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Influencers, social media, influence marketing: the new codes of tourism promotion

Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, Youtube, Pinterest and LinkedIn are all platforms that have appeared over the last few decades and are now indispensable for promotional activities. Destinations, hotel operators and restaurants can no longer ignore these networks in the era of 100% digital. While some actors decide to entrust this task to their internal teams, others choose to call upon influencers who know the workings of social networks perfectly. With the multiplication of platforms and travel influencers, what does the future hold for influencer marketing in the tourism and hospitality sectors?

The power of influence marketing

Marketing has evolved over the last few years thanks to the rise of the Internet and, subsequently, social networks. The promotion of a product or a service is now inseparable from these new channels that allow to acquire an increased visibility to a large audience. According to the Kolsquare agency, 4 billion people on the planet use social networks for about two and a half hours a day. In France alone, there are 60.92 million internet users, i.e. 93% of the population.

These staggering figures clearly demonstrate the importance of social media in our society. Although the younger generations are in the majority on these platforms, most of them having been born with them, hence the nickname "digital natives", this phenomenon now affects all generations, with a growing number of seniors.

Not all internet users are equally sensitive to influence marketing, which is widespread on social networks, but this market will be worth 16.4 billion dollars in 2022, 20 times more than in 2015 according to Statista.

Moreover, 90% of respondents to an AFFDE study believe that influencer marketing is effective and 94% of Internet users say that a positive opinion encourages them to consume. While influencer campaigns dropped sharply at the beginning of the health crisis, they are now more numerous than ever, particularly in the tourism sector, to support the recovery of tourism.

While influencer marketing is a powerful tool, it is important to know how to use it correctly to get the most out of it. In particular, it is essential to follow trends and adapt them to your destination or property in order to maximise the impact in terms of views and likes. But above all, it is important to keep in mind that this type of content must make people dream and inspire them in their next choice of stay.

An endless source of inspiration

Social media is now so influential that it is becoming the primary source of travel inspiration. This is confirmed by a survey conducted by Photobox which reveals that 36% of French people use social media such as Instagram, Pinterest or TikTok to assist them in determining their travel destination. Among them, 44% of 18 to 24 year olds and almost half of 25 to 34 year olds use them for inspiration.

Users who also aspire to inspire their followers afterwards by posting photos and videos of their travels. One in five French people say they have already taken a photo of something they were not interested in, only to be able to post it on social networks, while more than a quarter of 25-34 year olds say they have already taken a photo of a historical monument without wanting to know more, only to be able to post it online. In addition, 1 in 5 French people have already queued up to take a photo of an "Instagrammable" place.

Another survey published by World Travel Market confirms the power of social networks, particularly on the younger generations who spend a lot of time on them. Social media influencers inspire one in five young travellers to go on holiday, revealing how Generation Z's travel decisions are heavily influenced by platforms such as Instagram and TikTok. The 20% share of Generation Z decreases by age category, falling to 10.6% for 25-34 year olds, 8.9% for 35-44 year olds and 7.1% for 45-54 year olds. The rate drops to just 1.7% for 55-64 year olds and only 0.6% for those aged 65 and over.

Instagram has therefore decided to seize this travel guide status with a new update that allows its users to visualise the restaurants, cafes, shops and places of interest around them. The network unveils an interactive map where users can view all the places of interest in their vicinity and access information such as opening hours, price range, weather, the place's Instagram account if it has one and the latest photos posted by users.

The network is going even further by developing "guides", a new feature that allows users to share their good addresses with comments. Influencers and tourism brands will now be able to share their recommendations, good addresses and favourites in any place in the world.

TikTok to become the most influential media

If Instagram is well known to everyone and allows people to dream with the sharing of photos of landscapes, each more sumptuous than the other, in recent years TikTok seems to come to overshadow it. Indeed, the Chinese network passed the symbolic milestone of one billion active users in 2021, five years after its creation, which should be of interest to tourism and hospitality actors.

A platform that is just as conducive to highlighting tourist destinations that make travellers from all over the world dream. With this in mind, the Bounce index lists the most popular cities for tourists and holidaymakers on TikTok. Dubai tops the list of destinations with 81.8 billion views, followed by New York with 59.5 billion and London with 36.5 billion views of the short videos. Istanbul is in fourth place with 34 billion views, followed by Paris with 33 billion and Miami in sixth place with 24.6 billion views. After Los Angeles, Chicago and Toronto, Madrid closes the top 10 with 16 billion views.

When we focus on the most popular destinations in the run-up to the festive season, the ranking is quite different according to Unforgettable Travel. In first place is Korea with over 10 million views, followed by Finland with 3.5 million views and Canada with 2.1 million views. Next is Australia with 1.9 million views, Mexico with 1.7 million views and again Dubai but this time with only 1.5 million views.

