A Tour Operator’s Guide to Influencer Marketing

November 8, 2018, Kyla Steeves
Travel influencer Vanessa of Wander Onwards on city tour in Denmark.

When it comes to making travel decisions, consumers often trust peer-to-peer recommendations. Some may turn to their family and friends for advice on a destination. Others scroll through a long list of online reviews. But today, travel influencer marketing is on the rise as many get ideas from the content seen on blogs they subscribe to and social media accounts they follow.

That’s because travel influencers are pros at content creation. On a regular basis, they deliver stunning images, or fascinating videos, all the while building meaningful relationships with their online community. Generally, followers look to influencers as a friend, and someone they aspire to be like based on the lifestyle the influencer represents.

Along with that, travel influencers indirectly impact the popularity of destinations and experiences. Followers see where a travel influencer has been, places stayed, and what they did on their trip. In turn, this shapes their future and current travel shopping.

According to Phocuswire, consumers that follow an influencer on social media demonstrate an interest in what they do. That means if an influencer hikes Mt. Kilimanjaro, their followers are thinking of doing the same — either soon, or one day. And so, you can plant a seed by getting a travel influencer to talk about your experiences. 

Before you board with an influencer, however, it’s best to learn the ins and outs of an influencer marketing campaign — otherwise, this marketing strategy won’t take flight. This knowledge includes goal setting, making a realistic budget, choosing the right fit, and notably, developing rapport with the influencer.

And since a travel influencer campaign takes two to tango, we decided to interview a travel influencer to better understand the other side of the partnership. That way, you’ll know what to expect and can execute a campaign that’s a rewarding experience for all — not just during the tour.

Meet Vanessa of Wander Onwards

Travel influencer Vanessa of Wander Onwards sitting at restaurant in Asia

Only moving “3000 miles at a time, or nowhere at all”, Vanessa is an LA native whose passion for travel started in Morocco, and eventually led her to destinations around Europe, Asia, the States, and more. Today, she works as a Launch Manager for Hotels.com, while continuing to document her adventures on her blog, Wander Onwards, and social media accounts — including Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

Because she balances career and a love of travel, she’s become a relatable influencer with an Instagram following of 13K and counting. Young professional women flock to her content as they too want to chase wanderlust while working full time. At the same time, they receive credible advice ranging from travel budget tips to charity fashion trends.

As such, Vanessa has worked on various influencer campaigns with brands in both the fashion and travel industry. She even hopes to run a tour of her own to give travelers a special experience where they can learn everything there is to know about a destination. For this reason, we were thrilled to have Vanessa share her perspective on the best way travel brands can work with influencers every step of the way.

Travel influencers are much more flexible than fashion influencers because we understand the value of going on these trips and pursuing this passion.

Vanessa, Wander Onwards

Prepare for a travel influencer campaign

While it’s tempting to contact a travel influencer right away, you should evaluate whether you’re ready for the exposure first. The campaign will reach new travelers, whom if inspired, will do some research by checking out your tour business themselves.

With rave reviews, a social media presence, and a mobile-friendly website, travelers seeking information are more likely to take action. They might give you a follow, add your tours and activities to their bucket list, or best yet, make a booking.

Although an influencer campaign is commonly used as an awareness tool (more on that below), all of these interactions are still possible once you introduce someone to your travel brand. That’s why it’s best to position yourself online beforehand in a way that will capitalize on the attention you’ll receive.

To figure out if a travel influencer campaign is logical for your tour business marketing at this time, ask yourself the following questions first:

  • Does my tour business receive a lot of positive online reviews?
  • Is there something I can add to my tours and activities to make the experience stand out?
  • Are my social media accounts filled with compelling content? And does my tour business already have a considerable amount of followers?
  • Is my tour website optimized for mobile devices? Will travelers find it easy to navigate and make a booking using a smartphone?

Plus, preparing ahead of time will also entice an influencer to work with you because it looks like you have an outstanding tour experience they’ll be happy to promote. 

Define your goal

The best way to start a travel influencer campaign is to set expectations. With a clear goal established, you’ll know what you want out of the campaign and can outline a plan of attack.

There are four main goals you can focus on during an influencer campaign:

  1. Brand awareness: the influencer’s followers discover your existence, and your tours and activities nestle into their thoughts until their next trip.
  2. Increase social media followers: the influencer’s followers decide to follow your social media accounts as well and engage with the content you post.
  3. Drive website traffic: the influencer’s followers want to learn more about your tour business, so they visit your website.
  4. Generate sales: the influencer’s followers are inspired by the content seen, and make a booking.

