The days of guidebooks and holiday brochures have been replaced with a fresh type of content marketing: user-generated content. We are living in the age of the always-connected-traveller; an era where travellers are now in the hot-seat. So what exactly is user-generated content (UGC), and how can online travel companies reap its rewards?

People love to share; from adventure videos and resort recommendations to selfie snaps and filtered pictures of food. Recent research reveals that travellers are so keen to share, many of them don't wait until they return home; 72% post photos during their trip. As of June this year, over 47 million images under '#travel' have been posted on Instagram alone.

It's crucial that travel brands remain agile and capitalise on these moments – gathering this content in order to educate, influence and engage. According to Nielsen, 92% of consumers around the globe have faith in word-of-mouth over any other kind of advertising, with 70% claiming that online customer reviews are their second most trusted form. 76% believe that online reviews provide "insider knowledge" that they could not get anywhere else.

Travel companies have now come to terms with the fact that websites are the most effective means through which to combine and present authentic traveller content. Through websites, you can also capture valuable data and promote the sharing of UGC, seamlessly encouraging visitors to make a purchase.

According to a 2015 study by Smart Insights, there is a clear and undeniable link between UGC and website engagement. It discovered that UGC, including reviews, ratings and photos, increased customer retention, in particular new site visitors who were probably in the early stages of the decision-making process.

Most notably, the research revealed that exposure to UGC boosted the conversion rate by 17.8% - essentially resulting in increased revenue for the business in question.

An example of a brand that has used UGC to its advantage is Etihad Airways. To celebrate reaching one million fans on Facebook, it filtered through and curated some of the best images taken by its customers featuring the brand, before publishing the photos to convey to others what it's like to fly with their airline. Other travel companies in the UK, including Hotel.com, Booking.com and Expedia have embraced UGC in one form or another; for example, Expedia clearly showcases consumer reviews on each hotel page.

By putting UGC at the heart of your online travel company's brand marketing, you can increase revenue, but also build the trust of your site visitors by creating a more authentic experience.