Travel Influencer Marketing : How to Choose the Right Influencer to Promote Your Hotel, Product, or Brand
First of all, let’s start with why I’m qualified to write this post. My name is Christina aka @JetsetChristina. I come from a professional background in brand marketing, working at companies like Google and advertising-technology company VDX, before quitting my job to be a full time travel blogger and influencer. I have seen this wild industry from the inside-out for the past 6 years, and have watched it evolve, for better and worse. I have worked on paid international marketing campaigns for such partners as Ritz-Carlton/Marriott International, Sony, Expedia, the Mexico Tourism Board, Singapore Airlines, Far Niente Wines, Aruba Tourism, and New York Times Travel.
I have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly of influencer marketing, and I’ve complained to my fiancé too many times about how there is a huge gap of understanding between the marketing professionals in this industry and the influencers they work with – and he encouraged me to bridge that gap through my platform. So here we are. I think I have valuable insights from being a leading luxury travel influencer and lifestyle blogger that will help you as a marketing professional – whether you are looking to market a hotel, destination, product or brand, or sorting through 1000’s of email requests from “influencers” – decide how to go about influencer marketing and differentiating between the many types of influencers that may or may not be right for your goals.
How can you tell a good influencer from one that will just waste your time and budget?
I’ve chatted a lot about this with general managers, tourism professionals, marketing managers and PR agencies. I always tell them it’s as simple as doing your research. Know the influencer, understand their brand. Because each influencer’s brand – and audience – is very unique and different. But of course as someone in the industry, who follows many other influencers, it is in my face every day. I understand that for someone working with an influencer for the first time, it may be intimidating to try and sort through who are the ‘good influencers’ and the ‘bad influencers’. So here are some questions you need to ask and research about said influencer when deciding if you should work with them before you sign the papers.
Who is their audience? Who are they influencing?
Who is the influencer’s audience? How do they speak to their audience? For example, are they selling ‘How to be a Travel Blogger’ and ‘How to Pitch a Luxury Hotel’ online courses to their audience? Do they make the bulk of their income on instagram presets that they sell in their bio, and they need pictures from your resort for their own benefit? Or does their Instagram bio lead to a high-traffic blog that gives their audience more information and calls-to-action than just a pretty photo?
Most importantly, take a peek at the profiles of the people who have liked their most recent photo. If you click through to these profiles (check at least 15-20 to get a good idea of a general target demographic that is engaging with this influencer) do these people seem to match up with your target audience?
If a luxury resort partners with someone with 1 million followers, but all of those followers are wannabe-influencers and wannabe-travel-bloggers that don’t have the money to afford that resort, but will likely inundate any resort that this 1M influencer stays at with constant requests for hosted stays (and no value added), this is not ideal for a hotel. However, if someone has 50,000 luxury travel loving followers, who are directly in the market the resort is trying to reach, and are likely to book this luxury resort, that is much more valuable.
There are also many travel bloggers out there that cater to a more adventure-travel/hostel/backpacker audience. While they may take pretty photos at a luxury resort, this doesn’t mean their audience is ever going to book said luxury resort.
Speaking of pretty photos – is their photography on-brand for your product, brand, hotel or resort?
Check out their instagram feed. Would you put these photos in your brand’s feed? Is it all selfies or butt-pics? Or is it high-quality, beautiful photography that inserts a person into the photo of the resort thoughtfully, in a way that doesn’t detract from the resort’s beauty one bit, but rather enhances it — transporting the viewer of the photo to that destination, imagining themselves as that woman or man, enjoying that piña colada poolside, and dipping their toes into the warm sand.
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What is the long-term ROI of working with this particular influencer? Can they realistically give it to you?
It’s important to know your goals. Is it getting three posts you can share on your account’s instagram? Is it connecting with a targeted audience that your general marketing efforts are looking to focus on? Is it up-selling by giving a play-by-play experience and highlighting activities at your resort that are a ‘must-do’ for a guest that has already booked? Is it giving a more detailed review of your resort that your competitor doesn’t have – thus leading to converting warm, qualified leads that may have otherwise gone with your competition?
It’s important to be interested in long-term value, not just a quick swipe up or instagram photo only seen for a few days. Instagram is great for content and inspiration, but it’s not where people book travel. Blogs are where the value is – because that’s where the people who are actually booking travel are.
