What Travel Brands Should Know When Working with Travel Bloggers

What Travel Brands Should Know When Working with Travel Bloggers

Travel Inspiration Starts Online

When it comes to searching for travel inspiration, friends, family and colleagues are key to our decision-making; 62% of us rely on these referrals according to Google’s 2014 study on travel decisions. We recently reviewed the use of content marketing by a major UK travel brand and found that user-generated content was an area that was heavily neglected, despite its clear importance in our purchasing decisions.

With the world travel and tourism industry growing at an average of 3.8% per year, according to the WTTC, it is important for brands to focus on the key factors that shape the way we search for and purchase holidays and travel. However, as demonstrated by our previous case study, some brands don’t seem to be utilising the existing assets who are already publishing the content that consumers want – namely, the growing community of travel bloggers.

So we wanted to know what travel bloggers thought of this. The online travel blogging community has been on the rise for years now, and it was time to ask for their thoughts. Travel bloggers know the industry and the market, and they know what works when it comes to brand. Were there any tips they could offer to brands? Was there anything bloggers felt brands were doing wrong? Crucially, we wanted to know if bloggers felt valued by travel brands, and what they felt the companies needed to know in order to strengthen their travel campaigns.

PushON got in touch with a group of UK travel bloggers across the influencer spectrum – from those just starting out to the most established – and asked them to complete a short survey based around travel brands and their relationship to the blogging community. Results have provided a fascinating insight into what these brands should know when it comes to working with travel bloggers.

1. What encouraged travel bloggers to start?
2. How do travel bloggers fund their trips?
3. Exclusivity and long-term relationships
4. What puts bloggers off brands?
5. Negative experiences
6. Do brands understand bloggers?
7. Bloggers tell us their dream campaigns
8. Conclusions

What encouraged travel bloggers to start?

There’s a frustrating view amongst some organisations that bloggers are primarily driven by money, a view we at PushON have never felt rang true. Whilst some bloggers do supplement their incomes through blogging, setting out with money on your mind is a great way to get on the wrong side of Google’s filters – bloggers need to have a passion for their subject from the start. Passion is what drives them to write and the more passionate the blogger, the bigger they’ll become. Happily, the bloggers confirmed our views on this – almost unanimously the responses declared that passion was what motivated new bloggers, a love for travel being the defining factor behind what made their blogs.

‘I love travel & adventure and sharing my stories.’ – Kameron & Erin, toewsadventure

Bloggers positioned themselves as an inspiring force, wanting to share their love of traveling with others, pushing their readers to try new things and offering their advice on the best ways to travel.

‘My passion for travel and the desire to share it with others. I also wanted to make others realise that travel can be accessible to everyone. It’s a common misconception that frequent travel is expensive – one of the aims behind my blog is to educate others that travelling on a shoestring IS possible, and it doesn’t have to involve sleeping at dingy hostels. I also wanted to make my readers aware of the countless benefits of solo travel and self-development through travel.’ – Marta, a-girlwhotravels.com

Travel brands should be aware that all campaigns need to tie into this passion and drive; campaigns that remind bloggers why they started blogging, that position bloggers as authorities sharing their experiences with their readers, are the most attractive to readers.

‘I love traveling and I love writing! I also love helping people and offering advice in order to help inspire them to travel as well.’ – Alyssa Ramos, mylifesamovie.com

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How do travel bloggers fund their trips?

One surprising finding from the survey was that just over half of bloggers remain in full-time employment, with 50% of the bloggers also admitting that savings were a key factor in funding their travels. There’s a view that travel bloggers are entirely funded by brand sponsorship, but it’s important to note that for half the bloggers we surveyed, their blogging did not fully support their travels – though 50% of the bloggers said external freelance writing and posting on other sites was a key factor for them.

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A third of the bloggers said that brand sponsorship was important in funding their travels, a statistic which could grow as travel brands continue to work with bloggers in the future. Interestingly, the survey highlighted a small number of bloggers who generated funds through blogger events and conferences, hinting at the steady growth of the travel blogging community as its own entity. This is a community that is beginning to know its own value.

