Travel is the second-fastest growing industry in the world and has outpaced global GDP growth for the eighth year in a row. It doesn’t stop evolving, and brands are always on the lookout for new ways to market and target their audience. Unfortunately, adopting new technology or publishing high-quality travel content isn’t what most brands are opting for – instead, they’re turning to influencers.
Influencers are people who have considerable reach through their social-media accounts, and have access to a potential customer base that travel brands find very appealing. They bridge the gap between brands and target markets, offer quick ways to engage with large numbers of people, and can help improve social-media visibility. They can also help diversify your content strategy, especially if you’re lacking the reach, followers or ability to use social media. But (and that’s a big but), there are influencers who are slowly killing the travel industry.
Influencers are responsible for driving 'shallow travel', as I like to call it. This is where someone travels purely for the reason to post an image on social media. Influencers are promoting visiting historic and iconic landmarks, cities and countries just to take one photo to say 'I was here.' Gone are the days where someone wants to travel to a country to explore its culture, cuisine, arts, music and architecture. To make things worse, this isn’t just a wild assertion; a recent survey by Schofields Insurance found 40% of 1,000 millennials (18- to 33-year-olds) chose a travel spot based on its Instagrammability alone. Visit the Taj Mahal to experience one of The Seven Wonders of the World? Nah, I want a cool Insta photo!
Some influencers also promote irresponsible travel. From reckless driving in Iceland to dangling off of an infinity pool in Bali, there have been numerous incidents where influencers have set a bad example to other travellers. If behaviour like this continues, some of the world’s natural wonders may become off limits to tourists. Iceland could restrict access to some of its natural sights, which would impact travel to the country and in turn affect any travel brands with ties there.
Another unappealing trait of social media influencers in the travel industry is that they don’t have the right motivation. Some influencers are in it for the money, leading them to post unrealistic and highly-edited photos, rather than meaningful content. Influencer photos and posts are purely based on achieving as many likes, shares and favourites as possible which leads to large amounts of editing and shoot planning. Not only does this create unrealistic expectations of destinations, it doesn’t add value.
Furthermore, heavy airbrushing and image manipulation of these beautiful places gives a very artificial impression, rather than appreciating them in their natural form.
Let's compare the approach of a travel blogger against a travel influencer. If you want to publish realistic, useful, informative content, you would collaborate with bloggers and engage in blogger outreach. Travel bloggers create content that helps people enjoy travelling. They educate them on the place they’re visiting and improve the whole travel experience. Influencers don’t create anywhere near as useful content as bloggers, and it's a shame that both are viewed as the same.
Not only is travel marketing changing because of influencers, it is suffering a slow death as they appeal to millennials. This segment of people will be travelling for the next 40 years, so communicating with them is critical, and influencers are who they're turning to. One thing that can't be denied is that influencers offer easy access to millions of people – that’s positive, isn’t it?