It’s Time for Hotels to Move on From Influencer Marketing

Nick Papa
November 28, 2023

As a former digital publicist, I agonized over pitch emails and fretted over the perfect subject line. The attention to detail was understandable: I was vying for a fraction of a second of attention in a journalist's inbox.

Yet, if I did my job correctly, I provided value in exclusives, newsworthy updates, and expert commentary journalists needed to file their next story.

On the other hand, social media influencers tend to write in asking for a lot: thousands of dollars in comped hotel rooms, meals, drinks, and even travel expenses, not to mention their fees on top of everything else. 

Sadly, few (if any) requests emphasized an understanding or appreciation of my hotel clients, and some comically missed the mark: a stay request for a Nantucket hotel described how excited the influencer was to "experience the Hamptons,” revealing their mass outreach strategy.

Curacity is one leader that's paved the way in reframing how hotels succeed in this space. We believe in working with individuals who consider themselves content creators rather than social media influencers.

While influence is almost impossible to measure, especially in hospitality, content creation is more concrete. There's a real value to producing original photography and video assets of your property, which you need for your blog, email newsletters, and social media channels.

Commissioning professional photography and video assets can be costly, with day rates in the thousands. Collaborating with content creators is an effective way to develop high-quality content without the hefty price tag.

Hosting creators during shoulder and off-seasons is another excellent strategy that lets you save on accommodation costs while building a content library you can leverage throughout the year.

So, the next time you get a request in your inbox, here's how to separate the creators from the influencers:

  1. Creators articulate why they want to stay at your property. Instead of promises of viral content and sweeping generalizations about a highly engaged follower base, I like to see a compelling reason from the creator for visiting the hotel. Have they been following on Instagram for several years and finally got a chance to visit? Are they excited about the cocktail program? Do any of the hotel's offerings align with one of the creator's focus areas (art, design, culinary)? Creators are likely to develop the standout content you want if there’s an authentic connection.
  2. Creators share their unique point of view. A standout pitch I once received from a blind Judo wrestler explained wanting to share the sensation of horseback riding in the waves of a Hawaiian resort without sight. Like publicists illustrating how their story angle brings something new to the outlet, I look for creators to pitch a unique lens through which they'll promote the hotel.
  3. Creators outline a clear ask and deliverables. I don't need to see an entire content plan at the onset, but a high-level explanation (In exchange for a three-night stay, I'll create an Instagram Reels video and share up to five Stories daily) will suffice.
  4. Creators express a willingness to pay a media rate. Especially when the stay request is for the high season, I appreciate creators who emphasize their understanding of the destination's seasonality (this also tells me they're a more seasoned traveler) and explicitly note they're open to learning more about a discounted rate instead of a fully-comped stay.
  5. Creators share their media kit. You shouldn’t have to ask. Creators with nothing to hide are forthcoming about sharing their media kit, including their audience demographics and how many unique accounts their content reaches. While the primary reason for working with creators is the content they deliver, it’s still smart to understand how you can leverage their audience to win a few new followers.

To confidently confirm a content creator stay, especially during your busy season, you must be confident that offering a reduced rate (or fully comping a room) will result in positive ROI. 

While traditional influencer marketing often revolves around metrics like new follower growth and engagement, the true value lies in the quality of content created.

Instead of fixating on follower counts, prioritize creators who align with your brand and have a track record of producing outstanding content.

This shift in perspective will allow you to move away from the obsession with reaching the largest audience possible and towards niche creators who will develop on-brand assets you can leverage on your hotel’s social media channels.

Remember that, when working with creators, you’re guaranteed value (regardless of performance) due to the high cost of producing the same content with a professional photographer or videographer.

The era of influencer marketing will continue to evolve, and, as always, hotels will need to adapt.

While the past few years have made hotels feel like they must continually host influencers throughout the year to yield results, my experience has taught me it’s better to pass on any opportunity where the creator hasn’t gone out of their way to demonstrate standout production and storytelling abilities.

By shifting your focus from vanity metrics to quality content creation, you can leverage the power of creators to tell your stories in a cost-effective way, ensuring a steady stream of valuable content.

When you take this opportunity to redefine the narrative and embrace content creators instead of influencers, you can captivate audiences, build brand loyalty, and set the stage for long-term success.

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