This was followed by asking bloggers how they typically worked with brands. There were some out-dated trends here, such as guest posts and contextual links – a sign perhaps that some travel brands are lagging behind in the industry, pushing techniques Google has long since deemed shady. In 2015, no brand should be asking for a link within an existing post.

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Only 6% of our bloggers continued to place infographics – possibly due to the oversaturation of infographics within the travel industry itself. These days, if a blogger is going to place an infographic, it’s got to be something really exciting – something that really stands out, looks amazing, and contains unique data. It’s time for brands to move away from the static, traditional infographics which bloggers seem less keen to place.

Social exposure of course was big, with 55% of bloggers working across Facebook and Twitter to promote the brands they worked with. Bloggers highlighted Instagram too as a growing area. A large percentage of the bloggers (78%) had brands cover their accommodation costs when away, and 61% claimed brands mainly funded their experiences – days out, adventure days etc.

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Exclusivity and long-term relationships

When asked how important exclusivity was when it came to working with brands, the general consensus between the bloggers was ‘not very’. Though bloggers admitted that they preferred how an exclusive campaign promoted their content and their content alone (without saturating the same holiday experience across several blogs, for example) bloggers were realistic when it came to the difficulties of running these campaigns, highlighting the need for maximum ROI.

Our question was “Do bloggers prefer exclusivity and long-term campaigns?”

‘I am happy to work with brands that other bloggers have worked with and there is definitely something to be said for strength in numbers when it comes to promoting hashtags. Yet at the same time, exclusivity makes a blogger feel a bit more special and tends to yield a higher amount of pageviews and interaction.’ – Emma Day, southwestreviews.co.uk

‘I’d prefer exclusive campaigns but I understand this isn’t possible for a lot of brands in most cases to get maximum ROI.’ – Hannah, thatadventurer.co.uk

Bloggers stressed that if a travel campaign wasn’t exclusive, it still had to be a good fit with their blog and style:

No, but I would expect the activities/products to be a good fit with my blog. Then the content will always be different to someone else’s, because I have other personal interests.’ – Nienke, thetraveltester.com

‘No, I think it’s good to work with multiple outlets, although I’d be open to an exclusive ambassador/face campaign if I really liked the product or business.’ – Alyssa, mylifesamovie.com

Bloggers mentioned that solo travelling can be lonely, and since it’s hard to always get friends to travel with, brands could work on exclusive campaigns across a small handful of bloggers. Bloggers were up for tighter campaigns working within small blog groups, for example sending a small group of bloggers on a trip, an experience day or even a restaurant. There was a view that using too many bloggers for a campaign would lead to weaker results – readers don’t want to read about the same holiday on 20 different blogs – the uniqueness is part of the appeal.

However, when asked how important long-term relationships were between brands and bloggers, bloggers were unanimously clear:

‘Long-term relationships are always really important to me.’ – Sarah, solo-abroad

‘I don’t mind working on one-off campaigns with brands but I do prefer to build up a relationship with others and to get to know them more than just on a purely business basis.’ – Ayla, mrsaylasadventures.com

‘Trust is built up between people.’ – Ed Rex, rexyedventures.com

Across the survey, all the bloggers highlighted how important long-term relationships were to them. A long-term mindset served to generate trust between the blogger and the brand that would lead to a superior working relationship. Bloggers would be more likely to work with brands if they’d previously had positive experiences with them or heard positive things about them. Some bloggers highlighted brands that had gone the extra mile to build these long-term relationships:

‘Long term relationships are the best as they enable you to build up a rapport with a brand and become passionate about them. It’s always good when a brand shares your posts and links, in addition to you sharing theirs. I’ve worked with some brands that just couldn’t seem to do enough for me and they nominated me for awards, sponsored my charity events and sent gifts for my children, in addition to our contracted agreement of reviews/social media etc for a review visit.’ – Emma Day, southwestreviews.co.uk

Realistically, it can be difficult for some brands to scale this kind of approach in travel, as well as provide the budget for it – but it has to be said that there’s something for brands to learn here. Keeping in touch between campaigns, sending small personalised gifts and cards or even an email with updates – it all helps strengthen these vital bonds and a little goes a long way. If travel brands took the time to work on their relationships with bloggers, treating them less as means to generate links and more as people, they’d have more successful campaigns, now and in the future.

