October 25, 2021

The Changing Role of Influencers: From Curated Content to Trusted Travel Resource

Influencers are Taking on a New Responsibility and Changing the Game for Those who are Eager for the Return to Travel

In the travel sector, all eyes are on domestic destinations and new experiences to be found in America’s backyard as the country emerges back into more frequent travel. For those who have felt cooped up for too long, many have lost muscle memory in how to travel. And now more than ever, they are seeking new direction to scratch that itch: influencers.

We spoke with a group of travel-focused social media personalities with major followings to see what they are hearing from their networks and what content is resonating during a time of uncertainty in the industry.

Travel Influencers are the New Travel Agents

With COVID requirements being handled at the local level, traditional national media outlets are seen less and less as a trusted resource for people planning a trip.

Instead, people are turning to travel influencers who are on the ground in locations where people want to visit, sharing their tips and up-to-date information on what it’s like to travel during the pandemic.

“The role of influencers is to really cut through the fear of the media and get through to the reality of what’s on the ground in real time,” said photographer and influencer, Garrett Bruno. “The role has changed from showing off to being more process-oriented.”

“We usually get around a hundred direct messages a day asking about camping permits in Yosemite,” said Stephen Jiroch, an avid camper based out of California, who runs a travel account with his wife. “A lot of people are looking to influencers for information, especially if they know you have been there. We’ll send people links to official websites, but they are still coming to us and saying “Okay, I understand that. But what would you do?”

“I think there has been a lot more hand holding,” added Scott Staffi. Maybe it is because people have discretionary income since they haven’t been traveling for a year and a half now, but people are messaging me about planning trips for them.”

The shift from aspirational to informative in influencers’ content is a major one as people adopt social media more and more for travel planning and booking via platforms like Instagram. And, with more time spent on social media over the course of the pandemic, the role of an influencer as a trusted resource has increased significantly.

Domestic Travel For the Win

With domestic travel on the rise, the popularity of national parks and outdoor destinations has hit a fever pitch, causing travelers to look for undiscovered locations, often in the midwest.

“My audience responds and is excited about destinations that are underrated and unknown,” said Ciara Johnson, who quit her job to travel the world and document her adventures. “People are often amazed at what is possible there. I’ll have people from these destinations that are so excited and grateful that these places are being talked about by us influencers.”

“It’s just like rediscovering America. We got so consumed with mega influencers showing us exotic locations and now we know there is a lot to travel to right in our backyard,” said Bruno.

“We have focused all of our travel to stay within the country,” said Adriana Czyzewski. “We have a major bucket list to explore every single state. That’s definitely a trend I have noticed, exploring the U.S. and seeing how much is here and not needing to go out of the country to see.”

Influencers are able to give an accurate, real-life depiction of travel based on their personal experiences. Forget the travel materials, consumers care much more about firsthand experience.

So what do brands need to know about working with travel-focused influencers? A major pain point is being viewed as a vendor. Influencers are often sophisticated marketers in their own right and value partnerships over transactional promotions. The best content tends to come when influencers get to take part in the content ideation process and work alongside the brands as opposed to being heavily directed by mandatories and strict deadlines.

One positive way brands can work with influencers is by initiating evergreen content (think resources for consumers like Instagram guides, blog content, stories and more). Often, this type of content is highly sought after in the travel space and serves a purpose over stagnant photography.

As we move closer to the end of the year, brands will invest more in holiday travel planning for holiday travel and creative new ways to reach audiences (think new platforms, or elevated content on the hottest platforms like TikTok). Influencer marketing spend is expected to exceed $3 billion in 2021 and surpass $4 billion by next year. We can only assume brands will continue to pull spend from traditional means of advertising and funnel into influencer marketing. Travel and tourism brands should be actively pursuing local influencers now to help tell their story.

To get in touch with the author, email Emily Mazurek, Head of Social Media at [email protected]


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