The ‘new’ influencer in travel marketing

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My friend Craig is an influencer.

He doesn’t have a blog, has only 360 Instagram followers and doesn’t own a drone. But Craig inspires people to travel.

You’ll see him flitting about the world several times a year – cuddling cats in Cancun, at a bruin café in Amsterdam, or snapping the latest ‘Engrish’ disaster on a sign near you.

Most recently, I spotted him online, seated in the ‘B’ in the giant ‘I Love Baku’ installation outside the beautifully sculpted Heydar Aliyev Center. I had never thought to visit Azerbaijan, but his adventures with a dilapidated Lada in the desert have certainly piqued my interest and made me at least Google where Baku actually is.

In terms most marketers would understand, Craig would not be considered an official ‘influencer’. He doesn’t tell the story of his travels to thousands of followers who live vicariously through him (although I must admit, I do). He hasn’t created travel content to promote a destination, experience or travel product and provide his perspective on these.

But because Craig travels, people travel.

They join him on road-trips, on beach holidays and city breaks. There’s no occasion – nobody’s getting married, divorced or celebrating an anniversary. They just want to travel with him and travel together as friends.

A Whatsapp from Craig saying “let’s go to Iceland” elicits more response from his network than a post penned by a blogger they follow. A quick Facebook group message calling on travel companions to join a trip to Lisbon more effective than a gallery of Instagram posts about the Portuguese capital.

And yet our efforts as marketers are so much more focused on enticing labelled influencers to portray us favourably on their platforms than inspiring Craig to come visit, with his 20 BFFs. Sure, we may target him as an individual frequent traveller, but we don’t look at his potential to bring us real bums in seats or beds, on a repeated basis. Craig and his band of merry travellers don’t just travel once, they travel several times a year.

The level of influence that Craig wields over his immediate network is obviously more powerful than influencing an extended network, but therein lies the controversial question: Is the power of Craig’s strong influence over a few of more value to a travel marketer than the power of a much-admired influencer over a much-wider network? Will Craig’s influence translate in more people actually travelling? Is it a better horse to back?

I am currently mulling this over in my own head and don’t have the definitive answer, and I’m certainly not saying we should ignore traditional influencers and go out guns blazing to try and induce Craig and his friends to pay us a visit, but my initial thoughts around this topic are that we should be careful to label all Bloggers or Instagrammers as influencers.

Their content may be beautifully written and presented, but if they do not actually influence a reader or follower to take that trip or embark on their featured experience, they may just be less influential than my friend Craig. #JustSaying #FeelFreetoShootMeDown #LetsTalk