Travel Influencer Marketing and the Pandemic: 5 Things You Need to Know

By Dalene Heck

It goes without saying that influencer marketing has changed since earlier this year. The pandemic has drastically altered the landscape, to say the least. While engagement rates are skyrocketing on some platforms (Instagram is reporting a rise in usage of 40 percent), for travel influencers, that increased engagement is not currently translating into booked trips, for obvious reasons. While travel enthusiasts are eager to be inspired and throw off the shackles of quarantine to hit the road, it doesn’t necessarily mean that concrete plans are being made.

Travel blogs are reporting drastically lower rates of incoming search traffic. While some are seeing increases since the depths of a dark and scary March, the traffic is still, for many, a fraction of what it was.

These are indeed extraordinary times for travel influencers and the partners who work with them. How the industry returns, and at what pace, remains to be seen. However, there are some certainties in how this is currently affecting influencer marketing, and we’ve outlined five of them below.

The Influencer Pool is Changing

Ever since borders started closing down and travel was curtailed, bloggers who focus on travel aren’t seeing the same earnings from their websites. Online ad revenue and affiliate marketing arrangements aren’t generating great yields, and some people simply can’t wait out the storm until traffic returns. Instead, we’ve seen some decide to call it quits and officially set their influencer hat aside for good. Yet, on the other hand, we’ve also seen new tiny influencers emerge on the scene. With seemingly more time on their hands, people may be finally starting that blog or YouTube channel they’ve put off for years. In summary: the waters are choppy with waves of people exiting and entering.

What does this all mean for industry partners? In the simplest terms, you can’t rely on your knowledge of the previous landscape. Even finding influencers who meet your criteria may be harder than ever. And while this may seem discouraging, it is also the time to consider entirely new strategies anyway.

Turn Your Attention Local

For destination marketers, local influencers may be all you have to work with, considering travel restrictions. If you’ve previously relied on visitors from far-flung places (and worked with the related influencers who can draw them in), now is the time to turn to those around you instead.

The current prevailing wisdom is that travelers will be looking only to their immediate vicinity even when restrictions lift because of lower disposable income and the ongoing threat of the virus around the world. Exploring closer to home will feel safer and also be easier on the pocketbook.

If you want to capture the attention of those local travelers, working with local influencers can also be good on your pocketbook as well. With limited transportation costs (they are already here!), and potentially being able to secure lower fees (see below), this is the perfect time to dip your toes into influencer marketing if you haven’t already. Focus on increasing your reach in just the right way at precisely the right moment.

There are Deals to be Had

If you’re working with a limited influencer marketing budget, you could be in luck. A poll showed that many influencers are significantly reducing their rates (with reductions averaging 30% from 40% of influencers). This won’t last forever – once the demand for influencer marketing in the travel space returns the prices will likely drive right back up.

Of course, this doesn’t mean every influencer is offering discounts (there’s still the other 60%); those who have other healthy sources of income may still command their usual price. But, if you aim at up-and-comers or those with smaller, niche followings, you might be able to get some fantastic deals.

Vetting Influencers has Never Been More Important

This has always been important, but maybe never more so than now. As marketing budgets have become slimmer and much more precious, identifying those relevant influencers that can genuinely help you achieve your goals is paramount.

As always, it’s critical to understand that follower numbers may not be what they seem. For example, here’s some data on an influencer we recently looked into for a campaign. Her following of 300,000 Instagram users was certainly impressive, but not when we took a deeper look.

Click through for more info on our influencer vetting service.

But you can’t stop at the numbers, either. A deep analysis of an influencer’s content quality is integral. Does the influencer’s voice align with your brand? Do they follow disclosure guidelines? Are they also working with your competitors? There are many qualitative evaluations to consider on top of the quantitative.

A thoughtful evaluation is a must. Otherwise, you might find out that what looks like an amazing partnership at a glance actually isn’t.

Press Trips Won’t be the Same

Even the most intrepid travel influencers are likely to be a little skittish for the time being. A pandemic is a world-altering event, and it is leaving a mark on nearly everyone. However, it is also impacting regions differently, and every destination has made different moves to mitigate risk. There’s a decent chance that a traveler or influencer doesn’t know what happened in your area, and that lack of knowledge may hold them back.

You should present a novel coronavirus plan to any incoming influencer or journalist. Examine how you’ll incorporate social distancing into the trip or what partner hotels are doing to keep their environments virus-free. Have a strategy for helping an influencer who begins to exhibit symptoms while visiting, including who will cover any isolating-in-place costs. While no one wants the worst to happen, showing that you’re ready for it makes a difference.

Additionally, forgo the last-minute notice approach. While traveling without much warning may have been feasible before, it isn’t as attractive while the pandemic is still making waves. Give your influencers as much notice as possible. That way, they can make any necessary arrangements while still budgeting for some flexibility in case the situation surrounding the pandemic changes. Also, once travel begins to heat up again, you want to be first in line for your desired influencer’s attention.

Ultimately, the COVID-19 pandemic has made adapting a necessity in all areas of all of our lives. But with some careful planning and process adjustments, you can make the most of your influencer marketing opportunities again. So, keep your chin up, do your due diligence, and start connecting. You’ll be glad you did.

You may also want to read:

How to Work with Influencers on a Limited Budget

The Truth About Influence on Instagram

How to Measure ROI in Influencer Marketing

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