INFLUENCERS & THE TRAVEL INDUSTRY
When we first heard about the argument started by The Reading Rooms in Margate following Estee Lalonde’s visit we almost saw their point. An influencer had used their property to shoot a “commercial project” and hadn’t let them know. Venues often rely on corporate-rate venue hire as it displaces revenue otherwise made from paying guests, and shooting is often disruptive to the daily running of the business and their guests. Then we saw the content in question and our view changed hugely.
There are two photographs in question as shown; a selfie snap which included a tag and credit to a brand Estee is an ambassador for, and a flat lay of a breakfast spread where Estee tagged the make of the pyjamas she happened to be wearing (most likely because if she hadn’t her followers would have asked - so it saves her the hassle, especially when she’s posting over her weekend). It should be mentioned that in the first image around 1/10th of the photograph features a bedhead which happens to be in a Reading Rooms’ bedroom and the breakfast is room service from the venue.
First and foremost; Estee was a paying guest. As a lifestyle influencer her content carries a narrative of her daily pursuits and she included a snapshot of her weekend, where she happened to be at a hotel of her choosing using her own money. Secondly, the content (as any influencer would spot in seconds) wasn’t a paid-for project as Estee hadn’t used the #ad/#spon tags or marked it as a paid partnership, and wasn’t in any way disruptive to the venue. So the content was produced organically - with a nod to companies who she works with on a longer term – albeit paid for – basis.
What happened next is as unfortunate as it is somewhat embarrassing for The Reading Rooms. Having rallied up her friends, the co-owner of the hotel arranged comments to be posted on Estee’s Instagram feed recommending the venue (the irony of the owner questioning Estee’s morals, when she got biased friends to endorse her, but that’s another conversation…). The Reading Rooms then posted Estee’s content on Twitter slamming her for not crediting the venue, or making them aware of her stay.
Understandably the influencer industry didn’t like this very much and proceeded to put The Reading Rooms into place, who in their defence promptly apologised - but the irony is that this could have sparked a very healthy conversation around when/if/where influencers need to disclose their activities when using a “venue.” The elephant that’s been in the room for some time, and is making it known he needs feeding is; the travel industry is so deeply behind other industry sectors when it comes to influencer marketing and the content control they can exercise.
We’ve put our heads together and collated some pointers for both influencers and travel organisations to consider when an influencer stays at a destination.
For the Influencers
Do remember that just like any retailer or business, a hotel is more than just a potential backdrop for your photoshoot. It is growing a brand just like any other organisation and will have guidelines around the kind of commercial content it is happy to share.
If you are planning to go to a destination to shoot where it will be very apparent within the content – whilst it isn’t legally required – it is polite to let them know. It is possible your shoot may cause an inconvenience for other paying guests (for example if you are going to need to shoot in busy or private areas which other guests would notice you doing so). Also, if a venue declines your prospective shoot do not be offended; they are building a brand. Should this happen we'd obviously not suggest trying to do it on the sly; there are plenty of places in the world for you to shoot from.
If you are asked to review a destination we’d recommend you outlining your “terms” before you go. Influencers can be a brilliant, unbiased new form of mystery shopping. Let them know that you will be creating an honest review, or that if you have a negative experience you have a policy whereby you wouldn’t create the content.
To avoid any issues research the venue before your stay and make sure you can shoot the content you need to. Explain to the hotel what you need; we advise influencers in the UK to always ask for a 2 night stay at UK destinations in the winter so they can create the content they need (due to the hours of daylight) and the same throughout the year for foreign destinations so that it gives you enough time to explore (and enjoy) the venue without everything being rushed. If you do not have time for a hotel tour (which is a very outdated concept) let the hotel know in advance too.
We always feel a hotel should be willing to host an influencer and a guest as it makes the review easier for all. Asking a friend or colleague to contribute towards a stay creates an imbalance that often overshadows the experience. The reality is the influencer ordinarily splits this with their guest; meaning they are paying which in itself reverses the point of the whole experience.
However, we understand hotels don't always see it that way so to help you explain why you need a friend or make shift colleague (AKA: Instagram boyfriends) to come with you, perhaps point the hotel in the direction of your content. Showing them that you need somebody else to shoot you in order to maintain your usual content quality is often an easier way to get them to understand your request.
Furthermore – and in our opinion we think this is where the travel industry falls down – make them aware that you will be shooting content other than that of a travel focus, and this should be ok. PRs and venue owners need to understand that taking the time to travel to/from a destination – whilst a wonderful and often unmeasurable experience – is also time you could be directly earning revenue on paid-for projects. So it reasonable for you to shoot content that will generate you income whilst you are staying with them.
For the Organisations/Venues
It’s important to say before we start that unfortunately regulation (both by ASA and trading standards organisations) are largely unhelpful for travel destinations as they focus more on product based businesses (retailers) than services (travel, etc). This means that the sector hails a number of murky circumstances and by and large each influencer-case needs to be considered case by case.
As a next point, and certainly one to consider with Estee’s situation, the entire point of the influencer industry is that they are “real” people and not press. You cannot exercise control over paying guests, whether they have 10 followers or 10 million. Understand that this means they are essentially a new form of mystery shopper, and the content they produce is similarly uncontrollable. The Reading Rooms raised an interesting point; travel reviews by the press are very contrived and controlled – hotels will know when editors are coming and will be able to offer them an elevated service. That isn’t the case with paying guests, be they an influencer or not, and that’s something that needs to be accepted.
If you, or your PR agency, invites an influencer to stay at the property understand that without payment or a contract it is not a professional transaction and it is worth you reading our pointers above to influencers as it’s good to know that they aren’t being cheeky asking for a two night stay, or refusing to post if they’ve had a bad experience. You also do not have a right to use their content; that is the influencer's intellectual property unless agreed before their stay
As a larger point; understand the wider influencer landscape. Whilst we appreciate your overheads are higher than a retailer shelling out £20 t-shirts left, right and centre – be aware of the rules and regulations and the struggle influencers and brands are in when it comes to paid for content.
We have constant conversations internally about cases in the travel industry – and the fashion, beauty and general retail environment. The general consensus is; this is new for us all. The ASA is improving at lightning speed, and will no doubt support the travel sector in the near future but it needs to be understood this is a learning curve and the majority of influencers did not foresee themselves ever getting in to situations like this.
For now; communication from both sides is key, as is making sure you (as both an influencer and as someone from the travel industry) understand the mindset and requirements needed to make successful content (and collaborations) work.
For further support and help with the formal guidelines from the ASA, read this.