Several global hotel chains are partnering with travel bloggers who have emerged as an influential resource for consumers.
GLOBAL REPORT—Despite the recent blasting travel bloggers received on BBC’s “Fast Track” travel program for their lack of authenticity and eagerness to accept freebies, more and more hotel groups are turning to this growing group of online influencers as a key part of their communications strategies.
“Travel bloggers have become much more important to our PR and communications strategy over the last 12 months,” said Marion Schumacher, VP of PR and communications at Mövenpick Hotels & Resorts, which enjoyed success in October 2012 with its #StayMovenpick blogger outreach campaign, which was launched with the help of marketing company and blogger network iambassador.
“This year, our strong focus will continue to be on reaching out to travel bloggers,” she added.
Mövenpick Hotels & Resorts
Hilton Worldwide and Accor’s Sofitel brand are getting in on the action, too.
While Hilton recently teamed up with digital marketing agency Stickyeyes to deliver a blogger engagement campaign in the United Kingdom, Sofitel is in the initial stages of launching a new blogger campaign focusing on culture, gastronomy and design with the help of global communication agency Text100.
So why does the hotel industry have a sudden enthusiasm for travel bloggers?
According to Text100’s recent “Digital Index: Travel & Tourism” study, travel bloggers are considerably more influential than any other social media channel when it comes to holiday planning. While 27% of respondents strongly agreed or agreed that Facebook was the most influential social media channel when it comes to deciding leisure travel and 24% said they used YouTube, 44% said they rely on travel bloggers.
“An increasing number of consumers trust online recommendations, especially from friends or people they trust,” said Marc Ha, VP and managing consultant at Text100 Singapore.
Working with travel bloggers has other advantages for hotels.
“One of the beauties of working with travel bloggers is that you can measure it much more easily than with traditional PR,” Schumacher said. “It is also very uncomplicated to work with travel bloggers. Their whole philosophy is to experience something themselves. They are more exploratory than many of those who work in traditional media, and they love to discover things.”
Authentic or always after a freebie?
The travel blogging profession was criticized heavily on the recent BBC “Fast Track” program for being made up of “marketers” and people who “construct (their) whole lives around getting free trips.” Yet for many in the hotel industry, one of the benefits of working with travel bloggers is the authenticity they offer.
Although hotel companies often pay for bloggers’ flights, accommodation and tour packages, they have no control over the content they produce, sources said.
“We allow bloggers complete freedom in terms of their editorial and want to reach out to bloggers who are valued for their honest testimony,” said Sophie Letard, VP of marketing and sales for Sofitel in the Europe, Middle East and Africa.
“What I really liked about iambassador was that they understood our business needs but still completely focused on the authenticity of what they were doing,” Schumacher said.
Moreover, travel bloggers are bound by industry rules to disclose on their websites whether they are on a sponsored trip, which is something that sets them apart from many traditional media outlets.
Launching an effective campaign
Launching an effective travel blogger campaign is not an easy task, however. Not only is blogger screening essential to success, but also hoteliers need to take into account the logistics of the operation and ensure bloggers are kept engaged throughout.
Keith Jenkins, founder and publisher of luxury travel blog Velvet Escape and CEO of iambassador, said there are three things to take into account when it comes to blogger selection: quality of content, social media presence and geographical location.
“Just as if you were working with a journalist, go to the blog, read the blog, look at the writing style and get a feel for the blogger before you choose to work with them,” he said. “Obviously, if you’re a luxury brand, it’s not logical to work with a backpacker blogger, although that has been done before.”
Planning is another must for hotel operators.
“The main challenge for a blogger outreach program for hotels is logistics,” said Martin Carter, creative manager at Stickyeyes. “There are a lot of parties involved, including those sourcing and securing bloggers, those working for the brand, the GM and any administration staff at each hotel.
“The key to success with these projects is planning—ensuring everyone has a process in place for bookings, date availability and changes, and perhaps most importantly that everyone involved is bought into the campaign to make it the best it can be.”
Finally, it’s crucial to keep bloggers engaged.
“Be social,” Carter said. “Bloggers love social media, so where possible, welcome them on Twitter as well as at the front desk. Retweet and share the content they create across your platforms, too, to make the most of undertaking a blogger campaign.”