Jamar Connor

How Social Media Influencers Shape the Hospitality Industry

Few social media updates are as enjoyable and enviable as travel content. There's no denying the mix of emotions that accompany this distinct digital experience: glimpse, for example, an influencer's gorgeous white sand beach photo, and you'll no doubt find the scenery calming — but you'll also wonder why you're not sinking your toes in the sand at this very moment. Expand this sensation across millions of followers, and it's easy to see why influencer marketing is so impactful in the travel and hospitality sectors.

There's no denying that today's travel brands are invested in social media — and increasingly, influencer-oriented — strategies. Our in-depth examination of 50 high-end properties revealed that the vast majority maintain a strong presence on Instagram, with some beginning to make forays into TikTok. YouTube is also a dominant force for travel content, as it gives aspiring travelers the chance to dive deep and immerse themselves in long-form, highly engaging videos.

Currently, most brand-generated travel content feels aspirational or downright romantic. The goal: to achieve an elevated aesthetic, complete with stunning shots of expansive beaches, mountain scenery, or cosmopolitan environments. When aspiring vacationers are desperate for excitement or escape, social media gives them the taste of travel they crave — and, done right, it convinces them to immediately start planning for dream vacations.

There is still a definite place for aspirational content. Increasingly, however, brands are seeking to build more authentic connections with their target customers. For a select few, this means exploring a more casual, behind-the-scenes vibe through TikTok. It's not easy to crack this platform, however, and many consumers in hospitality brands' target demographics aren't active there in the first place.

Therein lies the appeal of influencer marketing and user-generated content. Influencers know what their followers crave and are more than happy to deliver. They are especially excited to do so when they can craft content around beautiful or fascinating travel properties that they, themselves find compelling. This is the ultimate example of a win-win-win scenario: the influencer enjoys the glamor and excitement of onsite coverage, the follower gets to enjoy a wealth of compelling content, and the brand gets to connect with a larger, more engaged audience than would otherwise be available.

Advantages of Influencer Marketing

The modern-day power and popularity of influencer marketing is multifaceted but, as we've touched on, its myriad of benefits are enjoyed by all sides: brands, influencers, and social media users. From the brand's perspective, however, the following advantages are among the most compelling:

Developing Authentic Connections

Social media users are increasingly wary of overtly promotional material. They aren't necessarily opposed to sponsored content, but they want to feel as if they've benefited in some way from viewing these posts. This is where influencers come into play: they know which types of images or videos are most in demand and can respond with content that provides genuine value to specific types of followers. Micro-influencers can be especially helpful in this regard, driving both awareness and engagement among niche travelers.

Research published in the Emerging Science Journal suggests that this effect is largely driven by the parasocial nature of influencer-follower relationships. While influencers get some insight from likes, comments, and follows, their interactions with users are largely one-sided: the influencer is responsible for driving the discourse and making their followers feel seen and valued.

Specifically, researchers note that parasocial interaction describes how social media influencers create relationships with their followers on Instagram based on their attractiveness, expertise, and similarity, adding that these qualities create tourist confidence in the posts shared by social media influencers and ultimately affect the tourists' travel intention.

Explore New Markets

Brands looking to shift their strategy and build a following among new types of consumers may struggle to get the word out to the right people or at the right time. Influencers already have the requisite connections, however, and are better poised to drive traffic where it's needed most.

For example: the effort to appeal to a more family-friendly clientele. In a unique campaign we'll highlight in detail below, a prominent children's entertainer revealed just how inviting a ski and snowboarding destination could be for guests of all ages. Other campaigns, however, may seek to appeal to the discerning Gen Z demographic or perhaps, cater to luxury-minded travelers.

Similarly, highly seasonal properties can look to influencers to demonstrate why their offerings remain just as compelling outside of the 'peak' season. With ski resorts, this might mean using mountain biking influencers to highlight summer thrill-seeking, while other properties can look to influencers to drive interest in special events during off-season periods — or year-round offerings that followers might otherwise never consider.

Crystal Cruises' Carmen Roig tells Travel Weekly that influencers are valuable for reach[ing] new audiences on a personal level and convey[ing] a relatable, authentic point of view. Speaking specifically to the strength of influencers for attracting new passengers to the cruise niche, she adds that tools such as Stories mean that Crystal is able to leverage influencer relationships to share real-time moments aboard the ship, giving audiences a peek at what the Crystal experience is truly like.

