Working With Digital Travel Influencers Post-Covid-19

By Daniella Middleton, Senior Vice President, Development

Stay at home orders have kept the global population in place for the past few weeks, offering prime audiences for digital influencers. For those specializing in travel, however, not being able to produce new travel content has prevented them from cashing in on this opportunity.

Digital influencers have been on the rise in the past few years, with seemingly countless individuals generating profits working with brands on YouTube, TikTok and Instagram, among other social networks. Destination brands are not the least among them.

The COVID-19 pandemic has hampered many of these brand collaborations, but has not killed them as some may have feared. The World Health Organization even joined up with several influencers to promote proper hand washing during the pandemic.

While the media reported anecdotally on how these content creators were suffering, Destination Counsellors International took a more systematic approach with a targeted survey.  

“Intuitively, we knew that travel influencers were impacted by COVID-19, but the data available grouped them with fashion, beauty, and other niches of content creators. It was important for us to examine the situation through a travel lens, and, particularly, with influencers that partner with DMOs,” said Daniella Middleton, Senior Vice President at DCI, who directed the study.

The team tapped into its network to survey 40 influencers with whom publicists have strong working relationships.

The objective?

DCI wanted to take a pulse and find out what challenges they were facing so that destinations and DMOs are prepared to work with them again in the most efficient way possible. To access the entire study, A View From Digital Influencers in the Era of COVID-19, simply download it for free here.

In the meantime, there are a few key takeaways to note.

1. Down, not out

Content creators who normally Instagram their way through a destination have been put on lockdown, essentially. What’s clear is that digital influencers aren’t riding high at the moment. Many reported feeling anxious (18%) and stressed (14%), while few said they were happy.

It’s little surprise why. Most of the respondents – 88% – reported that at least one of their projects were canceled. One influencer even reported losing more than $100,000 in project fees, which, while alarming, should be taken in stride. Some 36% of influencers reported losing $1-10,000 in fees since the onset of COVID-19, while 41% have lost $10-50,000.

These are rough numbers to digest, but for DMOs, it means that there is a deeper well of content creators to draw from entering recovery efforts.

2. Pivot at all angles

Like most content creators – journalists or otherwise – digital travel influencers are pivoting. Fortunately for their professions, they possess skills that can apply to other sectors rather easily. One responded that they are doing social media for restaurants while another is working on projects related to toys and homelife. DMOs have an opportunity here to rethink and reimagine the narratives that they can build with digital travel influencers moving forward. The travel industry is going to need to break a few molds, and influencers are proving that they are on board.

Most are waiting to get back to their passion, but are amenable to exploring other avenues towards revenue. One influencer, however, summed up how they were able to remain connected to travel, and said, “I’m working with some tourism boards on future campaigns, so we can be prepared to go for it when ‘travel is safe again.’”

These investments in the future are ways for destinations and digital influencers to stay in touch and benefit from each other while weathering the storm. The major issue is whether or not DMOs can maintain influencers as budgets are slashed.

3. Imagining a different future

While project fees are dwindling at the moment, there are hints of good news for destinations and digital travel influencers. For example, 80% of respondents still had some projects to pursue. Not all clients have abandoned their digital efforts. Moving forward during recovery, it seems like influencers will continue to play a role.

In fact, 75% report being willing to travel within the first three months of lockdowns dissolving. With the near future of travel seeming to focus on more local destinations, digital influencers may be able to pivot yet again to take a more local view of traveling. What’s clear is that they still have ample opportunities ahead of them, and destinations will want to take advantage of these collaborations sooner than later.

When marketing a destination post-COVID-19, destinations will also want to work closely with influencers to make sure they are hitting the right messages. For example, influencers are questioning what travel marketing will look like when they get back to work. There will be new themes, new habits, and new values according to those surveyed, and destinations will want to take heed. Some believe that their work will focus more heavily on safe and clean travel, while others are focusing on local and domestic destinations for their audiences. How these messages play out on social media will make a difference for marketing efforts during recovery and beyond for any destination working with digital travel influencers.

Others have even rethought the way they operate. For example, one influencer said: “We can see content creators pitching more robust travel campaigns and being more selective about who they work with and promote. We will also look at how we are approached by destinations/PR/brands and also remember the companies that abandoned us during COVID.”

Reevaluating their relationships and business practices to avoid any future pandemics will no doubt be a key feature of digital influencers moving forward. Destinations and DMOs looking to continue these partnerships need to be flexible and open to new ways of working with influencers.

How to move forward remains the looming question mark over digital influencers’ heads. With travel at the heart of their profession, it may take some time for them to return to a sense of normalcy, but fortunately most have found creative ways to stay afloat.

As recovery efforts begin in the coming weeks, with travel slowly becoming responsible again, digital influencers will be ready to join the front lines to support destinations worldwide with their phones charged and waiting. Destinations looking to tap into their expertise, likewise, need to be prepared for the changes and new ways of thinking that will ensure the best possible digital travel influencer collaborations.

About the Author

Danielle Middleton headshot
Daniella Middleton
Senior Vice President
Development Counsellors International
Development Counsellors International (DCI) partners with destinations to increase visitor arrivals, disperse visitors, augment daily spend and increase business investment. Daniella directs digital strategy and tactical marketing programs for DCI's destination clients. Prior to joining DCI, she worked for the digital brand strategy think tank L2Inc. Daniella earned her MBA in marketing and strategy from NYU Stern School of Business, and her undergraduate degree from Brandeis University, with a degree in Economics.