10 Things Luxury Resorts Look For In An ‘Influencer Collaboration’

Instagrammer Chanel Brown (482k Followers) at Hurawalhi

From the outset, Maldives Complete has been my coral white sand box to explore the exciting and ever emerging online world – interactive interfaces, data-driven dynamic pages, blogs, and lately social media. Especially recently, the Instagram craze taking the world by storm and its practitioners drawn to the bucket list destination of the Maldives like trevally to a lagoon of glass fish.

I write for many audiences. The core one is obviously the regular and prospective guests who visit this paradise and are looking for clear, concise, objective help in deciding between the scores of resort islands. But also, the site is very popular in the Maldives resort industry itself (especially the “Haven’t Seen Yet Series”). And the fifth highest country of traffic to the site (after the UK, USA, Germany and China) is the Maldives itself with many Maldivians enjoying the fresh perspective about the economic heart of their country.

Today’s post is for a subset of those prospective guests – the Instagrammers, travel bloggers and other self-proclaimed “Influencers” who fill the inboxes of resort marketing directors with all sorts of requests for support and frankly freebies.  Millennials looking for an expansive buffet of special treatment while delivering a ‘contact lens case’ serving of tangible marketing results.

You could say that Maldives Complete is one of those and I often do get offered discounts (or at least trade rates) which I welcome since I spend so much money on the website, don’t make any money out of it, and my visits are mostly running around working on photos and getting material and not exactly lying back and enjoying a break.

The onslaught of hubristic hustlers looking for all sorts of special treatment has been well documented in recent months (great piece in the Atlantic – “Instagram’s Wannabe-Stars Are Driving Luxury Hotels Crazy”). Some resorts, however (eg. Hurawalhi, Ayada) are embracing the attention and providing guidelines and processes for aspiring mini-media tycoons to get some special consideration if they can deliver real results.

So what do the resorts want? Well, I’m in pretty regular contact with most of the marketing folks in the Maldives resorts and this subject has been one we have regularly discussed. One of them drafted a comprehensive piece providing some great guidance to would-be journeyman journalists. For a number of reasons, they felt that they couldn’t publish it themselves so they offered it to me to share on Maldives Complete under anonymity. I hope it’s useful for prospective influencers wondering how did those other bloggers get there, and I hope its useful to resort marketing departments to help reduce the noise and distraction of the clueless enquiries and maybe even help channel potentially useful ones more effectively.

In a week when I received six influencer requests in just one morning – of which only one was able to in any way explain who they are, who their audiences are and why I should work with them – I felt compelled to write this in the hope it’ll help influencers be more effective in working with luxury resorts. If you’re an influencer looking to work with a city hotel (whether five star or not), local b&b or other, you’ll need a different approach because their needs are different.  The below is strictly for luxury resorts – and I don’t mean five star resorts, but luxury ones; if you don’t know the difference then please don’t call yourself a luxury travel blogger.

While influencers do seem to be effective in fashion and FMCG markets, the jury is still out on whether there’s a meaningful impact when it comes to luxury travel. But still, luxury hotels are taking to the influencer business like ducks to water and why not? It’s the in-thing to do, your competitors are doing it and it’s a lot more fun than cranking out another eDM. I get approached daily by influencers and most are declined. So what are luxury resorts looking for in an influencer?  Here’s my list:

