Has the Pandemic Killed the Freebie Journey for Journey Influencers? – Skift
It’s not uncommon for people in the travel industry to criticize influencer giveaways. The idea that online content creators require free or paid stays in travel destinations or hotels in order to post content from that location has become a common, albeit unpleasant, phenomenon over the past half decade. But the last person you could expect a review from is a blogger.
Ana Silva O’Reilly, who has been running the travel blog Mrs. O Around the World since 2011, urges her colleagues to rest temporarily. In a blog post earlier this summer, she launched the #PayingOurWay campaign calling on travel-related bloggers and influencers to help the travel industry recover by not asking for free or compensated travel.
“When the trip reopens and we can travel safely again, I encourage bloggers and influencers who have benefited from many press trips, giveaways and support in the past to help the industry by booking their own hotel stay and vacation, city tour” she wrote. “If you love it, you can create content about the experience for free without asking for compensation or freebies.”
Silva O’Reilly’s campaign touches on a controversial issue in the travel industry: is it worth offering free trips to influencers, bloggers and other travel writers when the return on investment is so difficult to predict? After all, anyone can describe themselves as a “travel influencer”, from a travel journalist with a few thousand followers to a true Internet celebrity with a large, but often limited reach.
This question is exacerbated by the pandemic where many small and large travel companies are in economic survival mode. Inquiries for reimbursed trips in exchange for content may therefore not only appear unrealistic, but also insensitive – and may damage future business relationships.
In a conversation with Skift, Silva O’Reilly made it clear that she wasn’t asking people to work for free (i.e. to create content). She simply says that now is not the time to trade for freebies or paid partnerships. Better, she said, is to go where and when you are comfortable and support the industry with your paperback.
She notes that like many other bloggers, she has multiple sources of income (she works in marketing) which means she is not without income during this time. It’s worth noting that many influencers consider it their sole source of income, which has messed up the future of this profession since travel started in March.
The feedback that Silva O’Reilly has received from her contacts in the industry has been encouraging. Tourism boards, hotels and brands said, “Thank you for doing this. It is great so that our time is not wasted on these requests. “
But not everyone agrees that this is the worst time to work with brands for travel influencers – and not all creators have the option to respond to other sources of income. Jade Broadus, vice president and creative director of Travel Mindset, an influencer marketing agency that connects influencers with travel brands to create custom campaigns and content, said travel destinations and hotels that reopen can benefit from the high level of trust that Influencers in their customers have audiences. She notes that 80 percent of influencers report higher engagement for their followers since the pandemic began.
“Before Covid, it was sometimes difficult for hotels to offer compensated stays because they could sell these rooms to paying guests. We are at an interesting time when hotels are not selling all of their rooms, and their restaurants and amenities are seeing fewer people on site, ”Broadus wrote in an email. “Now hotels can turn that negative into a positive by offering local stays compensated stays and getting market influencers and bloggers to quickly get positive press about them. The influencers can show how safe they felt at the property, what new protocols the hotels have put in place, and really share the overall experience of traveling again. “
Broadus also pushed back on the idea of ”free” or “compensated” travel. She said if there aren’t clear results between the influencer and the client, it’s a recipe for unmet expectations. But it’s one that, with a contract and clear expectations of the services to be provided, is easy to correct for whether the influencer is getting paid for their work or simply offering a free trip. This is better than ever during a pandemic.
“This does not mean that hotels and travel destinations have to offer compensated stays to every single influencer or every media inquiry,” said Broadus. “Now is the time for hotels and destinations to rely on solid relationships and only work with the influencers they trust, who have amazing content and their exact target market. Through quality review and relationship building, hotels and destinations can only offer their high-level influencers and bloggers compensated stays, and they get so much in return. “
Nigel Glennie, vice president of global communications at Hilton, also said that influencers and bloggers who want to approach a hotel brand now need to do so with a high level of sensitivity and understanding.
“It goes without saying that the travel and tourism industries are oversized by the global pandemic,” Glennie said. “Any influencer who is approaching a brand or hotel should take this into account and adjust their pitch accordingly.” We’re mostly offering a polite drop-off right now, and free stay requests get turned down pretty quickly. It’s not immediately obvious to people outside of our industry, but there really is no such thing as a free hotel room. “
So the free influencer’s journey may not be dead, but at least it was already moving in the direction of becoming much more sophisticated. Silva O’Reilly points out that “influencer” or “blogger” has been a catch-all term for too long where a fashion blogger posting bikini photos with a hotel pool as a backdrop is viewed as the same as someone with a refined focus and passion for luxury travel, for example.
“This will separate the more professional from the less professional,” said Silva O’Reilly. “Anyone I really know who takes this seriously has a variety of sources of income. You can’t have all of your eggs in the same basket. You also can’t live a life of free rides. I don’t know how people eat it. If everything is free, who pays the Amex bill? “
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