For your first influencer marketing campaign, we recommend making brand awareness the primary goal. By getting in front of a new audience, you’ll let them know your name, location, and services — and really, that’ll open up the door to other actions.

Set up a tracking code

That said, you can use a UTM parameter to see the amount of traffic an influencer does drive to your site — whether it’s to learn more, or make a booking.

What’s a UTM parameter? It’s a distinct tag that attaches to a website URL so you can track custom campaigns. In other words, Google Analytics will use the UTM tracking code to tell you how someone found your tour business based on the source, medium, and campaign.

To measure the success of an influencer campaign, you can assign a UTM parameter for the travel influencer to use when linking to your site.

You can do that by creating a UTM tracking code with Campaign URL Builder. Using the form, enter each field with the following:

  • Website URL: copy and paste the URL of the page you want the influencer’s followers to go to — like your tour website’s homepage, booking page, or designated landing page.
  • Campaign Source: you can put influencer here.
  • Campaign Medium: this can be blog, Instagram, Facebook, etc. Make a separate UTM tracking code for every medium the influencer will post on during the campaign.
  • Campaign Name: once you know the influencer you’re going to work with, you can put their name here.

At the bottom of the page, Campaign Builder will generate a custom URL for the campaign. This URL will be what you give to the travel influencer before they start posting. 

Shape your strategy

So how do you achieve brand awareness in an influencer marketing campaign? Well, for starters, you have to work backwards. Define your target audience first by looking at your current customer base. That should give you an idea of what social media platforms they hang out on frequently, and the type of influencers they love to follow.

From there, you can search for an influencer that has an active presence on those social media platforms, and looks like the audience you wish to target. “You need someone that others can visualize themselves as when doing the activities that you’re selling,” Vanessa says.

Finding the right travel influencer

Social media influencer Vanessa standing in front of brick building in Denmark

With the popularity of influencer marketing rising, it’s gruelling having to sift through unlimited options to find the perfect fit. However, most travel influencers fall into a niche the same way your travel brand does — which has helped them build a significant following. So to narrow down your choices, you can start by searching within your niche.

And according to Vanessa, this is something an influencer takes into consideration as well. When businesses approach her, she isn’t afraid to filter out incompatible opportunities to leave time available for ones that are guaranteed to compliment her brand image. Vanessa says, “my demographic is wanderlust, professional young women, experiences, and learning about yourself. So I try to keep an open mind to companies like that instead.”

But there’s more — niche isn’t the only thing to consider during your search. To find the right social media influencer, you need someone who checks every box. And that means keeping these other factors in mind when making a shortlist of potential candidates.

I’m super sarcastic, I’m super cheeky. If you’re not cool with that, this is not the right partnership for us. So I always preface this before working with anyone.

Vanessa, Wander Onwards

Cost

Every influencer sets different rates, which of course, they don’t make publicly known. However, tour companies can use follower count to gauge cost ahead of time. In other words, you can expect to pay higher for a partnership with a travel influencer who has a mega-following.

That’s why micro-influencers are your best bet if you have a lower marketing budget. A micro-influencer qualifies as someone with a following between 2,000 and 100K. Similar to Vanessa, many influencers in this range are focused on gaining experience with different brands, and building their media kit. Of course, rates increase on the micro-influencer follower scale as well. 

Engagement

That said, follower count only defines cost — it’s not an accurate measurement for estimating someone’s power of influence. Why? Because an influencer with a big following might have a low engagement rate for two reasons:

  1. They’ve accumulated fake followers from buying them or,
  2. They’re targeting too broad of an audience, and have lost relatability.

How do you calculate an influencer’s engagement rate then? Well, engagement is considered as the total number of likes and comments per post. So here’s the formula:

Engagement rate = Total engagement / followers x 100

For example, Vanessa’s latest post has 2,092 likes and 41 comments — which brings her total engagement to 2,133. As I write, her follower count is 13K. Let’s do the math:

2,133 / 13k x 100 = 16.4%

Vanessa has a high engagement rate for travel influencer marketing. As a reference, you should look for influencers with an engagement rate of 3% or higher.

Consistency

Many influencers realize the importance of posting consistently — it’s the best way for their followers to become familiar with their face in the newsfeed. With a daily update — via a blog post, Youtube video, or Instagram story — followers get to know them better, build admiration, and look forward to new content.

In other words, consistency helps an influencer stay top of mind — followers pay attention and even purposefully watch for updates. So when it comes to sponsored content, their followers are more likely to slow their scroll.

