How to Work with Travel Influencers: The Ultimate Guide

Written by Lemongrass Marketing on 14th Dec 2021

Travel brands understand the importance of working with influencers. But there’s so much to unpack, and so many pitfalls to avoid, that knowing how to get it right can seem difficult.

Many of our clients know that they need to work with influencers, but hate the whole “coffee mug cliché”. And to be honest, so do we. Yet, if you know where to look there are fantastic influencers, who produce genuinely good content, have loyal followers and can shift tours, packages, hotel rooms or bring new visitors to a destination.

The first thing we’d say is to ignore any “top 50 travel influencers” lists. Sure, you’ll find plenty of those lists – but these are completely pointless. Usually, these lists are pieces of content designed by social media agencies or PR agencies as ego bait (to get the media or influencers to share it) and for the agency to get a backlink, with no intention of helping you find the best travel influencer for your brand.

Why? Your top influencer won’t be the same as the next brand’s best fit. It always depends on what audience you want to attract as a travel brand.

As an example – explorers like Ray Mears or Bear Grylls could do wonders for an outdoor travel brand, whereas someone like nutritionist Rosemary Ferguson is an ideal ambassador for wellness holidays.

The point is this: someone who influences one target group is completely irrelevant to another.

In this post, we’ll share our experience and knowledge of how to work with travel influencers; from finding a fit, to getting results.

Honesty and openness make influencers reliable sources of information for their fans. And for travel brands, a good word from an influencer can be as powerful as an international advertising campaign.

There are, as with any kind of mass marketing or advertising, risks. There are still bad practices in play – like fake influencers who’ve bought fake followers, and free-for-all feeding frenzies of inauthentic posts. Those dangers still exist – but we’ll show you how to spot them with tools and manual checks.

Working with influencers should have a measurable impact on travel brands’ exposure and bottom line, so when results don’t come through, something’s wrong.

In our deep-dive guide, we’ll help you get more value from your investment in influencers.

First, let’s get to know the different types of influencers

As you’ve probably guessed, influencers aren’t all the same. Before we consider an influencer’s personal branding, we can categorise groups of influencers by their reach and audience size. There are pros and cons to working with each group, but we’ll cover a strategic approach for working with different types of influencers later on.

Mega influencers – AKA celebrities

These are the biggest stars of all, with millions of followers. Hollywood, Bollywood, Pinewood, Dollywood – silver screen megastars and household names. Think Gwyneth Paltrow, Daniel Craig, Oprah, Margot Robbie, Keira Knightley, Beyoncé, Shah Rukh Khan – top-tier celebrities.

Their online audiences are often larger than their box office and TV audiences, and they carry weight across audience types.

Working with them can be expensive – or impossible. Brand partnerships and promotion are not always of interest to movie stars (unless you have deep pockets). Accessing this tier of celebrity can be difficult for many brands, and their relevance in many cases can be questionable.

You will invariably have to pay, unless you are very, very lucky, and the celebrity in question is about to launch a book, a film or an album that aligns with a travel brand or destination.

Some of our clients have partnered with celebrities (two of whom are mentioned above). We work closely with talent agents over the course of months – and sometimes, they bite because their client has something to launch that ties in nicely with our client’s brand values.

This is the absolute exception to the rule. But when it all aligns, the power of a celebrity-backed campaign is undeniable.

Macro influencers (100,000 to several million followers)

While more accessible than their celebrity counterparts, macro influencers (with follower numbers in the hundreds of thousands to sometimes millions) can still command fees of tens of thousands of pounds for a single social media post. But, this type of influencer is highly trusted by their audience and well-versed in brand campaigns. They will often collaborate on campaigns with brands, to create more authentic content that fits their following. Despite the high fees and customised content, brands should not expect lots of content to be created.

We’ve worked with several macro influencers, and have been able to secure some for free for our clients, but there’s a huge amount of work involved behind the scenes. Many influencers of this calibre have agents, and as soon as the agent gets involved, prices go up.

Micro influencers (10,000 to 100,000 followers)

Micro influencers have smaller but more engaged audiences of 10,000 followers up to 100,000. They actively communicate with their community and have an ultra-high level of trust. Because of this high level of authenticity, micro influencers choose the brands and products they promote very carefully. Fees are lower, or if they genuinely like what the client does, they may work for free. The sway that they can hold in their community is very high, so the ROI is excellent.

Micro influencers are the ideal sweet spot for mid-sized and smaller travel brands – those who don’t have the budget to pay, but still expect good quality content.

Nano influencers (up to 10,000 followers)

With followers of up to 10,000, nano influencers may seem too small to work with on the face of it – especially considering they’re usually tightly niched. And yes, the reach is somewhat limited to close-knit communities. But if that niche fits, you get incredible engagement in return, as well the best ROI of all of these types of influencers. As an agency, we tend to cultivate relationships early on with nano influencers that show the potential to become big. After over a decade of working in influencer marketing, we now have relationships with influencers that at one point were nano influencers and have now made it in the macro influencer league. Early loyalty often pays off later!

