<p class=”headline”>The Covid-19 crisis has not only brought the physical act of traveling to a halt, but it’s also stopped travel brands from distributing marketing dollars in the same ways they did prior to the pandemic.
One such channel feeling the effects is influencer marketing, in which many travel brands have decided to pull or delay campaigns — as a cost-cutting measure as well as due to the lack of travel — until movement picks back up.
However (and somewhat ironically), while consumers are stuck at home, engagement via social media has increased, with more than 73% of influencers and brands seeing double their normal engagement rates, according to influencer marketing agency Travel Mindset.
But without travel, does putting money toward the influencer market now make sense? Jade Broadus, Travel Mindset vice president and creative director, says yes.
“My biggest hesitation for brands is that they don’t have some type of communication right now,” Broadus says.
“Influencers can have a really, really positive effect and really help the local communities that people would potentially be going to.”
The power of local
Although it’s perhaps obvious for marketers to suspend initiatives promoting immediate to near-term travel — “brands don’t want to come off as insensitive”– Broadus says there are still ways to sustain engagement through the use of local influencers.
Tourism boards, for example, don’t typically aim to attract local communities, but now is the chance for them to become community advocates, she says, by communicating something as simple as which restaurants are open for takeout.
Broadus says now also presents an opportunity to repurpose local influencer content in different ways, one such idea being to create “day in the life” Instagram Stories of spots an influencer has visited in the past. (She suggests influencers connect with each business ahead of time to determine their status of operations.)
Brands can also repurpose influencer content for their own ads, which Broadus says “actually seems relatable” compared to glossy, picture-perfect campaigns.
Says Gio Palatucci, director of social media services at Sparkloft Media, “[Influencers] are really talking about ways that you can support a destination now while we wait for the moment that we can go back and support it in person.”
Importantly, local influencers can communicate the latest in government or health official guidance for a destination, which Broadus says Finland has done successfully through influencer campaigns.
“Finland sent out their health officials’ guidance on how to deal with Covid and is utilizing influencers to share the same message on everything. The way they’re using them is really smart: There’s no way to blur the lines because it’s literally a copy and paste of what’s been said.”
Perhaps where influencers will become most useful is around promoting trust when it’s safe to start traveling again.
“Just because travel restrictions are eased and destinations start opening up again doesn’t mean everyone’s going to be ready to go, and it doesn’t mean locals are going to want travelers there at the moment,” Palatucci says.
“It’s not just about what can I do once I’m there, but it’s about how do I get there? What safety precautions am I going to take? That first-person experience that an influencer can provide of what it’s like in this ‘new normal’ is going to help ease [travelers’] fear and anxiety.”
Broadus says that, particularly as people spend more time on their phones, audiences will be watching for influencers to travel first and follow their lead.
“People follow influencers and trust them like they do a real-life friend or family member,” she says. “Brands should be trying to tap into that trust that influencers have … because now more than ever, people are trusting what influencers are saying.”
To that end, it’s especially important for brands to choose the right influencers to partner with and to foster or maintain those relationships now before competition increases once travel resumes.
“With influence comes great responsibility,” Palatucci says. “I think we lost sight of that a little bit when the industry just really exploded.
“I think this is a moment where the faucet will be turned back on and we have a great responsibility to think about … choosing the right influencer partners, someone who understands the impact that visiting a place has on the locals who live there.”
Broadus says influencers also have the opportunity to divert tourism away from historically crowded areas to less dense ones, for example smaller hiking trails that don’t appear in the top Google results for the Great Smoky Mountains.
Of course, simply having the budget to invest in marketing is among the many challenges travel brands are facing at the moment, and influencer marketing — used primarily at the top of the funnel to inspire travelers — doesn’t necessarily result in conversions.
However, in the current climate, Broadus says brands should strive toward driving awareness so that they’re top-of-mind when travelers do begin deciding where to go.
“Influencers are really good at demand generation,” she says. “That top-funnel, inspiration, awareness — those are what influencers are really great at, and they’re talking to their audience multiple times a day.”
Broadus says influencer marketing is cheap compared to other channels and recommends destinations scrap their physical visitor guides in favor of social channels like Instagram, where people can save and share posts to form their own virtual guides.
Palatucci, however, cautions that influencer marketing has grown expensive over the past couple of years — “the cost for a single sponsored post just skyrocketed” — but she believes the right partnership is worth paying for.
She suggests finding partners who are in it for the long haul, not just someone to visit a destination once. “There’s going to be tremendous value in partnering with an influencer over an extended period of time and working with them as things change,” Palatucci says.
“We don’t quite know what recovery is going to look like, and having a partner you can call on multiple times a year provides a lot of value.”