Voice

Your travel brand has a personality that comes out in the tone of your communications — otherwise known as brand voice. Maybe your brand voice is upbeat and helpful. Or perhaps it’s rebellious and authentic. Whatever your brand voice might be, you should work with a travel influencer who expresses the same.

After all, the words and sentences the influencer might use during the campaign will represent your travel brand. Vanessa says, “I’m super sarcastic, I’m super cheeky. If you’re not cool with that, this is not the right partnership for us. So I always preface this before working with anyone.”

Content

Probably the most worrisome part of travel influencer marketing is leaving content in the hands of a third-party. Luckily, most influencers are skilled content creators — so it’s more about finding someone with a similar style.

Visit their travel blog, and scroll through their social media feeds. Take note of the type of photography, videography, and writing they deliver. Their recent posts will tell you what content you can expect during the campaign — like presets they’ll use for editing images, or the amount of emojis they’ll use in the caption. Choose a style that matches your own — because you can promote their content on your marketing channels as well.

Now you can begin your search

Using the above factors as a guideline, you can start looking for the perfect travel influencer. You can go about this in many ways — including:

  • Google search: Plenty of websites have done the research already and compiled a list of the top influencers in particular industries. These lists often give details about each influencer — like their follower count, niche, and blog link.
  • Influencer marketing tool: There are plenty of free online tools that can help you search and sort influencers. Some of the best include Followerwonk, BuzzSumo, and Geopiq — and Social Blade (to expose fake followers).
  • Check your followers: There’s a possibility an influencer is already a fan of yours. Scroll through your list of followers to find out.
  • Hashtag search: If you already use niche-related hashtags in your social media marketing, consider clicking on them to see the content that’s shared by others. There might be influencers who consistently use one of those hashtags, too.

Or you can search with these popular Instagram hashtags for your vertical.

With a shortlist of influencers who check off every box, it’s time to initiate contact — starting with your top pick.

Reaching out to an influencer for a campaign

Instagram influencer Vanessa sharing advice on making friends in Denmark

Often, a travel influencer will have an email address listed on their social media profiles to open up the opportunity for brands to contact them. While it’s okay to email them right away — especially if it’s a match made in heaven — sometimes it’s better to take things slowly.

More specifically, you should break the ice before showing up randomly in their inbox. And you can do this by interacting with the influencer’s content first. Give them a follow. Like their posts. Leave a comment. Make a great first impression.

Just remember to be thoughtful with your engagement techniques. If you’re going to leave a comment, make sure it relates to what they published. “Like this sleep company commented with a sleepy emoji on my photo, and I thought that meant they were bored with my content. I was like; I’ll block this person. I looked on their page, and it was a sleep supplement company. It was a bad first interaction.” That’s to say, don’t be cryptic.

Once they’re aware of your tour company, then you can send them your pitch. Since this might be your only shot with a particular influencer, you want to make sure your message is compelling and straightforward. Here are some tried and true tips:

  1. Introduce yourself: Let them know who you are, and what your tour company does. If you applied the above icebreaker strategy, then this introduction will be more of a reminder.
  2. Give a reason: This is your opportunity to show that you’ve done your research and chose them exclusively — rather than copy and pasted the same email to anyone with over 10K followers. Vanessa says, “Flattery gets you everywhere. If they mention something specific they like about my brand or my Instagram or my blog, I really appreciate that. Like if they’ve investigated the places that I’ve been.”
  3. Outline the project: Give them an idea of what the project will entail — like details about your tour experience, the length of the influencer campaign, and what social media platforms you’d want them to use for promotion.
  4. Don’t rush into money talk: Vanessa says that negotiations happen with more in-depth correspondence as she figures out the company’s needs and the work it’ll take to meet them.

After you hit send, the influencer will either respond because they want to know more or to let you down gracefully. The worst case scenario is that their assistant will filter your email out and you won’t hear from them at all. If that happens, brush it off and try again with another influencer.

“As long as you’re still trying and still pitching to people you want to work with, that’ll increase your opportunity tenfold because you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”

Vanessa, Wander Onwards

Keep in mind; you will have to talk compensation eventually. That’s why it’s a good idea to know your budget ahead of time, so you won’t agree to unaffordable demands just because your top choice shows interest in working with you.

Travel influencer marketing costs

Instagram influencer marketing Vanessa of Wander Onwards on bike tour.

Every travel influencer charges different rates, so it’s challenging to know what to expect when it comes to your budget. However, there are a couple of factors that affect the overall cost of a campaign:

  1. Follower count: The more followers an influencer has, the more they charge.
  2. Workload: Like any other job, the more work that’s required, the higher the total cost will be.