There are many categories of rankings for popular destinations on TikTok, including the world's trendiest honeymoon destinations according to luxury tour operator Kuoni. According to the study, the Maldives is the most popular honeymoon destination in the world, followed by Italy in second place and Bali in third. The top 10 also includes Antigua and Barbuda, Malaysia, Mexico, the UK, Bora Bora and Dubai. Meanwhile, Santorini and Mykonos take second and 11th place in the list of the 13 most popular honeymoon destinations in Europe, with Paris taking first place.

TikTok has probably become a major actor in the tourism industry, even overtaking Google. About 40% of travellers over 30 prefer TikTok to Google as a travel search tool, according to the Portrait of American Travelers, an annual survey conducted by MMGY Global, a travel and hospitality marketing agency.

Such popularity is prompting many destination marketing organisations (DMOs) to devote a greater share of their marketing budgets to TikTok. To be successful, however, DMOs need to understand the workings of the network in order to make the most of it. In addition, a growing share of users are in the 30+ age group and most users are content consumers rather than creators.

TikTok's algorithm focuses on their interests and offers them content on the ForYouPage. This gives destinations the opportunity to be discovered organically but it also means that DMOs now have to develop original content. DMOs will not succeed with the Instagram mindset, which emphasises the perfection of often staged imagery, instead, authenticity is the asset that must be prioritised.

This allows DMOs to showcase more of the actors, attractions and hidden gems of their destination. This quest for authenticity on the part of users is also of some benefit to smaller destinations and attractions, which can compete with their larger counterparts for the attention of visitors through effective storytelling.

Professionals are taking up these new tools

Destinations as well as hotel operators can no longer ignore social networks if they wish to survive in an increasingly competitive market. More and more hotels are embarking on this adventure to increase their visibility and ultimately their market share.

Booking.com launched its first campaign on TikTok, called TikTokMadeMeBookIt, on July 20th, with 7 trips to be won by those who participated in this contest. By making its debut on TikTok, Booking.com aims to inspire people to travel and create positive interactions with the brand to build brand loyalty. This experiment will be an opportunity for the company to discover TikTok users but also to get to know those users, as Laura Kaye, Booking.com's social media director, points out, "we use the launch to build an audience, and we attract people by offering trips and putting out a bunch of different content to see what resonates."

A view shared by Matt Clarke, Kayak's vice president of marketing for North America, which is also owned by Booking Holding, "we're still in the early days of testing and learning what resonates with our travellers. So our approach is largely organic, with the goal of growing where we are successful. She compares the situation to Facebook when it first launched, "we had to do a lot of testing to learn how to use it to drive bookings, and that will be our focus here too. People come to TikTok to be entertained, and that's what we're trying to do through our videos.

Recently, many destinations have launched their own accounts on TikTok, such as Scotland through the promotional organisation VisitScotland. A young account that aims to bring Scotland to a wide range of audiences and markets through visually appealing content. An account that brings together a mix of content from trusted creators and content produced by their social and multimedia teams, which has been viewed over 2.42 million times since its launch.

Further south in Europe, the Greek National Tourism Organisation (GNTO) and Marketing Greece have announced a partnership to raise awareness of Greek destinations, including Athens, Central Macedonia, Chania and Kavala-Thassos, through social media. The partnership includes a promotional campaign designed to be shared on social media, primarily TikTok and Instagram. The campaign will focus on the travel experiences and local culture offered by the Greek destinations, based on the principles and values of sustainable development.

For its part, VisitFlanders is on the cutting edge and intends to use the latest additions to Instagram, such as the famous interactive map, to guide travellers through the history, culture and gastronomy of Flanders. The social network will also highlight hidden spots recommended by locals. The organisation also sees Instagram as a tool to interact more easily with its audiences while responding more precisely to their needs and expectations.

As for Tourisme Bretagne, it has begun to overhaul its strategy on social networks to adapt to the new uses of users and to changes in increasingly restrictive algorithms. Platforms that promote slow tourism by highlighting ideas for authentic experiences and encounters. It also highlights an unexpected Brittany that is off the beaten track, which can be discovered in every season, for a better distribution of the flows on the territory and throughout the year.

On the three platforms Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest, the Tourisme Bretagne community has grown by around 10% since the beginning of the year. From January to October, our accounts were animated with more than 550 publications, accounting for more than 32 million impressions and 1.2 million interactions. All networks combined, the destination has more than 410,000 followers.

The hospitality sector is also seizing on this phenomenon, like Hilton, which offers its clients the possibility of concocting "Instagrammable" picnics. Among its portfolio of properties, 10 hotels are particularly well suited to this exercise, including the Hilton Lake Como, the DoubleTree by Hilton Harrogate Majestic Hotel & Spa and the Canopy by Hilton Paris Trocadero. These hotels benefit from free publicity thanks to the Instagram posts that this strategy will generate.