Black book influencers

Black book influencers are highly influential people with a strong industry network, and friends in high places.

They might not even have public social media accounts, or they might not post often – but when they do, it gets noticed and commented on. Black book influencers tend to be authorities and experts in their given field – highly qualified and relevant.

Sometimes, VIPs and celebrities work in the same way; rather than targeting their social media followers, we target their network of friends and family.

How to work with influencers – in a strategic way

As a very general rule, the smaller the number of followers, the greater the engagement:

Image Credit: http://influencermarketinghub.com/micro-influencers-vs-celebrities/

A strategic way to work with an influencer would be to start a campaign with a prominent influencer and see it as an advertising cost; comparable in budget and reach to a burst of exposure through media-buying.

This can be supplemented with 10 micro or nano influencers, who could work for considerably less – plus the cost of a trip for them to promote.

This staggered effect improves campaign longevity and diversifies audiences, giving better benchmarking from results at the end. If the right influencers are chosen, and the content is bespoke, this can mean multiple points of exposure through a single newsfeed, or across platforms, for the same campaign.

Choosing influencers: what to look out for and when to walk away

Schitts Creek Comedy GIF by CBC

When deciding which travel influencers to work with, always take into consideration a number of things: the number of followers and general look of their Instagram, who their followers are, and what other brands have they recently worked with. We spend a considerable amount of time researching influencers, to really get to know if they’ll fit with our clients.

We’ve used a mix of tools and manual vetting to build our own approved influencer database. We’re quite strict about the standards we expect, and only about 10% of all influencers who approach us as an agency make it into our database.

Having data on reach and engagement is important – but it’s even more important to ask yourself: what are you trying to achieve and who are you trying to reach.

It doesn’t matter if YOU don’t like the feed, it has to appeal to the TARGET group you are trying to reach – who may have different tastes or different interests to you personally. So, in order to figure out whether the content appeals to your target group, you should do two things:

You can use a tool like SparkToro to check if the influencer appeals to your target audience– but don’t ever rely solely on tools. They are a help, but not the be all and end all.

Ask around your network of friends and colleagues, and get the opinion of someone who is part of your target audience to see what they think of the feed.

We also recommend asking for a media kit, or further information on the location of their followers – are they in your local market?

Influencer campaigns we’ve worked on

The Langham, London – Zoe Sugg (Zoella) – 10 million followers

Zoella is one of the UK’s most prominent YouTubers and Instagrammers. Her YouTube Channel has 10.9M subscribers, and her Instagram followers and reach are in the millions. She particularly appeals to a millennial audience of women.

Why did we approach her?

One of the Langham Hotels & Resorts’ brand pillars is “Celebrate the Everyday”. The group has a knack for organising not just the big events in life – birthdays, honeymoons, bar mitzvahs – but, especially post-Covid, wanted to be known as a place to go and enjoy smaller but equally important moments in life.

They also want to bring a younger demographic to luxury travel.

We knew Zoella was pregnant, and suggested she come to the Langham to celebrate her last holiday before the baby arrived. We pitched a pre-baby staycation, with 2 nights at The Langham, London, to Zoe’s agent. We were lucky to get feedback quickly.

Zoe’s agent couldn’t guarantee any coverage and said Zoe only posts when she really enjoys something.

Although we couldn’t guarantee coverage, we advised The Langham to go for it – due to the huge following Zoe has, and the connections to other influencers of a similar calibre. We also knew from past experience that if the client is able to deliver an excellent experience then influencers tend to post.

The Langham team didn’t disappoint and our recommendation paid off: two YouTube videos on her stay which (at the time of writing) got 430,000 and 870,000 views respectively, plus an IG post which was viewed over 300,000 times.

Martinhal Resorts – Beth Sandland (Navigating Motherhood)

Beth Sandland is a multi-award winning blogger, photographer and writer from London. She’s a micro influencer with 88k followers – so, while a macro influencer like Zoella is great for reach, a micro influencer like Beth is perfect for engaging with the audience.

Why did we choose Beth?

Our client, Martinhal, runs a group of luxury family hotels. They particularly want to appeal to families with very young children, because they represent a longer lifetime value as a customer. Beth is mum to a young baby boy, with whom she travels and posts about.

She has a higher than normal engagement rate of 3-5% for her number of followers. Usually at that level, engagement is around 2.4%. Her Instagram following is fiercely loyal.

We knew she would be great to influence the planning and booking stages of the marketing funnel, driving conversions and bookings.

Working with Beth

Martinhal Resorts hosted Beth at their Sagres resort in Algarve, Portugal. And it was a big success.

