Under the Influence
by Vanessa Ullman
Photo courtesy of Chika Okoye
In the age of Instagram, it is hard to miss a travel photo. Whether it’s a friend on study abroad in Beijing, or a celebrity at the Cannes Film Festival, picturesque photos are always just a scroll away.
Travel influencers are not exactly a new phenomenon. Even before social media, people asked their friends for recommendations on what places were must-sees, and which tourist sites were overrated. While not everyone relies on the opinions of others, it is not unheard of to check restaurant ratings or hotel reviews on Trip Advisor before committing to a plan. However, online blogs, YouTube channels, and Instagram influencers have pushed this trend to a whole new level.
Travel marketing now encourages the use of influencers, demonstrated by hotel and airline companies’ choice to participate in the trend. These partnerships can appear as a seamless connection between an influencer and a brand, but a lot of calculations take place behind the scenes.
Kimron Corion, the Communications Manager of Grenada’s tourism agency, said that Grenada’s agency has “had a lot of success engaging with micro-influencers who exposed some of our more niche offerings effectively.”
To choose someone who is the right match for the brand, marketers have to make sure the influencer they are choosing aligns with their message and brand. Since the influencers are paid to promote a specific resort, travel agency or airline, it is crucial that the marketers find someone who is the perfect match.
Florencia Grossi, the director of international promotion for Visit Argentina, discussed this with CNN Travel. "We analyze each profile to make sure they're an appropriate fit. We look for content with dynamic and interesting stories that invites followers to live the experience."
Although there is a vetting process, there are still fake influencers, or social media personalities who do not gain their followers authentically. There are also numerous filters to edit Instagram photos to appear differently on screen versus how they appear in real life. This could be seen as something that is counterproductive, as one could argue that an influencer should use their platform to showcase a certain city or town in its real form.
Another downside to travel influencers? Anyone can be a “travel influencer.” Not everyone who visits Paris will have a brand deal with American Airlines, but many people who visit Paris will have access to Instagram and an iPhone.
The rise of travel influencers has also shifted the focus of travel photos on Instagram to be more picturesque and blemish-free. “The destination took a back seat, and in an ever increasing attempt for 'insta-fame' people portrayed perfect lives of 365 days travel a year,” said James Asquith, a contributor at Forbes.
So, how do you decide which travel influencers to trust or follow?
One approach is to go back to the old-fashioned way: asking friends and family what places they like to visit. Or you can look for official lists of verified influencers and check out the types of places they are recommending, then seeing how much they appeal to you.
There’s also the third option of just exploring places yourself, free of outside influence. If you enjoy planning out each detail of a vacation yourself, you can take a stab at being a travel influencer.
Whether you rely on travel influencers or not, just enjoy the journey!