What makes a destination beautiful? – An analysis of Instagram pictures

An eTourism Research Project by: Diana Hauser, Antonia Leopold, Leonie Hauser, Hasini Uthpala Ganewita


Does beauty really lie in the eye of the beholder? This question already indicates that beauty and aesthetics are highly subjective. But is this really true? When comparing a sunny picture of a beach with a dark photo of a mountain, which one will be perceived as more aesthetic and generate more likes on social media? This question has been asked throughout history and the research community has dealt with aesthetics in various areas of studies, such as architecture, marketing, or landscape analysis. However, in tourism, not many researchers have yet explored the relationship between destination pictures and aesthetics.

That´s where our contribution comes in. We were looking at 400 selected images posted on Instagram with the hashtag #beautifuldestantions, which was chosen because 49,7 million posts were tagged with this caption. The large number of posts shows the great popularity of using the hashtag to describe beautiful destination pictures. In a survey 200 participants were asked to rate these images according to how aesthetically pleasing they perceive the content of the pictures, e.g., a bridge, a beach, or a river. In addition, participants were asked to rate their perceived influence of five chosen visual elements of design: colour, focus, angle of view, line, and light.

In our analysis we found out that pictures showing natural elements such as nature, mountain, wave, watercourse, ocean, and beach were perceived as more aesthetically pleasing than pictures representing human-made elements such as architecture, landmark, and city. The findings suggest that the content of pictures subconsciously influences perceived aesthetic perception. Additionally, we discovered that the visual elements light, colour, angle of view, focus and line have different levels of influence for different picture contents. For example, while light seems to influence pictures showing a watercourse, it does not do so for pictures displaying a coast. Overall, colour was found to be the most influential element, while focus was the least influential.

Putting the findings into practice, they can be used by DMOs to improve their social media presence and increase their online coverage by having the knowledge of what exactly in a destination picture is perceived as aesthetically pleasing. When taking pictures, content specific images can be combined with new knowledge about their combination with visual design elements and can therefore create more likes.

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