Journey influencers: The nice, the dangerous and the downright ugly
(CNN) – Amy Seder is not used to having the door slammed in the face. Her elaborately crafted Instagram posts of a glamorous life in glamorous travel destinations have earned her an army of online admirers that the travel industry is typically eager to embrace.
When she recently contacted a hotel in Italy in hopes of a free stay in exchange for social media exposure, she was bluntly turned down.
“Blogger infestation. Not interested,” came the curt reply.
So-called travel influencers like Seder earn their living by sharing their global experiences on social media and personal blogs. They receive freebies, discounts, or payments for promoting places, products, and experiences through their accounts.
In recent years, the number of people who seem to have made careers in this way has increased relatively sharply. The many travelers now planning their vacation based on what they saw on social media make it a viable proposition.
But it’s a trend that, as Seder noted, may have now reached saturation point as some hotels and other travel industry organizations tire of influencers’ demands on them and increasingly doubt the commercial benefits.
Inspirational or Obnoxious?
Partly to blame for the disillusionment is the recent headlines about legitimate and inappropriate behavior that have exposed the line between inspiring the online community and its unbridled anger.
Gianluca Casaccia, a beach club owner in the Philippines, went on Facebook in April to plunge into “freeloaders,” which he said plagued his home with requests for free food, drink and accommodation.In another case, a Czech couple traveling in Bali caused trouble after they apparently splashed holy water in a temple and posted pictures of it on an Instagram account with tens of thousands of followers.
While these incidents are not representative of the many influencers staying away from controversy, they have helped shed the spotlight on a side of the travel industry that many people may not know about and highlight some of the die-hard realities beneath the surface of softness -focused dream landscapes on Instagram.
They also raise questions about the sustainability of the agreements between influencers and the travel industry, as well as the lifestyles they support in a rapidly changing industry environment.
While travel blogging is a relatively young phenomenon, it has already grown into a mature and sophisticated business model, with participants on both sides working hard to protect and promote their brands.
A working relationship
Those on the industry side say there is a tangible commercial benefit provided influencers are carefully screened.
“When people actively like and comment on the influencer’s posts, it shows that they’re taking inspiration from the destination,” Keiko Matsuura, PR specialist at the Japan National Tourism Organization, told CNN Travel.
“We monitor comments and notes when users flag other accounts or make comments on the destination and suggest that they add them to their virtual travel basket lists. Someone has an impact when they have an engagement rate of over 3.5%.”
For some tourism companies, bloggers offer a way to promote products that more conventional channels may overlook. Even those with just 40,000 followers can make a difference.
Kimron Corion, communications manager for Grenada Tourism Board, says his organization has “had great success with micro-influencers effectively uncovering some of our niche offerings”.
However, such engagement is not cheap.
All expenses paid
Travel or freebies often cover luxury experiences, which means a significant amount of work for the hotel or tourism authority in question.
A night in the Serenity Club Junior Suite Ocean Front at the Haven Resort in Cancun, Mexico costs between $ 500 and $ 900, depending on the season. The Insta-famous Marina Bay Sands in Singapore can cost up to $ 720 a night.
This puts additional pressure on finding the right influencer to get the relevant message across – especially if the goal is to provide real-time social media presence.
“We analyze every profile to make sure it suits you,” says Florencia Grossi, Director of International Promotion at Visit Argentina. “We’re looking for content with dynamic and engaging stories that invite followers to live the experience.”
One challenge is to weed out real influencers from fake ones. This task is usually done by manually checking audience feedback for responses that would reveal automated followers. Fake bloggers are another reason the market is becoming more cautious.
“If comments are just emojis or are slightly out of context, it suggests a bot,” says Anne Pedersen, public relations director at Atout France, a French travel website. “If the comments are all from the same country, the accounts could be fake.”
While some companies and organizations may turn their backs on influencers, many still find it profitable to get involved.
Seder, who took hold after she and her fiancé Brandon Burkley quit their jobs in New York to travel full-time, soon found an alternative Italian venue ready to close a deal despite being “blogger-infected” from the first. Hotel rejected.
