Today, most hotels internationally work with influencers or travel bloggers in some way or the other, there is no doubt about that. And still, I claim the following: most hotels underestimate and misunderstand influencer marketing! This claim is based on many personal conversations with hotel marketing or PR managers internationally as well as the feedback we receive from our influencers across the world. So, what is the benefit of influencer marketing for the hotel industry and why is it not used in the right way by most hotels?
Influencers are pre-determined for hotel marketing campaigns because they can share their personal experience of any hotel stay with their loyal communities and give a personal recommendation which is extremely valuable for the hotels. It is no secret that hotels are highly dependent on ratings of their guests on platforms like tripadvisor, booking.com and the like. They also pay a significant commission fee to those platforms on which guests can book and rate their hotels, often at a lower price, which represents an additional loss of revenue compared to a direct booking on the hotel’s own website. That is why every hotel sales& marketing team has the target to increase the number of direct bookings compared to bookings on third-party platforms.
Now, why should a customer book the room on the hotel’s website instead of comparing it to hundreds of other hotels on a search engine and reading the reviews of previous guests (not to speak about the usually lower price)? Well, there are only two main ways to achieve that. The first option is that the person is a loyal customer already and wants to book this specific hotel anyway. In the second option, and that is the one of interest for us, she has been referred to the hotel website by an online advertisement that has convinced her in such a way that she is ready to directly book this hotel without comparing on other platforms. It is rather unlikely that the hotel’s own marketing campaign or any other standard online advertisement is credible enough to achieve the latter scenario. The personal recommendation of an influencer this person believes in, on the other hand, has a much higher chance to achieve that. Well, that should be a good reason to pay an influencer for a targeted campaign, right? However, most hotels reject the idea of paying for influencers. So why is that?
In a nutshell, it is always a matter of the budget planning. Most hotels do not allocate an extra budget for influencer marketing. They exclusively work on a barter deal basis, i.e., they offer two or three nights complimentary stay for travel bloggers and influencers, but no additional payment for their work. From the hotel’s perspective, that might make sense, at least in the short run. There is a cost allocated to every room the hotel offers for free, plus the costs for food & beverages, cleaning and all other aspects related to a hotel stay. In addition, the hotel could have sold that room to another guest and therefore has a lost of potential revenue when granting the stay free of charge.
In reality, though, hotels almost never accept influencers during the peak season with very high occupancies but only offer the stay during periods in which there are rooms available anyway. Therefore, we can argue that the costs of the influencer stay are minimal. For the hotel it is a choice between having an empty room or providing it to an influencer for free. It does not really change the overall cost calculation or the revenue per available room (RevPar). Nonetheless, most hotels strictly decline the idea of paying influencers for their work and “only” offer the complimentary stay. Hotels receive a large amount of emails and messages on their social media accounts from bloggers and influencers every day along the lines of “Hello, I will travel to your region next month and look for a nice hotel to stay in. Would you host me for 3 nights in exchange for a post on my Instagram account with xx followers?”. They only need to select the most interesting of these bloggers who does not ask for a payment and basically get the influencer marketing almost for free. Now, what does this mean if we look at hotel collaborations from an influencer perspective?
At this point, we need to distinguish between amateur travel bloggers or semi-professional influencers who simply want to travel and discover a destination on the one hand, and professional travel bloggers or influencers on the other hand. While the first group will be happy to accept the complimentary stay to reduce their own cost of travelling, the latter has made travelling to their profession and needs a fair compensation for their work. By no means I would like to discredit the first group which certainly contains amazing talents and future influencers, but they are still developing their accounts, while the second group has already passed this stage. Hotel marketing managers should differentiate and make different offers to influencer accounts of different sizes and qualities. However, what we have experienced is that often a “one-size-fits-all” approach is applied to influencer marketing.
For both groups, hotels usually offer the same complimentary stay but no compensation. If a differentiation is made at all, it is about the room category, i.e. large influencers get more expensive rooms while “small” influencers get standard rooms. From an influencer perspective, the free stay at a hotel can be viewed as a nice gift alongside their individual travel plans. They will be willing to accept if they plan to travel to the destination anyway and have the ability to take a nice vacation and have lots of free time to go out. In this regard, it does not make a difference for them if they stay in hotel A or B and they will make a similar reporting for both hotels. However, this is in contradiction to the hotels’ aim to receive an individualized, credible recommendation or story explaining their brand to potential guests. But the truth is that influencers do not really care about their brand and mainly use the hotel as a means to their own end. The result of most of these barter deals is that influencers post a nice photo that suits their own interests but do not make a lot of effort to showcase the hotel or credibly recommend it to their followers.
As soon as an influencer gets paid for the hotel collaboration, the entire story changes. In this case, influencers will arrive with the purpose of actually working at and for the hotel rather than relaxing at the pool and discovering the region. In this case, influencers will give their outmost, show the hotel from the best possible perspectives and prepare their publication with such a motivation and passion that the followers will truly be convinced. Even if the influencers posts do not immediately result in more bookings, this credibility and passion will positively impact the hotel’s brand image and social media attention. This should be reason enough for hotel marketing managers to reconsider their approach to influencer marketing and start allocating real budgets for paid influencer collaborations. Without spending more money overall, but simply by re-allocating some of the budget foreseen for traditional marketing or expensive (and often inefficient) paid social campaigns, hotels can improve their marketing mix and achieve better results. Influencer marketing can be a really powerful tool, but its true potential will never be unlocked by barter deals and unpaid campaigns.
Co-Founder of Turkfluencer