The travel industry is renowned for being at the cutting edge of social media marketing trends, including influencer marketing. When attending the World Travel Market conference recently I was especially interested in how influencer marketing has become such a major theme within the sector and how travel brands are using influencers to drive engagement in their marketing campaigns.

But who exactly are these ‘influencers’? We’ve all seen them. Individuals jetting off into the sunshine, broadcasting photographs of their sun-kissed bodies at any opportunity and sipping on cocktails served in coconuts, all ‘for the gram’. As well as feeling incredibly jealous, it is important for us to consider just how valuable these nomad souls are for the future of the travel industry, and exactly how they can perform as an essential, structuring element of advertising moving forward.

It is no secret that the value of influencers has grown enormously within advertising, with most brands now maintaining a robust presence on social media and most prospective consumers looking for an authentic understanding of products before they buy. Although this was initially the province of consumer electricals, fashion and beauty brands, the travel industry has also been very quick to realise the value of influencer marketing, and has been happy to adopt similar techniques to share, promote and ultimately sell holidays and travel experiences.

“84% of millennials and 73% of non-millennials are likely or very likely to plan a trip based on someone else’s vacation photos or social media updates,” writes Lonely Planet, adding that Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube are winning hands down as media forms vs traditional tourism advertising sources for younger travellers. I wasn’t surprised to learn this as I too fall into this category and a lot of my trips have been inspired by hashtags on Instagram; searches for pretty coastlines engulfed by an infinite blue sea, rather than the somewhat old-fashioned visit to the travel agent.

“Travel is personal and consumers are far more likely to trust a recommendation from someone they know than trust an advert”, writes Upinfluence.

Travel translates extremely well into visual media, and with an endless supply of beautiful images at our fingertips it is just too easy for consumers to be inspired by the personal experiences of others rather than generic brochure pages. As the use of social media grows for each successive generation, the value of outreach work for marketeers within the travel sector is only going to increase.

Here are a few facts to consider that highlight this undeniable growth:

  • 86% of women turn to social networks before making a purchase (Alist)
  • 71% of consumers are more likely to make a purchase based on a social media reference (HubSpot)
  • 70% of teenage YouTube subscribers trust influencer opinions over traditional celebrities (Google)


Reaching Millennials through their celeb heroines

Much of the time the lifestyles of celebrities are an unrealistic goal to aim for, but back in 2015 Airbnb’s influencer strategy was born after Mariah Carey was the first major celebrity to stay at an Airbnb property, generating sufficient coverage to catapult the affordable brand into the limelight. During the 2017 Super Bowl Lady Gaga also stayed at an AirBnB property, sharing a single post with her more than 24 million followers, generating over 500,000 likes and 4,000 comments. This kind of impact is phenomenal, because people are interested in the lifestyle of these influencers and the brand concerned is promoting something that is not out of reach for the ordinary, everyday person. There’s the potential here to give the brand a huge boost in outreach via these celeb followers, without the brand really having to do much!

But is this type of celebrity endorsement true influencer marketing? Today for Millennials, or especially the Gen Z’s, the media matrix is more complex than constantly living in the shadow of our best-loved cultural icons.

Travel top tips for Influencer marketing to Millennials

Millennials are quickly becoming the most significant audience group within the travel sphere. The success of Airbnb is obvious to all, including more traditional hotel chains. Half of Airbnb’s customers during 2016 were millennials, while just 28% of people who booked through in 2016 were of a similar age range. Although social media have been leveraged by both brands, it seems that the role of influencers has been central to the disruptor brand’s success.

In a similar way the blogger movement is moving into a space previously occupied by review websites. In something of a resurgence of the role of the expert, consumers are once more willing to trust the opinions of people who spend their time travelling rather than taking the stock of more general public opinion.

The Drum Network recently reported on some research among its members and travel marketers. The results stressed the importance of exploiting the reach and power to influence that bloggers can confer, without the association with a brand damaging the blogger’s credibility.

Pictorial displays of perfect holiday locations are inspiring audiences worldwide to experience new locations far and wide, with brands increasingly partnering with social media influencers on Instagram to showcase their visual offerings in the most ingenious ways.

SA Tourism and Bakkie Stories

My favourite influencer success story from the day at WTM concerned a recent campaign that followed a trio of UK celebrities on the ultimate South African road trip.

From Johannesburg to Cape Town, three UK stars (one of whom I already followed on Instagram) – TV presenter Maya Jama, Instagram sensation Alice Liveing, with 42k followers and travel vlogger Saunders Carmichael-Brown – were recruited to take on the ultimate South African road trip.

Their journey was filmed as part of a new digital campaign called Bakkie Stories, designed by South African Tourism to showcase the range of unique and thrilling experiences that visitors to South Africa can enjoy on a fly-drive holiday. Bakkie is the South African word for a small passenger pick-up truck. This gave the campaign a catchy and simplistic name, while the footage captured was light-hearted and relatable: both key reasons why I thought this was such a great campaign.

The three influencers travelled from the north of the country down to the east coast, from Johannesburg in to Durban. They then took the stunning Garden Route through the Klein Karoo, before arriving at Cape Town.

Covering 1,386 miles over ten days, their adventure of course gave considerable detail on everything South Africa had to offer, including its food, scenery and adventurous tourist opportunities. Throughout their experiences, these plucky influencers managed to deliver the key factors helping influencer marketing to succeed:

  • Authenticity – a genuine voice
  • Fear of missing out – living life to the full by engaging with local cultures
  • Traveling as a lifestyle – capturing a free spirit


Spreading the experience

Off the back of the #bakkiestories, The South African Tourism website also featured special guides to all the places featured on the road trip as well as exclusive South Africa travel deals. A competition element drove more people to follow in the influencers’ footsteps, replicating their experience of South Africa.

Trailfinders also offered the chance to follow in the team’s footsteps this November with a special South Africa fly-drive itinerary based on the celebrity road trip route from Johannesburg to Cape Town:

The trip was depicted in fourteen different You Tube episodes that encapsulated the experiences of these influencers, engaging Millennials in rich storytelling experiences and inviting them to discover South Africa for themselves. From the very start, #bakkiestories is engaging and exciting, with the trio checking out Johannesburg’s vibrant and creative Maboneng Precinct in the first video. To date this episode has achieved almost 50,000 views on You Tube.

As a consumer I was stunned by the beauty of the country and the depth of experiences to be had there, but as a blogger outreach professional I recognise this campaign as a brilliant example of outreach marketing, using well-chosen influencers to tell a powerful and engaging story. Well done to SA tourism for an inspiring idea and a well-executed campaign!

Lesley Hickmott
Marketing & Communications Director