Should hotels ever offer complimentary stays? There is a tradition of their hosting professional travel journalists for free, but in the new millennium that custom has expanded to include bloggers and other ‘influencers’ – those with large numbers of followers on Instagram, Facebook and other such popular social media sites.
Some hoteliers have begun decrying this practice, with some arguing that it isn’t beneficial for them to take up such offers.
Part of the issue facing hoteliers and their marketeers concerns the proliferation of applications for ‘comp’ visits. Samantha Kirton, the co-founder of UK agency Dart PR, which represents a range of independent hotels, confirms as much. “I spend increasing amounts of time reviewing influencer opportunities on behalf of my clients,” she reflects.
Yet Kirton still recognises the upsides: chiefly a pronounced ‘Google effect’ and financial reward. “One of the key reasons to proceed is to put your brand in front of new audiences in a credible way,” she asserts. “Most consumers read peer reviews before booking a stay; by inviting influencers to review their accommodation, hoteliers help to create positive, searchable content which fuels interest and can therefore boost revenue.”
Kirsten Aggersborg, PR & Communication Manager at Danish family-run chain Guldsmeden Hotels, estimates that she receives 15 inquiries from social-media influencers each week.
“We’ll offer anything from free stays to free breakfasts,” Aggersborg explains. “I only refuse those ones completely incompatible with our concept, or influencers whose content appear to only focus on themselves.”
Some, she says, have proven highly worthwhile. “The sheer volume of interest from influencers for our hotel Manon les Suites” – which launched in 2017 – “has been instrumental in putting it on the map faster than we’ve experienced before when opening new hotels.”
Even so, Aggersborg’s sense is of a saturation point being reached. “I do feel that the whole ‘profession’ of social-media influencers has exploded. We now get quite a lot of requests which are, frankly, ridiculous.”
The blogger’s perspective
Some influencers agree. For Annette White, whose 13-year-old award-winning blog Bucket List Journey receives nearly 500,000 monthly unique users, the situation is becoming problematic.
“Due to the growing amount of bloggers emerging, it’s becoming more difficult for bloggers and hotels or resorts to build partnerships together,” she reckons. “Past bad experiences can make owners hesitant to collaborate.”
Properties and influencers will have far more success working together if their brand philosophies align
White suggests, therefore, that hoteliers avoid such trauma by demanding additional data and specifics about delivery. In addition to site statistics such as monthly unique-user figures, she says, properties should request for a detailed report from a similar, previous partnership. How many Instagram stories did it yield? How many hits did those exact blogs get? What was the project’s total reach across all channels? This way, according to White, it’s possible to better determine exactly what the influencer is likely to deliver for you.
Equally important, she says, is that hoteliers choosing appropriately. If you’re a five-star resort, then a budget-travel blogger obviously won’t be the right fits. Accordingly, properties and influencers will have far more success working together if their brand philosophies align.
Making influencer stays work for you
One real perk of working with influencers involves the potential to promote new product. Mike Wood, the owner of Marrakech Riad and its four properties, says that he has been happy to offer free stays for influencers from target markets for this reason.
“We have invested in an app, the Marrakech Riad Travel Guide,” he explains, “and influencers have been critical in expanding awareness of that.”
In the Middle East, the Armani Hotel Dubai takes a different tack: it targets ‘micro-influencers’ – ones whose blog or social-media account relates to a particular segment.
“I find that micro-influencers yield a greater return” verifies general manager Mark Kirby. “As their content is more focused – be it on spas, wellness, nutrition, design, parenting, etc – we feel that we are reaching a specific audience sector that’s hungry for information and ideas, which allows for higher engagement.”
Ultimately, providing free stays can be risky and time-consuming, but often also, in the long-term, financially rewarding. The trick, it seems, is to find visitors or influencers who are trustworthy and best suited to your brand needs.
You might also want to read:
- Tips to build your social media following from zero
- Exploring Instagram tourism
- Understanding the power of hotel comms
Requests for free stays from bloggers and influencers should be qualified on the potential delivery and exposure opportunity
The best requests contain thorough, personalised and statistic-based pitches – and consider the hotel’s needs and audience
Influencers can promote a particular product, service or business milestone, such as a new app or experiential offering
Micro-influencers, who focus on a specific sector such as wellness or parenting, can offer a more targeted audience