She got about 1,500 likes on her video posts, and two other posts she created managed to reach 3,000 to 4,000 likes. Beth posted 167 Stories (about 60 of which tagged Martinhal), 2 Reels and a static post. She’s also writing a review for her new platform, which is launching soon.

The high level of trust her followers have for her means that her endorsement can convert into bookings.

But how do we prove that? Look at the comments and DMs. These example all show purchase intent – her followers are asking questions that indicate they are planning on booking a trip, or already have:

To pay or not to pay? That is the question…

This can often be a bone of contention. You’ve already provided a free experience – why should you pay?!

Whether you should pay depends heavily on what the campaign is, and what your travel brand is expecting the influencer to do.

Are you asking them to post a set number of items, or to write a blog on a certain topic? Then yes, you should expect to pay for that. If you are offering a complimentary stay, and the influencer is able to retain full control of everything that they post – then fees can still be expected, but perhaps at a lower rate. This rate would depend on the number of followers, or the trip circumstances and offer.

We always try to negotiate an agreement; for example, 2 nights’ accommodation in return for a certain number of posts or stories. We need to be respectful when liaising with influencers or their agents, because payment is often a roadblock. We aim to facilitate that and make it smoother.

How to work with the big influencers without having to pay

Brand partner trips are a great way to work with the big influencers, without having to pay them.

Team up with a beauty or fashion brand – because they usually have much bigger marketing budgets, and can afford to pay the influencers they work with. However, they often need accommodation partners for their trips, which is where travel brands like yours can get involved.

By offering accommodation for influencers attending a brand trip, you can get exposure and forge an influencer relationship.

Instagram, TikTok, YouTube… Which platform is best to work with influencers?

Instagram Illustration GIF by Omer Studios

Try to look for influencers who have a blog alongside their Instagram. Influencers with a blog behind them results in evergreen content that won’t fall down the Instagram feed in a couple of days.

YouTubers usually come with higher fees, due to the investment they make in editing and producing their videos – but that isn’t to say you can’t get their work on a complimentary basis.

YouTube can be far more valuable than Instagram; the rich video content is great and can be used in many more ways by travel brands. Most of the time though, we secure coverage from influencers on Instagram. It’s where our target audiences spend their screen time. Still, we always check out their following on other platforms, and diversify coverage where possible.

The best tools for influencer marketing

The best tool for influencer marketing is excellent communication and a hardworking PR team – but tech certainly has its place!

Hype Auditor is a paid-for tool: an AI-powered Instagram account checker, designed to combat influencer fraud. The platform helps brands to check Instagram Influencers accounts for their follower validity.

SparkToro is an audience insight tool which crawls tens of millions of social and web profiles, to find what (and who) your audience reads, listens to, watches, follows, shares, and talks about online.

We love SocialBlade. It’s free, and gives you top line stats: average likes, engagement, comments – you get it all in seconds.

It allows you to track statistics and measure growth across multiple social media platforms, including YouTube, Twitch and Instagram. It can also be a useful tool for spotting “fake” influencers, by checking historic data. For example, we look back on the last couple of years, tracking follower numbers and following numbers.

The latter is important, because it can indicate a “follow back” scheme, where an account follows thousands of people at one stage, and then suddenly stops. It’s a way to boost their own following and give a more influencer-like ratio of followers to following.

Look out for big spikes in numbers, but look at it with an open mind. A spike could have been caused by a great campaign they did, and could be legitimate.

How to measure the success of an influencer campaign

Pop Tv GIF by Schitt's Creek

1.    Engagement rates

The rates of likes, clicks, shares, reactions and comments, are often cited as the most important KPI there is for tracking influencer performance. Nano and micro influencer content generates higher engagement rates. Macro influencers have impact and reach. Using both strategically can see longer-lasting benefits.

2.    Mentions and brand hashtags

Mentions and hashtags allow you to track advocacy and awareness of your brand, as well as how much impact and reach an influencer is actually generating. Be sure to split organic and paid promotions, to properly calculate ROI.

3.    Conversions

This can be complicated – but anywhere that you can post a link, you can track conversion performance. Using custom campaign URLs, you can track the traffic coming to a webpage from a campaign, and any subsequent conversions from that referral. Attribution modelling can get messy, here, but lining up conversions with campaign rollout dates can strengthen confidence in the numbers further.

We help travel brands get noticed

Lemongrass Marketing is a specialist PR and content marketing agency for travel brands. And we know exactly how to work with travel influencers.

We’ve put hotels, tour operators and travel startups on the map – with authentic, meaningful influencer campaigns that connect with your travel brand’s target audiences.

Let’s start a project – call +44 (0)1865 237 990 or email mirjam@lemongrassmarketing.com

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We’re Lemongrass Marketing – we help travel brands grow by delivering PR and content strategies based on digital audience insights. Let’s talk about your next PR, Digital PR and content campaign. Message Mirjam@lemongrassmarketing.com or call +44 (0)1865 237 990.