest bandwagon to promote their destinations, figuring that one eye-catching image can often sell a destination better than the most eloquent words. When it joined in November 2011, Visit Savannah was one of the first CVBs to join Pinterest.

“The way I started using Pinterest for Savannah was for weddings,” said Amy Brock, social media manager for Visit Savannah. “Savannah is a great market for destination weddings, and Pinterest is a place where lots of brides are going for wedding ideas. As I started using it, we started showing off more of our restaurants, attractions and events. It became a place to promote all facets of our destination.”

Many other CVBs started using Pinterest in the spring of 2012, among them Visit Gainesville, which currently has boards relating to the Florida city’s college football team, events, farmers market and downtown attractions.

“I had seen some other CVBs already get their foot in the Pinterest waters, so I thought we could make good use of it too,” said Anna Mikell of Visit Gainesville. “I had been using Pinterest personally, and I was hooked. I thought it would be a great way for people to get a snapshot of the region that would go one step past the website.”

Another reason CVBs find Pinterest especially applicable to them lies in the fact that most Pinterest users are women. Since women are the main travel decision makers, it made sense to reach out to that market.

The site is different than the Facebook and Twitter sites, as it is primarily about photos. The staff at the Rapid City CVB have used that fact to their advantage to display photos of their impressive natural and man-made attractions, like the Badlands and Crazy Horse.

“Pinterest helped solve one of the issues we were having with our website,” said Ashley Auwerter, website and digital media manager for the Rapid City CVB. “Too many pictures of Crazy Horse on the website can be distracting, but on Pinterest it is absolutely perfect.”

With such a wide range of possible themes, how do CVBs decide what to pin? To gain the most followers and the most repins, the images have to be relevant to users.

“An important part of Pinterest is to pin photos that are interesting to others but still has them focus back on Rapid City,” said Auwerter. “We have boards on national parks, our downtown, restaurants and others. Items like local wineries that aren’t necessarily as well known also help with that.”

A photo’s “wow factor” can be an indicator of whether it will grab the attention of other Pinterest users. Without a bold image, users are likely to not even notice the description.

“If we have a piece of great photography, then that is the deciding factor on whether it will go on Pinterest,” said Paul Bencivengo, director of marketing and communications for Visit Bucks County. “The beauty of it is that your pin could be repinned hundreds of times. You can reach people that maybe you weren’t thinking of before.”