For its part, Kimpton wants to present more diverse and inclusive creators and experiences through its publications on social networks. This ambition is fuelled by a study that the channel recently conducted, revealing that 76% of respondents believe that existing travel content is not representative of reality and pointing to a certain lack of social representation. One of the ways Kimpton will do this is to get rid of the traditional 'creator content brief' in order to empower and encourage content creators to present travel in their own way rather than limiting it. In addition, the brand is committing that 75% of its contracted creators will reflect its commitments to greater inclusivity and authenticity of perspectives and experiences to better reflect the diversity of real travellers.

Social media competitions are also an opportunity to raise awareness of the brand beyond its usual audience. The Ascott Limited came up with the idea of giving away a 24-night stay in Citadines residences in eight different cities through a global TikTok campaign called the #Infin8Citadines Global TikTokers' Challenge. Each week, 8 TikTokers from Australia, France, Indonesia, Japan, Philippines, Singapore, United Arab Emirates and Vietnam will be asked to create content on a specific theme and compete for the prize. There will also be weekly giveaways for TikTok users, with more than two million points from Ascott's loyalty programme - Ascott Star Rewards (ASR) to be redeemed for free stays. 

In total, to date these eight TikTokers have over 600,000 fans and over 8.2 million likes on their videos. We look forward to seeing original and engaging content that will allow travellers to discover what Citadines has to offer, as well as the many benefits of our ASR programme; and most importantly, assist our guests in gaining different ideas for better living, working and entertaining in each city. TikTok was the most downloaded app in the Asia-Pacific region in 2021. Whether it's tips for living in the city, destination deals or accommodation reviews, travel-related content has become one of the most popular on TikTok. With the rise in popularity of the platform as a source of travel inspiration, Ascott is pleased to launch the new TikTok @discoverasr account to connect with this new and growing generation of travellers. 

Tan Bee Leng, General Manager Brand & Marketing, Ascott

The omnipresence of travel influencers

While some actors prefer to manage their communication on social networks themselves, others prefer to call upon influencers whose speciality it is. Atout France and the 13 French regions wanted to showcase the riches of France through several partnerships with several major French influencers, such as Bruno Maltor, who is promoting Corsica and Ile-de-France, and Best Jobers, who are touring the Loire Valley, Nouvelle-Aquitaine and Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes.

The Federation of Regional Nature Parks has also called on the services of well-known French travel influencers such as Little Gypsy, Bestjobers and Les Globe Blogueurs as part of the deployment of the Regional Nature Park Values brand. Influencers selected for their commitment to sustainability and their desire to raise awareness among their subscribers. The organisation of these influencer trips, immersed in the world of the Parks, on stays of 3 to 5 days, focused on a particular theme or on an activity/site, allows for better communication and readability of its offer. The Loire-Anjou-Touraine, Queyras and Causses du Quercy Regional Parks were in the spotlight.

Tourisme Bretagne has made a habit of bringing influencers, both French and foreign, to its territory in order to show another side of the already very popular destination. On the domestic market, the objective was to highlight the diversity of activities available for a holiday or short stay in spring or autumn/winter, and to promote the secondary spots to discover Brittany in summer. To do this, the destination called on two young working influencers and two family influencers, reinforcing the attractiveness of Brittany to young working people and families while developing the region's reputation, particularly outside the heart of the season.

As for the European market, Tourisme Bretagne invited several influencers from neighbouring countries to address the German, British, Spanish, Belgian, Dutch and Swiss markets. The aim of this vast influence campaign was to help people discover Brittany's innermost secrets, its activities, its family life and its culture, and to provide the tourist organisation with new content to enhance its existing tools. At the end of this year, nearly 60 Instagram posts, a hundred stories and about thirty real ones will have been produced. Eight new holiday ideas for the Tourisme Bretagne website will also have been created thanks to these hosts.

What are the limits of influence marketing?

If social media are an unconditional source of travel inspiration and can allow the discovery of unsuspected destinations and offers, there is however a hidden face of the iceberg. A hidden side that is far less glamorous, as shown by the story of a pseudo travel agency present on Instagram and Snapchat. Popular with influencers, Valbuenux Voyages offered trips at unbeatable prices, which turned into a "nightmare" for buyers. Indeed, it was a scam that affected as many as 80 families.

The question of the regulation of the sector thus naturally arises, with notably a specific framework for the practices of travel influencers. Indeed, the multiplication of abuses on the part of influencers has reopened the debate on the question of their responsibility. The Autorité de régulation professionnelle de la publicité (ARPP) has therefore decided to look into the matter by unveiling a short time ago the responsible influence certificate.

This certification allows influencers to master a legal base concerning their activity, in particular "laws concerning the image of minors, the fight against greenwashing, sectoral or even environmental rules" explains Mohamed Mansouri, deputy director of the ARPP. Awareness-raising and structuring are essential for this flourishing market to be sustainable.

For the moment, barely a hundred influencers have obtained this certificate, including Bruno Maltor who is one of the pioneers. If it is not mandatory at the moment, more and more brands could require the influencers they work with to have it, like Club Med which was one of the first actors to ask for it before any collaboration. This allows on the one hand to ensure the legality of the content and on the other hand to ensure the seriousness of the influencer in question.

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