The one thing that is now the biggest influence on where we take holidays

What's the most powerful app in the travel world? TripAdvisor? It would have to be up there. Airbnb? Also in the top 10, for sure. Skyscanner? It's close.

These are booking agents and review sites that cover the entire world, that help travellers decide where to go, what to do, when to go, and how they're going to get there. And then they help you book everything. That's powerful.

However, if you stopped at those three, you'd be missing out on some major players. In fact two of the most powerful apps in the travel world – two that are becoming increasingly heavy hitters – are not even travel apps.

They're social media. Facebook, and Instagram. Those two apps that seem to run everything else in our lives also drive our travel habits. You might not be able to book a holiday through them directly (yet), but they go a long way to deciding where you'll go next, and what you'll do when you get there.

If you think this doesn't apply to you, then you're probably not a Millennial or Generation X. They're the ones driving the popularity of Insta and FB in the travel sphere. They're the ones taking #travelinspo from their phones. And everyone else is bound to follow suit at some point.

Consider this: a recent study by the travel booking agency Expedia found 67 per cent of Millennial and Gen X Australians were choosing their next holiday from Instagram. Two-thirds of travellers choosing their destination almost solely from Insta photos.

The same number of people also chose "Instagrammability" as the most important factor when deciding on a holiday destination. In other words: how jealous will my friends be when I post about this on social media?

The results of various other studies, including by the trends monitor Skift – collated by the ICE travel portal – found 87 per cent of Millennials looked to Facebook for travel inspiration, while 97 per cent would post about their own travel experiences on social media.

So that's the model for younger travellers: research on Instagram and Facebook, find places you think will make your friends on social media jealous, and then post incessantly from said places once you get there.

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You would notice it, surely, on your own feeds. A few years ago I didn't know anyone who'd been to Puglia, the sunny, laid-back heel on the giant boot that is Italy. This northern summer, however, at least six or seven of my friends have suddenly started posting photos from beachside resorts there.

That's no coincidence. The more people are exposed to these destinations, and the more they're sold the dream not by advertisers and brands but by their own friends and celebrities who are desperate to show the world what an amazing time they're having in these exotic places, the more people want to follow them and do the same.

A similar thing has happened in Croatia, a destination that is made for Instagram. The water is so clear and beautiful there, the fishing villages on the islands so picture-perfect, the cities like Dubrovnik so reminiscent of the scenes from Game of Thrones that were shot there. It's a country that's begging to be grammed, and it is. And people are following the photos. Tourism in Croatia is going crazy.

One of the most interesting statistics from the Expedia study, however – and something to bear in mind before taking all that travel inspo and turning it into a actual holiday – is that people are prone to lying on social media. I mean, no kidding. But still, we're not just talking about exaggeration here, but outright fakery.

A whopping 40 per cent of the men polled admitted to having posted a fake holiday snap on Instagram. A more reasonable 21 per cent of women said they'd done the same thing. Travellers are so desperate to make their friends at home jealous that they'll steal other people's photos to get the job done.

Raining today at your Puglia beach resort? No worries – grab a photo from Google Images.

Obviously, this is all completely understandable. You see a photo of somewhere amazing, and of course you want to visit. Travel is a highly visual activity. And there's nothing wrong with discovering new parts of the world through your friends' experiences and adventures.

The scary part, however, is that social media is so prevalent, and so powerful. It creates this huge feedback loop of inspiration and duplication, a cycle that results in everyone going to the same places and doing the same things over and over again. We're all going to Puglia, we're all going to Barcelona, we're all going to Croatia, we're all going to Cuba. Next year, it will probably be the same.

That's the new reality in the travel world. Never mind which app you're using: the most powerful tool of all is envy.

How do you choose your next travel destination? Are you influenced by social media? Do you think about whether your holiday snaps will make your friends jealous?

Email: b.groundwater@fairfaxmedia.com.au

Instagram: instagram.com/bengroundwater

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