As a reference, Vanessa says a short and focused campaign generally includes a sponsored blog post and 3-4 hero content pieces — which is the content related to the blog post and delivered on desired social media platforms.

If working with an influencer that has under 20K followers, they’ll probably include the hero pieces with the blog post payment. On the other hand, anyone with a following higher than that is likely to charge per post.

On top of content creation fees, you should also budget for travel expenses during the campaign. For the influencer to blog about the experience, they must have the experience. And if they aren’t nearby — which is likely because travel influencers tend to be on the go — then you might be expected to compensate their flights, accommodation, and transport.

And since travel costs add up quickly, it’s a good idea to get creative with the project. Instead of making it a short and focused campaign, consider adding more content to make the trip worth a chunk of your marketing budget. After all, travel influencer marketing works it’s magic overtime — more content for longer leads to greater reach. 

For example, Vanessa says, “the most important part of promoting campaigns is the drum up of excitement beforehand, letting people know when you’re going to be live, where you’re going to be beforehand.” For tour and activity operators, this type of content is a great add-on to the project because it’s compelling to a travel-loving audience.

I get questions about travel prep constantly, and that would be super popular for the experience itself because it makes people realize they can do the same thing with minimal effort and it doesn’t need to be scary.

Vanessa, Wander Onwards

When you’ve discussed and agreed upon the total payment of the project, you can send the influencer a contract, and if requested, give them a deposit. As soon as the agreement is signed, that’s when your working relationship with the travel influencer truly begins.

Best way to work with a travel influencer

Vanessa of Wander Onwards taking photos for Instagram influencer marketing campaign in Italy

If you want a successful campaign, and the option to work with them in the future, it’s best to create a positive experience for the travel influencer. That means doing what you can to ensure they enjoy working with you from beginning to end.

Here’s what you can do to make that happen at every step:

Before the experience

To prevent the influencer from getting confused and having to ask questions, keep them in the loop leading up to the trip. Provide them with everything they need to know like:

  • Arrival time and transport logistics: Like how they’re going to get there, who’s picking them up, what time to arrive.
  • Packing for the experience: You don’t want them to show up unprepared. For example, if it’s a multi-day hike, give details about what clothing they’ll need — like hiking boots, thermal socks, rain jacket, etc.
  • Required camera equipment: While many travel influencers have camera gear, you can lighten their luggage by letting them know the equipment you already have that they can use for the project.

During the experience

An influencer won’t be like your average guest — their main focus will be getting share-worthy shots for their followers to see. But also, they’ll want a story to tell, which means having to live in the moment too. And balancing both can be a challenge.

For this reason, you can help them out tremendously by offering up one of your guides to take their photos or videos. According to Vanessa, “There are so many steps to get a single photo, so having someone that is responsible for doing that, who knows good angles and something about photography, can make a huge difference.” So instead of having to worry about setting up a tripod and Bluetooth timer, they can capture the experience while enjoying the experience.

On the other hand, Instagram Stories and Facebook Live is best for them to do solo — handheld or with a selfie stick. Of course, that’s if this type of content is part of the project.

After the experience

Before the travel influencer settles down to edit photos and write, it’s best to give them a guideline to follow. While the influencer should maintain authenticity by writing in the voice their followers are used to; you can still provide them with a style guide — which includes desired keywords, blog format, and the UTM tracking code.

You can also set a reasonable deadline and check in with them occasionally. Again, regular communication during the project can prevent miscommunication and ensure the final product is what you want. Just remember, quality content takes time and space to create — so “once a week is super reasonable. But if you’re checking in 3-4 times a week, that’s micromanagement.” Vanessa says.

Once the project is complete, make sure to thank your influencer for the excellent content they delivered. You can do this as a direct message, email, call, “or even a shoutout, like nice working with you Vanessa,” she says, “Like something to show that the company has human beings behind it, and I try to do the same. Because relationships are everything when you’re an influencer.”

It’s also a good idea to share feedback with them. Let the influencer know if the campaign led to more followers, website traffic, or bookings. With these numbers, they can pitch to other brands, brainstorm ideas for next time, and continue working as a travel influencer.

Final thoughts

While an influencer campaign is excellent for reaching a new audience, you can boost your credibility by promoting the influencer’s messaging on your channels as well. Just remember to track and analyze the results for any content distributed during the campaign. And if the campaign comes across as a success, you can do it all over again — either with a new travel influencer, or fresh ideas.

Want the right hashtags for your influencer campaign? Check out this list!

177 Instagram Hashtags for Tours & Activities

Find out the most popular hashtags that will drive travellers to your Instagram page.

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