Influencer in the travel industry

When looking for good travel tips, more and more travellers turn to social media platforms such as Instagram and Facebook. The tourism industry has recognised this trend and is increasingly focusing on digital multipliers in its communication activities. In a recent research study of IUBH University of Applied Sciences, three professors – Prof Dr Ina zur Oven-Krockhaus, Prof Dr Linda Schnorbus and Prof Dr Felix Wölfle – examined the challenges of this trend and how collaborating with influencers promises to achieve the most success.


Based on interviews with experts and analyses of campaigns, the researchers examined the social media activities of the largest German tour operators, various airlines and hotel companies, as well as travel destinations. The results: The industry uses influencers for external communications in varying degrees, and usually without a clear strategy. Prof Dr Ina zur Oven-Krockhaus, initiator of the research project, says with conviction: “This makes it all the more important to develop internal knowledge in this area in order to act optimally in the influencer environment”. After all, the potential to generate diverse content with blogger trips, influencer campaigns and testimonials is available. “This will increase the reputation and reach of the company. Along with friends and customer reviews, influencers are the most credible source of product recommendation on the internet. This applies not only to the so-called digital natives, but also to 30 to 50 year olds.

Facebook loses significance, YouTube gains in importance

If you look at the numbers it becomes particularly clear that Facebook as an influencer platform is increasingly losing its importance. In the fourth quarter of 2017, the examined airlines posted 55 images on Facebook and Instagram. This generated 50 to 80 likes on Facebook, while on Instagram the highest number of likes was 2,325. The engagement rates of tour operators – a rate that measures the interaction of followers and fans on a channel – confirm this trend: On Instagram, the rates are between 1.6 and 22.4 percent, on Facebook, with 0.2 to 2.9 percent, much lower. The examined tourism campaigns for Berlin, Dresden and Heidelberg destinations also showed lower engagement rates on Facebook than Instagram. “It is not without reason that we say, ‘A picture is worth a thousand words’. And when it comes to photos, Instagram is clearly the more suitable platform”, says Prof Dr Felix Wölfle about these research results. In addition, YouTube is becoming increasingly important. The examined airlines are increasingly shifting to this platform, and hotel companies are also showing good results here. “Moving images, including YouTube videos, have a highly stimulating nature,” says Wölfle as an explanation for the high engagement rates.

Influencers cause followers to grapple more intensely with published content

The influence of influencers on engagement rates should not be underestimated: the famous Tiroler Hotel Stanglwirt has an engagement rate of 7 percent for its own activities, and with the help of an influencer, 9 percent. At the Hyatt Regency Düsseldorf, the rate is 0 percent without an influencer, in comparison to 5% with one. “If you look at the strong fluctuation of engagement rates, it can pay off to use micro-influencers. These are influencers with few followers, but expert status in a specific area. They can be used for specific target groups with little dispersion loss,” adds Professor Wölfle.

What the tourism industry can learn

What do the experts recommend in the end? To operate successfully in influencer marketing, the goals of the company and customers must be brought into line with each other, advises zur Oven-Krockhaus. If the customer wants authentic recommendations and travel tips, the company should focus on a professional collaboration with entertainment oriented and less investigative opinion makers. This is characterised by a clear customer-contractor relationship. “Companies pay for the blogger’s trip and upon return expect photographs and positive reports on the site of the digital opinion maker. Those interested in travelling, however, expect exactly the opposite,” explains the professor. It could function, for example, with an agile strategy and experimental approach when working with influencers. It must also be clear that “influencer marketing does not lead to direct increase in sales, rather serves for image building at the inspirational phase,” adds Prof Dr Linda Schnorbus.

Ultimately, through the authenticity of the influencer in customer communications, the organisers can reach and inspire customers, even in times of overstimulation and frustration with advertising,” the professor continues. They still do not fully exploit their potential. “Tour operators are currently struggling with the fact that the influencer’s content is usually only read by the influencer’s fans and thus only reaches new target groups to a limited extent. In addition, they find it difficult to work together with the influencer to design the content so that it goes viral,” says Schnorbus about the key weak points. Providers should increasingly trust the power of images and choose the right communication channel.

“Above all, it is important to take relations to bloggers seriously, even though some tourism companies still devalue social media as a short-term trend,” sums up Ina zur Oven-Krockhaus the research. “Otherwise, they miss promising communication opportunities with their customers.”


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