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The (new) influencer is dead; long live the (old) influencer

 

Director of Leisure, Danny Englman shares his views on how ‘influencers’ are not only here to stay, but will be more and more relevant in the future – however, in a totally different form to what we are expecting.

 

The appeal of using social media “influencers” to advertise products has ballooned over the last decade, with almost every industry jumping on this bandwagon, using a strategy of “likes” in order to get their product front and centre of consumers’ minds. This phenomenon seems to have recently had some form of reversal, as more and more companies realise that high profile millennials with millions of followers don’t always translate into increased revenue. The opinion of the traditional media is split on the future of this form of advertising, with some outlets saying it is here to stay, whilst others are heralding the end of an era, sometimes relishing (a little too much) in the demise of this young upstart marketing distrupter.

I truly believe that the influencer is not only here to stay, but will be more and more relevant in the future – however, in a totally different form to what we are expecting. This is especially true in the industry that I hold dear – travel.

 

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Travel is an industry that is not only exciting to many, it is also very visual. Because of this, it is not surprising that social media marketing is so powerful, resulting in it becoming a perfect breeding ground to numerous influencer swarms. Many hotels, airlines and tour operators experimented with this new wave of modern publicity, only to be disappointed in the lack of results.

What they have not capitalised enough on is the fact that they have a phenomenally powerful influencer tool that has always been available to them for minimal cost, and is steadily getting more and more powerful. Yes, I am talking about the good old fashioned Travel Agent – but not the “brochure hoarding, secret code talking, always on 5 calls” variety we all remember from the 80’s and 90’s. (These were the required middleman back in the day, who were trading a commodity on behalf of the suppliers. This type of commodity trading can today be done faster and more efficiently by computers.) No, I am talking about modern Travel Advisors, who have reinvented themselves for this new era. These new advisors are part confidant, part PA, part concierge, part matchmaker and are increasingly relevant in our world of abundant choice. (Unfortunately, many of the travel agents around today have not learned this lesson and are still fighting to be relevant in a changed world.)

The new world travel advisors were not created overnight – many of the most successful have come from the previous era and have used everything they learned over the years and decades to help them create the model of service they now deliver.

There is also a newer generation of advisors who have learned the trade from these pioneers. They too are not one hit wonders, in it for a quick buck and then out again. They are passionate about the trade as a whole and have worked their way through this complicated industry giving the best advice to their clients for years. They cannot afford to do the wrong thing by clients because they have and will build long term relationships lasting decades and sometimes generations. They are truly passionate about the client experience and the long term relationships they build, but it is unfortunate that the word “passionate” is so widely used today and has therefore lost the power of its meaning. I often hear people say “I am passionate about travel and therefore I should be a travel agent”. What they usually really mean is that they love going on holidays to exotic places, well guess what – who doesn’t?! Passionate travel advisors never really go on holidays – they are always on the lookout and critiquing how each supplier is providing their service. They are constantly seeking out a better experience for their clients, whether it be a better hotel, better tour operator, better airline etc. Don’t get me wrong – they do get to go to some amazing places as part of their job, and have created an incredible opportunity for themselves, but at the same time they are always armed with their notebook (electronic or paper) constantly writing down notes on what they saw and experienced, eager to utilise the information in their decision making with clients and share it with their colleagues.

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I know this because I am fortunate to work with so many who fit into this category and believe me they are the ultimate influencers. They have built a tried and tested brand within themselves that their clients trust. What is amazing to watch is how many suppliers still don’t understand this at all, to their own detriment. They have sales departments just chasing the quick sale, who then spend countless amounts of money analysing the long term loss in real per person revenue and still can’t figure out why they are not getting the results they want. This is not true about all brands or all sectors. As a general rule, the luxury hotel sector has probably done more than any other to re-engage with the correct travel advisors and they have had some tremendous results. The luxury cruise lines and some bespoke tour operators would be close behind, but many other sectors like airlines, large chain hotels, car hire/transfers, and even most large tour operators have in many cases forgone long lasting relationships in preference to commoditising their product and then wonder why they get the results they do from the most discerning and valuable (read highest yielding) clients they have.

So to all travel providers out there, let this be your wakeup call – the real money is made by investing in building long term lasting relationships with your clients and the best way to do that is use a true influencer who is here to stay. It is not always easy, but you need to work hard to scratch below the hype of the glitz and glamour of the social media “likes” to find those who are truly passionate about the amazing products and services that you have and will take the time and effort to share them with their world.

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