By Tim Peter, Founder & President, Tim Peter & Associates
Hotel marketers are living through a “new abnormal.” We’re not yet free from the effects of the pandemic that would lead to a true “new normal.” And at the same time, there’s room for optimism. The good news is that guests are starting to travel again. But reaching those guests – and especially new guests – is harder than before. Audiences are more fragmented. And changes in the way we’re able to track marketing activities online make it tougher than ever to know what’s working… and what isn’t.
How can hospitality marketers find new guests? How can you ensure that your message cuts through the clutter? How can you know that you’re reaching the right audience? And, most importantly, how can you do all of this at a reasonable cost?
Instead of asking “how,” though, maybe we ought to ask, “who?” Content creators on social media – individuals who’ve built trusted, engaged, and enthusiastic audiences – can be that “who” for your brand. Creators provide an outstanding outlet for reaching new markets and audiences, allowing your message to be seen by guests interested in travel and your destination, and driving measurable demand from new customers. These creators know who your customers are because they talk with travelers every day. And they provide a surprisingly affordable way to reach potential guests that you can’t reach on your own.
Travelers are eager for influencer content
It’s no secret that travel is among the world’s favorite activities, with growth next year forecasted above 28%, contributing nearly $2 trillion to the US economy. As eye-popping as those numbers might be, potential guests love exploring travel options online almost as much as they enjoy their trips. According to Morning Consult, almost two-thirds of people engage with travel influencer content more now than they did before the pandemic. While this dynamic isn’t new, almost two years of lockdowns have served to accelerate the trend.
This behavior also isn’t confined just to young people. Yes, half of all Millennials – who are themselves now rapidly approaching 40 years old and represent the largest share of travelers – follow at least one travel influencer. But, again, according to Morning Consult, 84% of US adults who follow travel influencers say they rely on those creators for recommendations when shopping for travel. These numbers are all the more impressive when you consider that travel consistently places among the top topics shared on Instagram. Creators provide hotels access to engaged audiences eager to browse… and to book.
Co-creation between brands and creators drives long-term brand building
Who are these influencers? While you’ve probably heard of big-name movie stars or popular athletes, your guests often engage with lesser-known individuals. And that’s OK. It’s not the size of the audience that matters – though larger brands may of course choose to partner with creators who have built larger audiences – it’s who’s in that audience that matters for your brand and your business. Even a “nano-influencer” – someone with fewer than 1,000 followers – can present the right opportunity to reach guests in-market and interested in your property.
Instead of focusing solely on size, think about what you want to accomplish using social media, then find influencers who can help you achieve those goals. It isn’t “one size fits all;” choose creators who connect with audiences that suit your brand’s objectives. Looking for engagement and advocacy for your property or destination? Consider nano-influencers, those who have significant influence with a narrow, but committed audience. Similarly, micro-influencers, those with somewhere between 1,000 and 100,000 followers, are noted for their authenticity and connection with their community to drive engagement. Want broader awareness and reach? Larger brands can leverage the reach that macro and mega influencers – those with 100,000 to 1M followers or over 1M followers, respectively – provide to put their message in front of audiences unseen outside of traditional broadcast channels. And look to balance reach with action.
As Creator Nana Agyemang notes, “There are many opportunities for partnerships in travel and tourism, but it’s important to remember these partnerships take planning, a vision and working with an influencer who has a great personality and strong brand.” (IG: @ItsReallyNana)
Of course, it’s not just a matter of finding the “right” person. It’s letting that creator tell stories that their audiences value. You likely wouldn’t poke your head into the cockpit before takeoff to tell the pilot where to set the throttle or the course for your flight. It also makes little sense to demand creators who’ve successfully built diverse, engaged audiences read your standard script. Using them solely as a megaphone for you to shout through ignores their greatest strength. Of course you should guide what you’d like to hear them say, but creators create. They’re at their best as collaborative partners who can help showcase your hotels in a fresh, engaging way to reach new audiences and drive incremental business.
Adventure traveler and creator Chelsea Yamase says it best, “ My advice would be: Understand your specific goal, be discerning in who you work with, and then give creators the freedom to do what we do best. It’s been immensely important to me that brands which approach me have values that align with my own – that’s when partnership is a win-win and when I’ve found the experience creates the greatest results.” (IG: @ChelseaKauai)
Partnership with creators drives business outcomes
Telling great stories is wonderful. But turning those stories into revenue is even better. That’s particularly important in a world where it’s increasingly difficult to track outcomes and attribute business. Creators can help close that gap. They’re able to deliver messages that resonate with guests who are ready to book, in part because they’ve built trusted relationships with their audiences. And part of that trust is something you can’t build on your own.
Why not let a trusted partner augment all the great work you’re doing to tell your brand’s story? Asking for a booking works with some customers. But getting someone else to tell a potential guest why they should book your hotel can help you reach untapped audiences… and grow your business. As Nana Ageyamang puts it, “The success behind these luxury hotel partnerships and my travels aren’t just a matter of having a good following on Instagram – it’s not just about a number – it’s about the loyal, engaged audience I’ve fostered, my creative vision, and my commitment to plan and execute a successful hotel partnership.”
Meta has found that ads and similar content that used “demotainment” – that is, entertainment, surprise, and storytelling in the product demonstration – generally aligned with increased conversion rates. The trust they’ve established with their existing audiences – and with each new story they tell – works to drive measurable, meaningful results for hotels every single day.
How you can get started
Now that we’ve established “who” can help, here are a few tips for how you can get started:
- Build a creator strategy into your marketing plan. Content is still king in hospitality marketing. That doesn’t mean it’s your job to create every piece of content about your hotels. Incorporate creative collaborations into your marketing plan and let others tell a positive brand story on your behalf to drive conversions.
- Leverage technology to find the right resources. There are lots of options out there among creators. Which ones are the right ones for your business? Check out Meta Brand Collabs Manager to identify, learn more, and connect with creators that align with your brand and your audience.
- Consider partnering with an influencer marketing firm. Feeling overwhelmed? Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Again, “who, not how” is your go-to here. Meta Business Partners offers a number of companies that understand your needs and have built the right relationships with the travel influencers who can help you meet those needs.
- Build creative agility into your organization. Finally, remember that this is a creative process. Expect to learn from the creators you work with and to adapt as you put those learnings into practice. Especially as the “new abnormal” becomes “more normal,” what works may change. You’re better off learning to adapt quickly than planning for every possible outcome… and then having to adapt anyway when something new comes along.
So, yes, we’re in a “new abnormal.” We’re facing an evolving hospitality marketing landscape with more changes coming, even faster than ever. The best response isn’t just to think “how” we can address those changes, but to ask “who” can help us find and encourage guests to stay with us. Creators offer a trusted messenger to help you reach engaged audiences who are ready to travel. They can tell a positive brand story on your behalf and can convert their audiences into new guests for your business.
Creators know how to talk to the customers you want to reach. They’ve earned the trust of their audience. And they’re as committed to doing right by that audience as you are. That itself may be “abnormal” compared to what you’re used to. But we’d all love to see others telling great stories about our properties going from being a “new abnormal” to the new normal, a norm we can live with for years to come.
Part 1 of a 2-Part HSMAI Insights series in partnership with Meta.