The year is 1990. You’ve just stayed at a wonderful hotel or eaten at a fantastic restaurant. You want to share your experience with friends and family, but how? It's simple: by telling them. You have become an ambassador for the venue, using “word of mouth.” You’re an influencer.
Traditional marketing (consumer ads, commercials etc.) was the only real way to grow consumer awareness at scale, until the digital revolution.
The New Reality…
Fast forward to today, and traditional brand marketing has become disconnected from consumers. How has this happened? Today’s consumers are digital natives, spending one in every five mobile minutes on either Instagram or Facebook. InterContinental Hotels Group even stated that mobile devices will account for 40 percent of online travel sales by 2020.
Digital word of mouth spreads exponentially faster than traditional marketing avenues, reaching millions of potential customers around the world instantaneously. This is down to influencer marketing (see here for different ways influencer marketing can be used across social media channels).
An influencer is a person who has the ability to sway another person when that other person is making a purchasing decision. Specifically, travel influencers are trusted travel experts who travel around the world showcasing their adventures and experiences to their followers through vivid imagery and videos.
Thanks to millennial activity over social media, influencer marketing's effectiveness has exploded for the travel industry. Millennials are also influencing more than just their followers—they are influencing their parents when planning family trips with these peer-to-peer recommendations.
- Instagram has more than 800 million active monthly users, and is increasing by 100 million every six months.
- 60 percent of online adults have an Instagram account, providing a huge opportunity for hotel marketers.
- More than 120 million Instagram users visited a website, got directions, called, emailed or direct messaged to learn about a business based on an Instagram post.
- According to Google Trends, the increase in influencer marketing from 2014-2016 mirrors a decrease in print advertising.
A picture generates an emotional response, and is processed by the human brain 60,000 times faster than text. This emotional response kick-starts the "loyalty" journey long before the consumer has even booked a stay.
Through the use of pictures and imagery, influencers tap into the aspirational drive within travelers. In the travel purchasing journey, they engage with potential customers in the "dreaming and planning phase." This effect creates a desire for the consumer to get that same experience, generating instant consumer interest.
Using travel influencers will help hotels:
- Cut down lost revenue to online travel agencies by an astonishing 20 percent. Influencers drive potential guests to the hotel’s website using hashtags, causing them to book directly.
- Maximize the opportunity to cross-sell or upsell, increasing profitability by a whopping 18 percent.
- Increase loyalty and retention.
Tips for Working With Influencers
- If you’re starting out, it is recommended that you use "micro influencers" because they will often have the greatest engagement rate. Do not fall for the rookie error of going for the person with the largest number of followers.
- On your own social media pages, make sure you have a link to the best page on your website (statistically the most visited page is usually your rooms page). This will help reduce the drop-off rate.
- For maximum credibility and the best results, ask influencers for four or fewer images, not to take selfies, to post original images (think creatively!), to take photos with children or relatives (this increases authenticity) and to stick to the brand values of your property.
- Regularly interact with your followers. Let them know about any events you’re holding and other special offers. This helps with cementing their loyalty to your brand.
5 Key Takeaways
- Understand and adapt to the way potential customers now research and become aware of hotels.
- Target and engage with these potential customers through mobile devices.
- Work with relevant, previously vetted influencers who will promote your venue in an authentic manner.
- Actively target new markets, using influencers from those regions, with emotive content to win the hearts of consumers before they even plan to make a trip.
- Start yesterday.
Steve Cox is a hotel & agency partner manager at Swayy. Swayy is an influencer booking and campaign-management tool designed for the hospitality space. Swayy helps hotels find, book and maintain relationships with relevant travel influencers in a single platform.