You probably found this article on Google. That is because my website’s SEO is extremely high-ranking and most of my blog posts rank on the first page of Google search results. The long-term value of having an article that mentions your brand ranking on the first page of Google search results is virtually priceless. We are talking QUALIFIED traffic, of people searching with INTENT. Think of the difference in a lead of a customer who is ALREADY searching “Bali honeymoon” and comes across my Bali honeymoon guide – which highlights your restaurant as a must-eat restaurant in Bali, or your hotel as the best hotel to stay for a honeymoon, or your product as a must-pack item for any trip to Bali, compared to someone seeing a photo on instagram of a hotel in Bali that they may never go to in their lifetime- but they think is really pretty!
Should you pay an influencer? Why are they worth paying?
When it comes to deciding whether you should pay an influencer, it simply comes down to will that influencer make you your money back, as well as give you more value than that on top of that. For the brands I work with and the tourism and marketing professionals I chat with on the subject, the benefit of working with an influencer is usually 1) driving bookings, especially in lower seasons 2) having more high-quality social media and marketing imagery to use, and 3) driving brand awareness.
As an example, let’s take a recent paid partnership I did with Mantea Casa Villa in Cabo – a gorgeous 8-bedroom, $6000 a night vacation rental in the cliffs of Cabo San Lucas. To be fully transparent here for the purposes of this article, my influencer fee was $1100 payment per day of our stay, plus all flights, transportation, activities, meals and beverages covered for me and my fiance. In exchange for the villa hosting us and paying my influencer fee, they received 2 SEO-optimized blog post features on JetsetChristina.com, a guaranteed instagram post per day of the stay, instagram stories, various other social media coverage, and 20 high-resolution, edited images to use on their marketing and social media. Today, I drive 10-15 bookings per month (in a pandemic) to this $6000 a night villa through my blog. I think it’s safe to say they’ve more than made their money back.(*I’m able to see how many bookings because I can track the links and the booking rates via my airbnb affiliate partnership)
While sometimes it’s a huge investment for the right influencer, it’s also a huge opportunity to turn influencer marketing into a serious driver of bookings, not a scary thing you know you should be trying to do but don’t know how to go about it.
This was a very successful partnership for both of us – and I knew it would be. I have a luxury-travel-loving audience of affluent millennials, and I have the SEO necessary to make sure when people search “The best luxury villas for groups in Cabo” they end up looking at Mantea Casa.
A pet peeve of mine, however, is when any partner expects to make their money back the second you throw up a swipe-up on instagram stories, or post one photo, or the second a blog post goes live. It just doesn’t work like that. It is very important to know that if an influencer has true influence, it’s not just them MENTIONING your brand in a quick swipe-up that is going to compel their audience to buy, it’s a longer story series (such as daily stories experiencing your hotel on a trip, or repeatedly using or swearing by your product over time naturally, because of the experience you provide them).
It’s about a bigger, more long-term relationship that makes the difference. I can’t tell you the amount of times that I get DM’s asking me to decide between one hotel I’ve been to and their competitor, months after I’ve stayed there. (and of course, if I’ve had a good experience with a hotel I’ve partnered with, I will confidently direct my audience to what I know they will love, and they will stay there over the hotel’s competition). On the blog side, it takes time for SEO to build, and the influencer needs to be properly compensated to be motivated to succeed for your brand, and continue to drive traffic.
By the way, not every partnership I do as an influencer is always paid – depending on the partner and the campaign, I have also done unpaid hosted stays at hotels and resorts and villas. These will usually be for fewer deliverables, but are for somewhere I’m already going and the value to me of being able to stay in a certain resort and share what it’s like with my audience on the blog and instagram, is worth it to forfeit my influencer fee. However, if it’s a resort or tourism board flying me out to a destination and me taking time out of my busy work schedule to promote them, I of course require payment for my time and effort.
On the product-side, I am often sent free product, with no expectation of posting, just to see if I like it! I love testing out lots of products and clothing, and my most successful brand partnerships when it comes to products have actually been things that I already use and love, and have tagged the brands in stories a couple times, and then they have reached out to me with a paid campaign idea, or when I have actively pitched them with an idea for a bigger campaign.
Influencer marketing can be intimidating, stressful, and unknown, but if you take my guidance on how to sort through influencers and choose the right influencer for your brand and goals, it can be an incredible marketing tool in 2021 and on, and is an investment that will continue to drive purchases and bookings long into the future.
in partnership with the Four Seasons Bali at Sayan