Every year, I join thousands of other travel lovers and professionals at the New York Times Travel Show. It’s like Disney World for travel addicts – tons of information on destinations, cultural performances, samples of global cuisine and much more.
There’s also a day dedicated to those who work in the industry – from bloggers to tour operators to travel agents and many in between. It’s a time to learn about the state of travel today and current and upcoming trends.
Just how influential are travel influencers?
During one of the sessions, a topic came up that seems to be increasingly debated and discussed, not only within the travel industry but also outside of it: just how influential are travel influencers?
Anyone who’s been on social media has seen the picture: a slim, young, usually white girl in a floaty dress looking out at the stunning scenery in front of her, perhaps with a wide-brimmed hat perched on her head. There’s also the (again) young and mostly white couple posed by or in an infinity pool with a caption about never wanting to leave. They have thousands of followers and make a living bouncing around from gorgeous destination to gorgeous destination with the help of the brands who pay them (or offer them free travel and accommodations) to promote their hotel, city, country and so on.
But are these people actually influential in travel or is it all just pretty pictures? The topic garnered mixed opinions from those participating in the conversation. Some felt social media influencers were much more effective at selling a product than a traditional ad, particularly if that influencer was a trusted source and had a large following. Others wondered whether the amount of money invested in influencers was actually worth it and what the next few years will bring as more influencers pop up, some authentically and some not so much.
As the New York Times reports: "High follower counts are [...] critical for so-called influencers, a budding market of amateur tastemakers and YouTube stars where advertisers now lavish billions of dollars a year on sponsorship deals. The more people influencers reach, the more money they make. According to data collected by Captiv8, a company that connects influencers to brands, an influencer with 100,000 followers might earn an average of $2,000 for a promotional tweet, while an influencer with a million followers might earn $20,000."
When does an influencer lose their influence?
The other complexity – if an influencer promotes products too much, does it stop becoming authentic and influential? When does an influencer lose their influence? And are these mostly homogeneous images ultimately helping or hurting travel?
I don’t have the answers, only my personal opinions.
To preface, I do not consider myself a travel influencer when it comes to social media metrics because I'm very much on the low side relative to my fellow bloggers with 50k+ followers. However, due to my freelancing for other, more well-known publications, I have done a few sponsored posts in exchange for payment, accommodations, tours and/or airfare. They are few and far between, but they're there, and I make an effort to only do sponsored posts for companies, brands and places that I believe in and enjoy. I say this to give the context that I have been on the "influencer" side, so my opinions are influenced (haha) by these experiences.
Am I influencing others to go these places or do the things I do? Honestly, I do not know. I don't have the measurement tools on my end to definitively say my actions led to these results. I think there are definitely some influencers out there who do actually influence, and their opinions and actions have the power to sway minds. But I think those increasingly rare breed of actual influencers are being diluted by the influx of people who use inauthentic tactics to gain followers, and thus, "influence."
I also think some of these actual influencers sabotage themselves by being too sponsored. I know when I see someone constantly posting #ads on their Instagram or saying they love their [insert product], my interest in what they're doing and where they're going wanes because I stop seeing them as a regular joe shmoe who enjoys traveling and start viewing them as a marketing campaign.
It's doing a disservice to both those destinations and those who are telling more unique stories.
So why does it matter whether a travel influencer is influential or not? In the grand scheme of things, it probably doesn't matter. But I've found that the growth of travel "influencers" has led to the rise of homogenous images and storytelling. The same marketing is used to promote many of the same destinations and products, and it's doing a disservice to both those destinations and those who are telling more unique stories. It's doing a disservice to travel itself.
Whether you are a consumer or someone who works with influencers, look at those who are telling their own stories and sharing their own content in unique and different ways. Their content will be far more interesting and tell you much more about travel than the bevy of mostly homogenous images coming from the rest.
What do you think of travel influencers? Do they influence you?