When our Instagram account started growing, we dreamed of collaborating with hotels around the world to promote them in exchange for a free stay and save on travel. Win win, right? Over the last 2 years we've worked with some gorgeous properties, from a Beatles themed hotel in Liverpool to a 5 star boutique in Kyoto. Some we approached directly, and some reached out to us offering a stay.
Influencer marketing has exploded in the last few years. These days, people are more likely to seek reviews from trusted bloggers online or friends before booking a hotel, and having lots of people posting about your property can really help to put it on the map.
Let's break down our top tips for working with hotels as a travel blogger:
1. Starting off with a slight downer -Be realistic.
We didn't get our first hotel collaboration until we had reached 10,000 followers. The room a hotel comps you comes out of their marketing budget, and just like how a company wouldn't pay for an advert in a magazine that isn't relevant to their target audience, a hotel most likely won't promote their services through a smaller blogger as they want to reach as many potential customers as possible.
Similarly, your account niche and followers are important. A budget travel blogger and a luxury resort aren't the right fit for each other, as those budget travellers reading the blog won't stay there. Do your brand philosophies match the hotel's?
If you are a travel account, your followers are likely to be interested in, well, travel. They travel a lot, like to see where you stay and are inspired by your adventures. This is a perfect target audience for a hotel! However if your niche is say, cars or makeup, your followers are car enthusiasts, or makeup enthusiasts, and so are not necessarily a great pool of potential customers. Of course, anyone from any niche could go on holiday and appreciate a hotel recommendation, but the hotel's marketing team are more likely to go with the safest option, travel accounts, because their followers are proven to be passionate about all things travel.
Essentially it all comes down to how useful you are to the hotel. This isn't about getting you a free holiday, it's a collaborative partnership that has to be worth the cost of the room.
With that out of the way, here's point 2:
2. Target the right properties at the right time.
Keep your request reasonable. If you ask a hotel for a week's stay for free, or even over a weekend, your odds of scoring a partnership are low. Approaching them during the busy holiday season is also likely to end in disappointment as they can easily sell those dates. We usually ask for a night or two mid week, outside of high season, when the rooms are likely to be available anyway. It costs a hotel nothing to fill an otherwise empty room, plus they get your marketing out of it!
Unless you are super famous or have a massive following, there is no point targeting big chains like Hilton or Hyatt - they get so many bookings around the world that they don't need to work with travel bloggers. Similarly, the luxury resorts in popular destinations like the Seychelles don't need to invest in this kind of marketing. They're famous enough to get customers anyway. Again it comes down to how useful you are - would our 15,000 followers British travel couple account generate a big enough return on income to make it worth them comping us expensive room?
We like to approach independent or smaller chain properties who are more likely to work with us than say, a Travelodge in central London, and keep dreaming about being whisked off to a luxury safari camp...
That's not to say you can't reach out to fancy hotels! We were successful in working with a 5 star Japanese hotel (we approached them) because they were owned by the same umbrella company (Accor) as the Beatles hotel we'd worked with a few months previously. We were able to show them the Instagram posts, stories and blog posts we had created for the Liverpool hotel and offered to do the same for them.
3. Create a target list and start building a relationship
We have a save folder for beautiful properties we see on Instagram, and we like to go on Booking.com and search for hotels in destinations we're interested in visiting in the future. If they have an Instagram account we add them to our saved folder, otherwise we bookmark them on our laptop.
Now it's time to build a relationship, which we find gets far more positive results than a cold pitch out of the blue. This is also how we've had properties offer us a free stay without asking. Start to engage with these properties online. Like and comment on their posts, share them to your followers in stories saying how beautiful they look, basically keep putting your name in front of their social media team. Hopefully they will message you saying "if you're ever in the area, we'd love to host you". This has happened for us in the UK, and we also have outstanding offers in Sicily and Mexico that we can hopefully follow up on once this pandemic is over...
4. Find out who to contact
There's no point sending your email to the wrong department where it will never be seen. Many independent or smaller hotels have one info@ type email address to cover all enquiries. We always check the Contact page on their website to see if there is a marketing or PR contact listed. Some even have specific Media or Influencer tabs with relevant info on there. If in doubt, ask! You could ping them a DM on Instagram saying that you were interested in a potential collaboration and was wondering if there was a specific contact you should approach for marketing enquiries.
5. The pitch
Reaching out to hotels can be nerve wracking, so keep it simple, professional and to the point. We feel that email is better than an Instagram message in terms of being taken seriously, plus if the hotel isn't following you on Instagram then your DM will get lost in their message requests.
Start by introducing yourself and the dates that you'll be in the destination.
Give some reasons why you would love to stay at the property and ask if they ever work with travel bloggers to promote their brand?
Say how you can help. We highlight that our audience are virtually all fellow travel bloggers and enthusiasts who have always responded positively to our sharing travel brands.
Back it up. If you have a media kit, attach this to the email. If not, break down your Instagram audience into age and location and link to your blog to show examples of recent hotel reviews/destination blogs. We also link to hotel posts we've done on Instagram and attach screen grabs of stories we've created, to demonstrate the sort of thing we could do in this partnership.
Make an offer. In return for 1 or 2 nights stay, we offer at least 2 Instagram posts and a dedicated review on our blog, plus stories documenting our stay while we're there.
Finish politely and leave the ball in their court, we usually say something like "please let us know if this is something you would be interested in working with us on"
6. Be prepared to get a lot of "No"s.
This is the awkward bit, and can be tough. We've had far more no replies than yes-s. Most are polite, some have been sarcastic, some down right rude. We get it, lots of businesses don't think much of Instagram and are sick of pushy people after a freebie. They see a blog pitch and think "who do you think you are??" but it's important to brush it off and move on.
Some places sadly simply won't work with travel bloggers or Instagrammers after bad experiences, whether that's bad behaviour or not delivering the posts promised. You can read our blog about a response we got from an Icelandic hotel who very politely but sadly told us that due to the disrespectful behaviour of so many travel "influencers", many Icelandic companies will no longer work with bloggers at all. What a shame! Please don't be that person and ruin it for the rest of us. This is a working partnership after all, so you have a commitment to deliver the content promised, and behave in a professional manner.
Pitching after 2020...
Equally, after a year of topsy turvy travel restrictions, you'll get a mixed bag of responses right now. Many properties have lost their income for the last 12 months and won't have the budget to justify a free stay. Others are doing a big marketing drive as travel potentially reopens and would love to host you in return for some free advertising. It'll be a case of trial and error and don't be upset if you get some "of course not" replies.
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