Original Article: TravelAge West
Influencers. Whether you love them or hate them, they’re becoming an ever-more-visible presence in our social media feeds, on our television screens and in the advertisements we see for everything from beauty products to fitness gear to travel.
But what does this have to do with travel advisors?
Well, influencers can wield enormous power among their followers, and many travel companies are already channeling that sway to raise brand awareness, generate booking leads and sell out special itineraries. And if travel advisors aren’t yet getting in on this action, they are missing out on a huge opportunity in today’s marketplace.
Here’s a look at how agents can tap into the power of influencers — and why they should seriously consider doing so.
Travel Companies Are Already Turning to Influencer Marketing
Travel-focused influencers — a term which may include bloggers, social media personalities or other types of online content creators — are doing more these days than posting from their trips. They are engaging in a variety of partnerships with travel companies to impact travelers’ booking decisions.
“Influencers are the new third-party endorsement for travelers.”
“Influencers are the new third-party endorsement for travelers,” said Steve Born, chief marketing officer for the Globus Family of Brands, which he says has been working with influencers for years. “Travelers spend a big part of their leisure time with the people they follow. And it’s more than just information; it’s a connection to their lifestyle. So, influencers are a way that people consume specific ideas about traveling, [such as] where to go, how to get there and who to do it with.”
Born notes that he sees “three levels of engagement” between travel companies and influencers: First, a hosted experience featuring firsthand content from the trip; second, an influencer regularly promoting a company that they feel a connection to; and third, helping an influencer host a trip that he or she invites followers to join.
Globus recently hosted Lina and David Stock (of “Divergent Travelers”) on a tour. Credit: 2022 Globus Family of Brands/Lina and David Stock.
According to Born, hosting influencers on Globus trips has been “a huge hit in terms of marketing, exposure and reach — so much so that we’re looking to go to other levels.”
Luxury safari operator Alluring Africa is another travel brand that’s getting into the world of influencer partnerships.
This month, the company is operating a small-group vegan safari and South Africa tour hosted by Diana Edelman, creator of the “Vegans, Baby” blog. To set the itinerary, Edelman joined Becca Fritz, marketing manager of Alluring Africa, on a vetting trip to choose hotels, experiences and restaurants for the tour.
Fritz says that the idea to partner with a blogger came out of the pandemic, when the company wanted to find new ways to reach travelers.
“When I plan my trips, I’m Googling stuff; I’m on Instagram and Pinterest,” she said. “And that’s when I thought, we should go after bloggers.”
Out of the 10 traveler spots available on the itinerary, Fritz says that seven of the spots were filled — even though sales launched the same week that the Omicron variant hit the news cycle.
“Vegans, Baby” blogger Diana Edelman partnered with Alluring Africa. Credit: 2022 Alluring Africa
While the hosted trip is a new venture for Alluring Africa, Fritz notes that the company also works with bloggers who share the company’s ethos by supplying content in exchange for referral links. She says the benefit of this agreement is there aren’t any major upfront costs, but the posts can reach a lot of potential travelers if the blog has strong keyword rankings on Google.
“What I like about bloggers and influencers is they’re on your phone and you’re seeing them every day,” Fritz said. “So, they essentially have more touchpoints than traditional marketing does.”
“The benefit [of working with influencers] is ultimately about trust,” added Eric Dahan, co-founder and CEO of Open Influence, a creator-driven marketing company. “And in today’s world, people trust people — we trust friends’ recommendations, we trust bloggers or review sites, we trust influencers.”
Working With Influencers
It’s not just big brands that are already working with influencers — some travel advisors have initiated partnerships, as well.
Allison Jones, president of Destinations to Explore, says her travel agency started working with influencers about 10 years ago, after seeing a lot of business come in from the company’s YouTube channel and collaborating with others in that space.
“When we work with influencers, our closing ratio is much higher than any of our other marketing,” she said. “Their followers already like them, and that trust level is already there. So, if they say, ‘Book with my partner,’ people will go ahead and book. It’s an opportunity to get someone to buy in without a lot of extra work.”
“When we work with influencers, our closing ratio is much higher than any of our other marketing.”
For Jones’ agency, collaborations can range from sending an Instagrammer on a one-day hotel visit to a hosted trip. She also forms long-term partnerships with influencers who regularly promote her agency for a set fee.
Nadia Henry, owner of Travel With Sparkle, started working with influencers more recently. In May of 2021, she organized a luxury trip to Dubai for 14 couples, including an existing client who is a celebrity influencer. Within about four days of postings, Henry says her agency’s follower count rose from around 2,000 to 14,000. “I couldn’t keep up,” Henry said. “I was getting people in my DMs [direct messages], texting me, saying, ‘I want you to do a trip just the way you’re doing it for her.’ That’s when I saw what influencers can do for your business.”
