Influencer marketing has become a critical tool for the hospitality industry to reach its target market. Historically we relied on TV ads, magazines, travel books and travel agents for inspiration when deciding where to go and stay on holiday. Fast forward to today, and social media platforms provide us with an enormous amount of content that acts as a targeted and personalized recommendation tool.

This has not gone unnoticed by the hospitality industry, with major hotel brands including Marriott and Moxy Hotels launching successful social media influencer campaigns as part of their marketing strategies. Instead of A-list celebrity brand ambassador engagements, hospitality brands realize they can achieve a much better return on investment by working with social media influencers. In fact, according to one study, 70 percent of teenagers trust influencers more than traditional celebrities, and 49 percent of consumers depend on influencer recommendations.

The shift in content consumption requires hospitality brands to reconsider how they market. Whereas reach and volume were key objectives for brands previously, the industry is learning that using social media marketing allows it to be much more targeted and favor engagement over reach. Brands now have access to much richer data about their target market and can use that to help them carefully select the influencers to work with who will have the most relevance.

How does it work?

Typically, influencers are vloggers and creators who regularly post on social media platforms including TikTok, Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube. They tend to have a niche that first draws an audience to them, such as coffee, cooking, video games, travel or almost any other category of interest. Often the content posted is only tangentially related to that interest and is otherwise an edited snapshot of the influencer’s daily life. As a consequence, influencers build a strong connection and trust between themselves and their followers. This close and targeted audience built by influencers is precisely what makes them such a valuable marketing tool.

In the hospitality industry, it is quite common for brands to offer an influencer free trips, free hotel stays and free excursions with an expectation that the influencer will feature the trip and experience on their channels.

What should brands be aware of?

It is incumbent on influencers to disclose the nature of their relationship with brands. For example, in the UK, if an influencer has received any form of payment from a brand, then the influencer is required to explain that to their audience. “Payment” also extends to receiving free goods and services. Furthermore, if the influencer receives payment and the brand has any degree of control over the influencer’s content (for example, if the brand has approval rights or requires the influencer to say certain things about the brand’s goods or services), then the influencer must also expressly label their content in a prominent way with “Ad” or similar identifier. If they fail to do so, then both the brand and the influencer may be investigated by the Advertising Standards Authority.

Given the editorial and real-life nature of vlogs and Instagram posts, it can be quite easy for followers not to realize that an influencer they follow receives some form of commercial benefit from a brand they feature in a post. For this reason, advertising regulators across the world have been increasing their efforts to ensure both influencers and brands are doing their part to avoid misleading consumers.