‘I would definitely be more interested in building long-term relationships as I find these more beneficial for both the brand and the blogger – for me, a trusted relationship is worth more than quick profit. That being said, I’m also open to one-off campaigns, providing that they work well for my audience and tie in with my content, while giving value to the brand I’m working with.’ – Marta, a-girlwhotravels.com

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What puts bloggers off brands?

Some of these results were understandable and obvious – all of the bloggers surveyed said they would not work with an “unethical” brand. But relationships returned as a defining factor too 83% of those surveyed would not work with a brand with a poor reputation amongst bloggers. The travel blogger network is one of the tightest blogging communities and treating one blogger badly will affect the lot. Brands need to respect that bloggers communicate and they should not be too pushy or demanding – something that puts off 66% of bloggers. Brands need to be aware that bloggers often don’t blog full-time, and adjust campaigns accordingly.

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And 77% raised the point that a brand needs to offer something in return. The relationship between blogger and brand is a two-way system. This does not necessarily mean that bloggers must be paid for their services; it’s more that brands need to offer something – whether an engaging angle or an appealing hook – that gives the bloggers something worth writing about. And finally, bloggers were keen to stress the importance of relevance. Brands have to align with their blog identity.

‘If the brand is not a good match with me personally and my brand, it’s just never going to work’ – Nienke, thetraveltester.com

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Negative experiences

Travel as an industry can be subject to exterior problems such as delays and miscommunication, and we were keen to see how bloggers would handle negative experiences – particularly if those experiences had been sponsored by a brand.

So we asked: “If a brand paid for an experience or event and that experience was a negative one, would you write a negative review?”

‘I don’t think it does anyone any favours to write a wholly negative review. If it was a total disaster, I’d approach the brand and ask if they wanted me to not publish at all or if they wanted me to publish the review, featuring their response at the bottom. This isn’t something that happens very often. If there are one or two negative points, I would mention them for honesty’s sake, but back them up with positive points as readers generally don’t like to read too much negativity. The post would be reflective of the experience as a whole, but not overly negative. I like to be professional, so any negative points would be discussed with the brand before publishing.’ – Emma Day, southwestreviews.co.uk

‘Yes, but to what extent depends on the reason for the outcome being negative. If the situation was out of the brand’s control I would likely mention the negative experience but clarify that it wasn’t the fault of the brand and try to focus more on the positives. However, if the negativity was the fault of the brand AND they made no effort to try and remedy the situation, I would be honest in my review and not recommend them.’ –  Marissa, littlethingstravel.com

What’s interesting in these results was not so much the bloggers’ honesty, which was to be expected, but the way bloggers returned to the issue of brand relationships. This is an example of where strong working relationships are vital for brands; should there ever be an issue on a campaign, a blogger needs to feel comfortable getting in touch with the brand to let them know what’s happened, and it’s how the brand responds from this point that makes or breaks the campaign. A delayed or poor response will breed negative posts and destroy blogger relationships. As such, brands and their reps need to be standing by alongside travel campaigns and prepared for any potential problem which could arise.

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Do brands understand bloggers?

Bloggers were asked if they felt travel brands understood them and their needs. Results were mixed, leaning to negative. There was a sense that the travel market was only just becoming progressive towards bloggers – that blogger engagement was still relatively new and brands were only just beginning to learn what worked and what did not. Crucially, there was a sense that brands were playing catch-up to the community.

