If your doors have been open for any length of time since, oh, 2010, then most likely your hotel has been approached by so-called ‘influencers’ looking for a complimentary stay. At first, these may seem like a bunch of over-privileged kids looking for a free ride. But, in truth, influencer marketing is more than a trendy millennial fad.
In fact, according to Mediakix, 89% of marketers report ROI from influencer marketing is comparable to or better than other marketing channels. Moreover, 71% of marketers said the quality of customers & traffic from influencer marketing is better than other sources.
It’s best to think of Influencer marketing as the modern day word-of-mouth. Most influencers work hard to cultivate their audience. They often reach a highly niche market of like-minded individuals. Very few ever reach the macro-influencer level with hundreds of thousands or even millions of followers. Smaller influencers rely on a community atmosphere and the strength of their personal brand to drive engagement. Because of this, they bring a level of credibility, authenticity, and trust to the products and services they choose to recommend.
In an era when OTAs dominate travel marketing—taking an ever-increasing bite out of your profit margin—influencer marketing can offer a relatively low-cost alternative for reaching your target audience.
That’s not to say you should accommodate every influencer who shows up unannounced at your front desk. In fact, it’s prudent to carefully screen the influencers you work with. Not only are there plenty of fake influencers who really are just looking for a handout, there are also genuine influencers who are not a good fit for your hotel brand.
To get more insight into how hotels can successfully work with travel influencers, I spoke with Timo Kiviluoma. Kiviluoma is an award-winning Finnish hotel blogger, Instagram influencer, and a cultural wanderer. He’s been in the business since 2012 and has cultivated an audience of 30,000 primarily wealthy, hotel-loving adults. Here’s what I learned:
Q. From the outside, being an “influencer” seems pretty glamorous: you get to travel on someone else’s dime, enjoying free meals, hotel rooms, and attractions. But what’s it like behind the scenes? What does a travel influencer really do?
As they say, there’s really no such thing as a free meal. Travel influencers like to show only the glamorous side of the business, but like any other profession, there is also a lot of invisible and boring work to do. A professional travel influencer is a combination of producer, planner, writer, photographer, editor, and a secretary. Moreover, the traveling itself can be very tiring when done regularly.
Also, it takes many years to achieve any kind of influencer position, if you are not already a celebrity or athlete. During those years, a wannabe-influencer needs to keep doing their “job” regularly, even if no one is paying for it.
Q. How do Influencers earn their money?
Most of the travel bloggers and influencers I know have multiple ways to make money. The most common is advertising income. Travel-related freelance writing is also quite common. In a smaller market, like Finland, most of the travel (and other) bloggers have at least a part-time day job.
Travel blogging is only one of the ways to make money. I personally also get my money from marketing planning and freelance writing. And if a destination or the hotel is in my true wish list, I’m willing to barter so no pure cash is exchanged.
Q. Why should a hotel brand engage in influencer marketing?
Influencer marketing can be used to build brand awareness or strengthen a brand image, giving it a boost of authenticity and credibility. The best time to work with a hotel or travel blogger is when a significant change is happening. The most common occasion, for me, is just after the opening of a brand-new hotel or a major reconstruction on an existing one. That’s when there aren't enough relevant visitor reviews on sites like TripAdvisor, Instagram, or YouTube.
Another typical case is when there is the threat of significant change in the current hotel guest base. For example, right now the future of traveling after Covid-19 is a great unknown for all of us, and hotel owners are justly worried. If regular guests are not allowed to travel, a new customer base will have to be found, which may require new content, maybe in new languages. This is something an influencer can help with.
Q. What kinds of things can an influencer do to promote a hotel brand and approximately how much should the hotel expect to pay for those services?
An influencer can do all kinds of PR and marketing plus some sales activities. Influencers are most influential when a hotel is creating early phase awareness, building their brand image, or launching new services.
Hotel owners like to see direct sales happening, but keep in mind that the nature of social media is to try to keep users on the platform, and not encourage them to follow outside links. So almost the only way an influencer can make direct sales is by offering a personal promotion code with a sizable discount.
The cost to the hotel owner varies a lot, at minimum expect to cover the influencer's travel costs, flights, accommodation, some meals, and some activities.
Q. What makes for a successful partnership between a hotel brand and a travel influencer?
The best match between a hotel brand and a travel influencer happens when a travel influencer’s follower base is pretty much the same as the hotel’s typical guest. The pure number of social media followers is not the most important thing–the compatibility of a travel influencer’s audience and a hotel brand’s needs is the crucial factor. The number itself only indicates potential reach, but if you’re reaching the wrong kind of people, your money and effort are wasted.
Age and nationality are the most natural criteria to start with; a hotel brand knows where their guests typically come—or might come—from and what their typical age is. A seasoned travel influencer should have a media card that tells basic facts about their audience.
A hotel brand also knows what kind of guests are arriving: are they carrying backpacks or expensive suitcases? Do they have families or are they already retired? This kind of audience profile detail should also be found on the media card, or at least the influencer should be able to answer questions about it.
Q. If there is a particular influencer that a brand would like to work with, what’s the best way to reach out?
If the influencer is not a celebrity or other mega-influencer, ask directly. Tell them who you are and what you are looking for, then ask for an offer. In the offer, there should be at least the campaign idea, timetable, and fee specified.
Q. There are influencer marketing agencies popping up, is there an advantage of working through one of them? Or is it better to approach an influencer directly?
If you are looking for mega or macro influencers, contact their agents. Those influencers tend to have an agent or a marketing agency representing them. They are getting so many requests they cannot handle them all by themselves. They also charge more so they can pay for the agent or agency.
But if you are not ready to pay so much for an influencer, or if you are looking to barter, contact the influencer directly. Sometimes you can find micro and nano influencers on marketing platforms, which they use to gain statistics and credibility; however, contact them directly, too.