Such hectic pace is part of a job that, according to those who make a living from it, is way tougher than the sun-drenched Instagram photos would lead you to believe.
The most successful influencers spend most of their time growing their audiences and developing content – often with a team of dedicated people.
They also spend a fair amount of time looking for handouts in exchange for Instagram posts, branded tweets, YouTube videos, and more.
Posts are typically valued at around $ 1,000 per 100,000 followers, depending on the audience’s location. Some top travel influencers also receive a daily rate or delivery price.
Seder makes money from tourism brands who pay for sponsored Instagram and blog posts. Additional income comes from her professional photography and affiliate marketing.
She says her job often becomes more difficult because influencers often meet traditional travel journalists on regulated press trips that fail to consider their need to constantly connect with their audiences.
“There were times when I was forced to get up in the middle of the night to do my contracted services because I had absolutely no time during the day,” she says.
“The best press trips are those with a balance of activities and shooting times, a mix of famous and local authentic destinations, and arrangements with popular spots before or after hours to avoid crowds.”
Valeria Hinojosa, a Bolivian private banker who became an influencer with 129,000 Instagram followers, specializes in promoting green hotels around the world for which she charges more than $ 3,000.
“My goal is to show that every goal has a story,” she says. “From sustainable hotels to the friendliness of the locals, the exotic taste and aroma of the food to the connection with nature.”
Hinojosa says she doesn’t get too into the audience.
“If I reach the souls of my readers through my words, I have succeeded,” she says. “The excess of love I get from the people who follow me and the brands I work with is a good measure.”
Dimag Ozgum from San Francisco (539,000 followers) measures his impact by how often his photos are replicated and how many Instagrammers use his community hashtag #VacationWolf.
“After we visit and share a region, a large number of influencers are influenced and travel there,” he says.
Walter DeMirci, US Country Manager at the Qatar National Tourism Council, recognizes the limitations of using influencers, even if his organization is still willing to use them.
“While creating beautiful content is part of the requirement, a successful partnership also means creating an organic brand ambassador who shares their positive experiences with friends and families outside of social media,” he says.
In other words, tourism boards are trying to identify good influencers who create educational posts about their travel destinations, which then inspire travelers to book a trip.
It can be difficult here. Not all influencers are necessarily interested in the value their posts add to their audience, leading to scenes like the Bali Temple incident or outbreaks like those of the Filipino club owner.
Joe Nicchi, the owner of an ice cream truck in Los Angeles, is another one who has lost his cool with constant requests for handouts. Earlier this year, he announced that he intended to double-charge influencers.
Meanwhile, tourism officials report tantrums if the requirements are not met.
“One of our executives had an encounter with an influencer who said he never pays for anything after telling him that some of his meals would not be covered.” says Corion of the Grenada Tourism Authority.
Many luxury properties in the Maldives have suspended their influencer marketing programs after receiving countless inquiries from fraudulent influencers.
For well-intentioned influencers like Emilie Ristevski, who has over a million followers on Instagram, the rise of irresponsible “influencers” is frustrating.
“It’s disappointing to hear this is happening, it’s having a very negative impact on the industry,” she says. “It’s a shame to see that self-authorization and unethical work practices are a recurring theme for some influencers.”
If the influencer and a tourism Board Mesh, The Result Can Be Tourism Marketing Gold. Influencers bring new perspectives to goals and reach a broad, international audience.
According to Qatar’s DeMirci, influencers have been an asset in promoting his goal.
“With social media on the rise in terms of travel planning, we are entering into influencer partnerships that allow us to present Qatar from different perspectives,” he says.
And, says Ristevski, at a time of runaway mass tourism where travelers are often accused of harming the places they visit by such large numbers of people, influencers can be a driving force, especially in promoting less known destinations.
“Bringing sustainable tourism to remote areas helps smaller communities and their livelihoods,” she adds, “and helps offset the over-tourism due to photographic locations.”