Advisor Nadia Henry (far right) hosted a trip to Dubai that included a client/influencer (second from right). Credit: 2022 Nadia Henry
In fact, with so many clients clamoring to work with her, Henry started implementing a fee for her services for the first time.
“It showed my worth, because people were saying, ‘If she’s this influencer’s travel agent, I know she does a good job, so she could be mine also,’” Henry said, adding that she is working on collaborations with a number of influencers as part of her ongoing marketing strategy.
Tips for Getting Started
For advisors who don’t have existing connections to content creators or influencers, there are still plenty of ways to create these lucrative relationships.
One of Jones’ favorite ways to find content creators is through Twitter — she recommends searching for hashtags related to the type of travel an advisor sells, then reaching out to establish common ground and, eventually, seeing if they are interested in collaborating. She also advises engaging with the person’s content regularly to help foster a connection.
“You don’t just want to reach out once and then call it quits,” Jones said. “Continue to stay in touch and comment on their posts. You want them to know you really like their page.”
Jessica Parker, a longtime travel public relations expert who also recently started travel planning under her Trip Whisperer brand, says that in-person industry events (such as travel shows) are another good way for advisors to meet content creators who may be speakers or panel participants. And she should know — for the last three years, Parker helped produce the TravelCon conference, which both taught travel advisors about online content creation, and aided creators who wanted to break into travel planning (although Parker says this year’s event was the final one).
By attending events, Parker notes, advisors can ask influencers how they manage booking inquiries they may get from followers.
“Ask them if there’s an opportunity to work together,” Parker said. “Can they refer clients to you in exchange for a referral fee or kick back on commission? There’s money on the table here.”
An important part of this process is finding the right content creators to work with. First and foremost, any partner should be a good fit for the advisor’s brand, aligning with the type of travel they sell, the clients they want to attract and the overall ethos of their business.
“Reach out to someone you feel connected to,” Parker said. “If you already feel this person expresses who you are and how you plan travel, that’s a great place to start.”
“If you already feel this person expresses who you are and how you plan travel, that’s a great place to start.”
It’s also key to remember that this isn’t just a numbers game. While it might be tempting to go for the person who has the most followers, a huge audience doesn’t help if those followers don’t regularly engage with the content.
“Don’t go after influencers because of their numbers,” Jones said. “He or she may have 1 million subscribers, but that may not bring you leads. Look for influencers who have a very engaged following.”
When choosing an influencer partner, look for someone who reflects your brand, target market and business ethos. Credit: 2022 pikselstock/stock.adobe.com.
The relationship you foster with your partners matters, too.
“It shouldn’t be a one and done,” Jones added. “You want to create relationships with influencers. [If they] go on just one trip and promote you during that time, you won’t get your money’s worth.”
Ultimately, that connection can have a real impact on the end product, according to Open Influence’s Dahan.
“If [creators] feel really personally invested, that’s going to reflect in the content,” he said. “Make sure they’re happy. Make sure they’re excited. Make sure they genuinely care.”
Advisors as Influencers
There’s one more way for advisors to get into the influencer action — by becoming one themselves.
If you think about it, there’s a huge overlap in what travel influencers and travel agents do: They are constantly in cool places, are often posting on social media about their trips and are always building excitement and demand for travel. And some agents have already figured this out.
Destinations to Explore’s Jones, for example, started her Jones Family Travels brand because clients wanted to follow along with her trips (which often involved the whole family). Once she saw the power her posts had to create business, she started working with hotels, tourism boards and other companies as an influencer.
“It helped our agency get leads, as well as brought in another stream of income for our business,” Jones said. “It’s a great way to cross-promote.”
Travel advisors can become influencers themselves, thanks to their extensive work travels. Credit: 2022 Alluring Africa.
Following her Dubai trip, Travel With Sparkle’s Henry was also inspired to try her hand at influencing.
“I became an influencer myself, in my own way, just from learning about all of this,” she said. “I go to all these fancy hotels, I travel all over the world, but I wasn’t letting people know about it. It made me realize that I need to put myself out there as a professional.”
Globus’ Born sees real potential for advisors to break into this field, as well.
“I feel like there’s an opportunity for advisors around the idea of inviting their followers to join them [on a trip],” he said. “Traditionally, that sort of group travel would have been built around a geographic location, such as a church or community center, but now agents have their own network that is unhindered by geography. If they can build on top of that, tell their network ‘you can join me on this particular trip,’ I think there’s a world of opportunity there.”