A brief history of travel influencers and what comes next

A brief history of travel influencers and what comes next

In the old days, about 2014, a travel influencer was a blogger with a decent set of numbers on their website and social media.

Such a blogger was very happy to be considered an influencer, and gladly accepted free trips to places like Canada, Spain and Austria, which they would write about and everybody was happy.

Then some bloggers thought ‘Hang on a minute’ and realized they could ask for money for their time and audience. Some video bloggers did too.

OK, said the destinations and brands. But in return, we want this much content, this message spread and oh, by the way, we want the content spread on your channels but we want to own it.

By now, word had spread that you could get paid to blog, tweet and Snapchat and so Tom, Dick and Harry joined the party, leaving many established bloggers/vloggers more than a little disillusioned.

Disillusioned because A) the market was flooded with amateurs, B) the ever-increasing demands of clients C) the constant shifting of goalposts by social platforms resulting in less engagement and D) loss of status as project creators and transition into content creators.

On Facebook last month, Budget Traveller Kash Bhattacharya wrote: “I lament how boring the whole nature of destination and brand marketing has becoming. There is a distinct lack of risk and willingness to try new ideas.”

He’s not the only one to miss 2014. But brands have moved on from general coverage to focus on niche – be it platforms like Instagram, product like video or a particular slice of the customer market.

Visit England, for example, is currently focussing on the millennials, the Generation Y late teen/early 20 somethings who have taken far fewer holidays at home in recent years.

Its policy is to work with five bloggers representing a lifestyle – including fashion and food as well as travel – that fits that market: no more general content there for a while.

James Street, co-founder of Whalar – a marketing agency that works with influencers, confirms the move away from general travel content. “The way that influencers work is twisting and turning all the time,” he says.

“We used to say that if you didn’t have audiences, we weren’t interested. Now we are also looking for good content creators.”

That is mostly on Instagram. So now Whalar will often be receptive to brilliant photography, or video creators without audiences, that it can offer to brands after a certain market, or type of traveller. In many ways, it’s the rebirth of the media professional.

Whalar is not the only agency to revive old skills and truisms in marketing. Brighton digital agency Qubist has also moved away from the ‘old’ school of influencers, says head of content Mark Henshall.

“We’ve had success with influencers and micro-influencers – we’ve also had mixed results – but what’s been consistent through the years has been the power of customer and employee advocates for brands,” he says.

These advocate groups within influencer marketing reframe the idea of what influence can be and in this sense it isn’t really anything new – it’s word-of-mouth marketing, arguably the oldest kind of marketing in the book.”

Crikey: dusting down photographers and word-of-mouth marketing?! Whatever happened to the cutting edge marketing of 2014 through social? And whatever next: bringing back Polaroid cameras?!

Oh hang on a minute… Polaroid (yes, that Polaroid) now has four new camera drones

Join Qubist, Whalar, Costa Brava Marketing and Four Engage in our panel at World Travel Market – Is influencer marketing the way forward for destinations? – on Wednesday November 8 at 2pm on The Global Stage.

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Steve Keenan has been a travel journalist for 25 years. He started at a Reed paper, news editing at Travel News in London - now Travel Weekly - having spent a decade reporting general news in the UK and abroad. He also taught English in Peru, delivered cars in the USA, ran the Sydney desk at AAP and took the train home from Hong Kong. He left Travel News in 1990 to freelance for several publications, including The Times of London, which he later joined as deputy travel editor. In December 2004, he became the first national digital travel editor in the UK, running the combined travel website of The Times and Sunday Times. The introduction of a paywall at the papers in 2010 persuaded him that the connected world might continue outside of Wapping and he left to co-found Travel Perspective. The company runs the social media seminars at World Travel Market London, and works with Reed Expos and others in helping the travel and tourism industry best communicate stories in all forms of publishing.

One comment

  1. Avatar Helena Beard says:

    We work with Chinese bloggers and, there, the best ones demand payment for their time. They also don’t publish on their own blogs (that’s considered very old school). They publish on travel social media review sites and the fight to get their reviews on the home page of mafengwo.com et al is fierce. It’s a highly commercial industry with contracts and agreements in place. Doesn’t mean to say it’s not creative though. They have to be clever to keep ahead of the competition.

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