Is Influencer Marketing Worth Your Time?

Now trending on Instagram, YouTube, Pinterest and beyond, digital influencers are moving the needle for destinations of all types. Our latest research sheds some light on the extent of their impact.

Influencer marketing has quickly grown into a big business over the past few years, and savvy destinations around the world are already working to incorporate it into their marketing mix. However, there seems to be a general lack of understanding about this relatively new approach to destination promotion. Whether the goal is to create “buzz” around a destination’s brand, to establish credibility in the marketplace, or simply to generate direct bookings, many of our clients have admitted that they feel like they’re flying in the dark. With this in mind, we added a few relevant questions to this month’s The State of the American Traveler survey to take a basic measure of the market. Specifically, we sought to learn how many leisure travelers are using content created by these so-called digital influencers, which traveler segments are being influenced, and, perhaps most critically, what they’re using this content for.

But this isn’t an easy nut to crack. A major hurdle faced in asking travelers about the impact that digital influencers have had on their travels is a definitional one. What exactly is a digital influencer? In marketing circles, we at least have an idea of what the term encompasses, but of course, it would be poor survey form to expect all travelers to be familiar with the concept. So, we defined it for them:

DEFINITION: A “DIGITAL INFLUENCER” is a person who has established credibility online and who shares their opinions and experiences with a large audience. This can include bloggers, travel writers, YouTube personalities and/or persons with large followings on social media (Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, etc.).

 

For those interested in entering the game of influencer marketing, the survey results look promising. Nearly one in five American leisure travelers (18.3%) reported that they have indeed used the opinions of a digital influencer in their travel planning sometime in the past year. Furthermore, the generational differences among respondents is striking. Over one-third (36.8%) of Millennial travelers say they have used content from a digital influencer to help plan a leisure trip in the past year. For now, it seems that the older generations are somewhat less susceptible to being ‘influenced’ in this way – only about one in five Gen Xers (19.9%), and fewer than one in ten Baby Boomers (8.0%) reported using the opinions of a digital influencer to help plan their travel in the past year.

And what types of decisions are they influencing?  The answer will be music to the DMO marketer’s ears. (Drumroll please.) When asked what travel planning tasks they had used digital influencer-generated content for, survey respondents most commonly said it was to help select the destinations they would visit. More than half of those influenced in any way (55.1%) said that in the past year, they had made at least one destination decision based on digital influencer content. The typical respondent also indicated that several of their other travel-related decisions were impacted, too – on average, a total of 3.6 decisions (see chart below).  The decisions affected range from the restaurants they choose to dine at in a destination, to which hotels to stay at, where to shop, and to how to get around using local transportation.

Finally, those who indicated that they had selected a destination to visit based on content from a digital influencer were asked to categorize the type of place it was that they visited. Beach destinations, national parks and big cities were the most common answers, but as the chart below shows, destinations of all types are receiving traffic driven by digital influencers.

Simply put, digital influencers are important. They’ve already carved out a significant niche in the battle for consumer attention, and their impact will likely continue to grow.

The Impact of Recent Disasters on Destinations

Natural and man-made disasters have been known to wreak havoc on a destination’s reputation and visitor volume. But how much do disasters truly affect the interest of travelers in visiting a destination, and how long do these effects linger? We asked American leisure travelers for an answer, and found that people may not hold onto these negative associations for as long as we had thought.

They say that life comes at you fast, and in the last several months, several of our friends in the industry have experienced this firsthand. Unexpected natural or human-caused disasters have touched their destinations, consequently impacting their brands and their ability to attract visitors. From wine-country wildfires to political riots on the East coast, a series of disasters have struck the destinations represented by several of our clients. Beyond the immediate difficulties, concerns and questions about their longer-term effects are being raised.

To help shed some light on the issue, we added a few pertinent questions to our most recent The State of the American Traveler surveys. This blog post shares some topline findings, and suggests that travelers may not hold onto these issues as long as we think.

The first piece of good news is that awareness of these disasters is far from universal. In fact, when we began looking into this last October, only about one third of American leisure travelers said they were even aware that the California coast at Big Sur had been closed to visitors due to crippling winter landslides. Fewer than half of travelers (48.8%) knew that the State of Oregon had been hamstrung by crippling wildfires. Even in these crazy times, politics may not be on the mind of as many of us as one might think. Only two-thirds of American leisure travelers were aware that the City of Charlottesville, Virginia had been the scene of dramatic political unrest late last summer. Amazingly, one in ten of us was not aware of the Las Vegas mass shooting in October.

The chart below shows recall rates for each of several disasters happening last year, and fortunately, it appears our memories for these things are not long. For each of the disasters studied, in just three short months, the percent of travelers who report having heard about the event dropped significantly.

Recall of Disasters

There’s even more good news in the data. While the initial impact of a disaster on traveler sentiment may be significant, these negative feeling also appear to fade quickly. For example, in October when the fires had just ended, 37.1 percent of travelers said the Napa/Sonoma fires made them less interested in visiting the destination in the next twelve months, but by January this figure had fallen to only 18.4 percent. Similar results were seen for the other disasters.

Impact on Interest in Visitation

So it appears that uncomfortable feelings about a place generated by calamities evaporate fairly quickly. Damage to the tourism sector caused by these events doesn’t need to be long-lasting. Travelers’ memories are short, and people intuitively understand that time heals wounds caused to a place. Life does indeed come at us fast, but disaster-related problem for destinations can also quickly fade in the rearview mirror.

Data source: Destination Analysts, Inc. The State of the American Traveler, October 2017 and January, 2018. Note: The Thomas Fire was added to the survey in January. No data is available for October, 2017.