Generate FOMO

Today's travelers frequently experience the modern-day phenomenon of FOMO: the fear of missing out. This sensation can arise in response to many types of social media content but is especially common when users notice that others are traveling while they are stuck at home. While FOMO has traditionally been associated with the exploits of friends and family members, users admit to also experiencing this when they realize just how much fun their favorite influencers are having (or appear to be having).

The strong feelings prompted by FOMO function a lot like a traditional call to action: these feelings can quickly convince potential customers to move into active travel planning and start making concrete plans for their next trip. With the hospitality market, the manifestations of FOMO can also be highly specific: social media users are not only driven to travel in general, but also, feel compelled to visit specific locations or partake in specific experiences based on what they've seen from their favorite influencers.

Travel Influencer Success Stories

The power of the modern travel influencer should be evident simply from browsing Instagram. Among all the fashion and fitness content, you'll no doubt spot several posts that have you itching to go on vacation.

From ski and mountain biking resorts to destination wedding spots, today's influencer success stories span many types of travel brands and properties, revealing how these campaigns can use a variety of concepts and qualities to develop authentic and impactful relationships while driving everything from web traffic to bookings.

Killington Resort

As the East Coast's largest ski and snowboard resort, Killington Mountain has gained an impressive reputation for its long seasons and abundance of snow. Based in Vermont, this iconic attraction is frequently referred to as the Beast of the East. It's renowned among passionate skiers and Snowboarders but, if its social media presence is any indication, there is currently a strong effort to appeal to a wider range of adventure-oriented followers — especially during the summer months. Killington has a strong presence on Instagram and TikTok, where interviews and other personable content give the resort a relatable feel.

Influencers amplify this effect by collaborating with Killington on a variety of year-round events, which are then showcased on Instagram. Professional mountain biker and freeriding activist Alex Showerman, for example, worked with Killington to present a freeride progression session, which was then extensively promoted on Instagram.

Explaining why Killington's Black Magic Hill was the perfect venue for the event, Showerman described the hill's, big long landings, dual lips, generous case pads, adding that this trail can absolutely rip or keep it dialed back for a chill afternoon. This language clearly appeals to adventurous types but would not feel as genuine coming directly from Killington's Instagram page.

Mountain Creek

Another East Coast resort that's making waves in influencer marketing, Mountain Creek provides an unusual example of how mega-influencers can be integrated into far-reaching marketing campaigns. Children's entertainer Blippi famously teamed up with the resort to create a snowboarding video for young viewers. This popular clip scored tens of millions of views and cemented Mountain Creek's status as a family-friendly destination.

Mountain Creek has also worked with many smaller-scale influencers, such as travel blogger Taylor Deer of Brown Eyed Flower Child. Proving that mountain biking novices can be just as impactful as experts, Deer described her adventure at Mountain Creek while reminding followers, This is your sign to try something new and get out of your comfort zone. In addition to describing the joy of mountain biking, she referenced Mountain Creek's many other summer activities: Don't forget to also check out the water park, mountain coaster, and Biergarten at this fun NJ resort.

Bellwether Beach Resort

Social media users aspire to make their lives look and feel as fabulous as their favorite influencers. Vacation properties can build on this desire by incorporating influencers not only in their typical hospitality marketing efforts, but also, in unique programming designed to appeal to very specific types of travelers. Bellwether Beach Resort (in Florida's St. Pete Beach) exemplifies the power of this concept with a distinct wedding program known as Styled With Love. This fun opportunity elevates the destination wedding experience by getting fashion-savvy influencers in on the destination wedding planning process.

A variety of noteworthy collaborators are involved in this cutting-edge program, including interior design influencer McKenna Bleu. Bellwether describes Bleu's wedding package as being feminine, soft, and romantic, while an alternate option from Andi Lipton uses earthy tones to create an Insta-worthy look that is a little bit boho, a little bit sophisticated, and every bit perfection.

Travel Influencers Are Here to Stay

The hospitality industry is booming and, as travelers seek new and more meaningful experiences, they are looking to influencers to lead the charge. Brands that capitalize on these opportunities will be rewarded with deeply engaged travelers, who are determined to follow in the footsteps of their favorite influencers.

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