  1. Influence. It may seem obvious but if you’re going to influence people, you need clout. It’s not a numbers game; I’m willing to work with influencers who have less than, say, 50,000 genuine followers on their main social media account, so long as those followers are the kind of people who’ll definitely stay at the hotel I’m marketing. And before you blithely say ‘of course they would’ you need to understand that I’m selling rooms that in the cheapest time of year are US$2,000 a night.  Be honest: do the majority of your followers really spend that kind of money on a hotel room, or do they just aspire to? I’m not just going to take your word for it: you’ll need to show that your followers are indeed my market – see point 2.
  2. A media kit. I need to know who your audience is, and not just in terms of numbers or their sex (because that’s not really important to me), but their socio-economic status and geographic location. I need to know if they’re really luxury travel consumers. Can you show that many of your followers regularly fly long-haul in first or business class or routinely spend over $2,000 a night on a hotel stay? That information needs to be on your media kit. Don’t forget to include links to your accounts in your media kit. You’d be amazed how many people approach me without giving links to their websites or social media accounts. No links or no media kit? Then I’ll assume that if you can’t make a professional approach to a possible business partner, then any resulting content is going to be unprofessional too.
  3. More than just social media. Social media is lovely, but ephemeral. That amazing post or story of yours is at best a 48-hour wonder and then gone forever, whereas as well-written, SEO-friendly blog post with links back to our site lives on the internet forever. No blog or website? Then it doesn’t work for us.
  4. An understanding that this is a quid pro quo deal. Many influencers are quite certain about what they should get out of the deal, but a little hazy about the true value of what they’re offering the hotel. ‘Awareness’ is an intangible concept that I don’t work with. So this is how it works: we give you a fabulous free stay in a luxury hotel worth $$$ and your coverage (social media, blog posts, videos etc) results in business. By business, I mean at least one reservation. It’ll be easy to measure because I’ll give you a booking code that your followers can use to make a reservation and that way we’ll know it came from your influence. Suddenly not so sure you can deliver that? Then why so sure I should give you that free stay?
  5. A realistic approach to what you’ll get. A professional travel journalist will spend two nights in a hotel and be able to write a great article, get all the social media coverage done and an online article.  That’s journalism.  If you’re calling yourself a professional, then that’s a realistic time frame for you too. 
  6. An understanding that ‘photos’ or ‘content’ isn’t an appealing offer. One of the most powerful marketing assets a luxury resort has is its imagery. This imagery is carefully selected, has a style, colour tone, composition and feel that reflects the hotel’s image and is consistent throughout the whole image library. Usually, a luxury hotel’s photography will be taken by one photographer – often over many years – in order to achieve that vision. I’m happy that you take great photos while you’re here (in fact, I’m depending on your photography being amazing), but I’m unlikely to use them for more than the occasional social media post unless you can match our existing look and style of our professional house photographer.
  7. Your image. Three points: a). I’m selling luxury travel. If you’re mostly featuring fashion or makeup or food or events on your feed, your audience probably isn’t my market. b). When your entire feed is pictures of you barely wearing any clothes (done tastefully of course), I understand why you have so many followers and ask you to please understand that this isn’t how I sell my product. c) if your feed is fabulous photography of you backpacking or camping, then kudos to you but your audience isn’t my audience and much as I love what you do, I can’t work with you.
  8. Our image. I’d like your understanding that a luxury hotel also has a specific image that you need to respect. I totally get that you need to feed your social media and keep driving those clicks in order to fulfill promises to your other partners, but if you’re going to post every five hours regardless of the quality of the pictures of MY product then we can’t work together. Please understand: I’m very picky. What to you looks like a really cute picture of you in a bikini (makeup, bikini and jewelry all sponsored by other partners, of course), to me just looks like an untidy hotel room with wet, crumpled pool towels on the floor, half-drunk milkshakes in the background and not the best angle of the pool in the pouring rain. To be clear: my product – the hotel – isn’t a backdrop to your photos; it IS the photo. And it’s got to look good by my standards, not yours.
  9. Our audience vs your audience: You appeal to generation z, you appeal to millennials – heck you are millennial. You’re young and fun and groovy. My audience however routinely spends over $35,000 on a holiday and possibly owns (or has access to) a private jet and/or yacht. That puts them in an older age bracket and makes them more, let’s say discerning, than the laissez-faire casual style you’re projecting. If we partner, can you still appeal to my market without alienating your core followers?  In other words, does it make business sense to you for you to be blogging about my resort?
  10. Timing. There are times when we’d love to work with you, but you’re proposing to come when we just don’t have rooms to give away. Please forgive me for having to say no, and keep in touch in case you’re able to come back this way one day.

On my side, I promise to work with you and deliver what you need to get that wow content. My duty is to throw open the doors of the hotel to you so you can get the best. Whether that means borrowing the yacht for dolphin spotting, finding a deserted island for a fabulous picnic, planting coral with our marine biologist, setting up endless room service breakfasts poolside on the deck of your over-water villa or booking the entire spa for a morning’s photoshoot, that’s what I’m here for. Oh, and I’ll make sure the wifi is fast, free and plentiful. Deal?

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