A turquoise-blue sea, white sandy beach and not a person in sight: A holiday scene to dream about. What in the past found a place in a private photo album nowadays finds its way onto the Internet, millions of times over.

Above all, travellers tend to post their travel pictures on Instagram, serving as a source of inspiration to other globetrotters. The photo platform can be useful for one’s own travel planning – provided one knows what to watch out for.

Essentially, photos on Instagram trigger impulses: “That looks fantastic, I want to go there too!”

The fact that these pictures often appear to be unembellished and come straight from the source can make them more credible and authentic, explains Cologne social media expert Hendrik Unger. “This is more convincing than a travel brochure,” he says.

Travel companies have long since recognised this, which is why they use so-called influencers – users with a particularly strong reach – for their digital advertising campaigns. One example is the German travel firm Tui.

“Instagram is how we reach the under 35-year-olds,” says Annika Ducksch, social manager at Tui Germany. Tui uses not only photos but also other formats such as short video sequences on Instagram Stories. “For one moment, users are brought into a travel destination,” she said.

Some countries make sure content creators tell viewers they are looking at something that for which money has been paid, often through hashtags that show advertisement. In such instances, the location is often presented in an especially positive light. Users must keep this in mind.

On the other hand, influencers also don’t necessarily present those secret tips that one can’t find anywhere else.

Timo Kohlenberg, founder of the German luxury travel firm Feinreisen, advises people to be sceptical in general towards photos that have been marked as paid for. “The sponsored hotels are not always the best ones,” he says.

With perspective adjusters and filters there can be a lot of cheating: The hotel swimming pool looks larger and the sea is a deeper blue than in reality.

Of decisive importance for one’s own travel planning is the time the picture was taken, Unger notes. For example, the blossoming cherry trees in a park in Tokyo, Japan. In the photo they look heavenly. But the trees blossom for only 10 days and only then look so beautiful.

But the network can also be used simply to get travel ideas. A mixture of the search function and the proper hashtags can do the job here. These shouldn’t be too general – #Wanderlust or #Travel are not very good guideposts.

Those heading to Thailand and seeking tips might, for example, type in #lovethailand. Find a nice picture there, then beneath it further fitting hashtags can be found.

But how to find the spot where the fantastic picture of the waterfall in the jungle was taken, if the place was not recorded somewhere? This is often not a problem if one has at least a few clues. “Most travel operators work together with foreign tourism offices and can help,” Kohlenberg says.

Those who want some inspiration for the upcoming holidays can certainly find it with Instagram. But a healthy portion of scepticism should be on hand as well, along with confidence in one’s own research. After all, a Japanese cherry tree without its blossoms will never live up to the one in your Instagram feed. – dpa/Jule Zentek