Some bloggers felt positive changes were on the way, whilst a few stressed their value to the travel industry as a whole, stating that a blog post comes across as a stronger recommendation to buy than a traditional advert, and that reviews are now, socially, more important than ever. If travel brands intend to move forward digitally they need to adapt to the needs of travel bloggers or risk being left behind.

‘Most brands I’ve talked to do not understand my needs as a blogger. They don’t understand what it is I do and the benefits the relationships would provide each party.’ – Kameron & Erin, toewsadventure

‘No. I feel that very few travel brands appreciate bloggers’ worth at the moment. They seem to be slowly waking up to the huge marketing potential, but many of them have no clue how much are reviews are worth in comparison to traditional marketing techniques.’ – Emma Day, southwestreviews.co.uk

‘Working with bloggers is still relatively new and some brands are better at understanding the relationship and bloggers’ needs than others. From my experience, there seems to be a bit of misunderstanding between bloggers and PR reps looking to push out content. I also think it’s important that bloggers define their expectations and needs and this will help ensure a smooth collaboration with brands.’ – Marta, http://www.a-girlwhotravels.com/

‘I think some think we’re made of money – we’re most definitely not and a lot of us work full-time too. Blogging is just a time-consuming hobby!’ – Hannah, http://www.thatadventurer.co.uk/

‘Most of the time not. But that’s why educating is very important and bringing brands and bloggers together to talk as often as possible.’ – Nienke, http://www.thetraveltester.com/

‘I think they are beginning to realize that travel bloggers have a highly influential impact on their target audiences, which is why it’s so beneficial to partner with them. Typically our audiences prefer to purchase a product or take a trip that is a personal recommendation from a personable expert than just a typical advertisement.’ – Alyssa Ramos, mylifesamovie.com/

‘Some travel brands are a lot more progressive than others. Many don’t yet see the value of working with travel bloggers.’ – Juliane, yayaproject.com/

There was a sense of frustration across the replies, where bloggers did not feel valued by travel brands; there was also a sense of divide between the industry and its bloggers. Better communication is needed to build these relationships and provide value on both sides.

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Bloggers tell us their dream campaigns

When asking bloggers to describe to us their dream campaigns, our intention was to judge the responses in order to see if there were any shared patterns amongst the bloggers, or ideas or themes that travel brands could use when constructing campaigns. Responses split generally into the categories below.

  1. ‘Off the beaten track’ – this phrase came up across the responses. Many bloggers described their dream campaign as being something or somewhere new, somewhere without tourists. This raises an interesting point in that perhaps the travel blogger community is only applicable with certain brands; family and more traditional holiday companies may not have much to offer bloggers who want these adventures ‘off the beaten track’. Brands should think about crafting campaigns that push bloggers to do new things – this all ties back to why they started blogging, that passion and excitement.

‘Visiting a country I’ve never been to before experiencing adventures I have never experienced, and getting to share about it using my own voice & pictures.’ – Erin, toewsadventure.com

‘An adventure holiday campaign – going to a part of a country that’s little visited by tourists and showing people how many fun and exciting activities there are to do there.’ – Hannah, thatadventurer.co.uk

‘A dream campaign for me would be anything based around an off the beaten path destination and/or activities as it fits extremely well with my blog. It ideally would entail fully sponsored travel to the destination and having the opportunity to explore without being completely booked with activities for the day. On a smaller scale, having assignments to write about a similar topic on a regular basis would also be appealing to me.’ – Marissa Sutera, littlethingstravel.com

  1. Environmentalism – a few of the bloggers were keen on campaigns which support the natural environment and planet, which ties back to ethics and integrity being important. If not the environment as such, brands should be aware that bloggers will have causes that they are passionate about and craft campaigns to appeal to this:

‘My dream campaign would involve promoting and supporting the delicacy of our planet. Whether it be ethical and fair travel practices, reducing your carbon footprint while traveling, or anything to do with helping to conserve the planet’s natural habitats whether it be exploring those habitats and writing about them to show my blog followers why it is important to protect these places and how they can help too.’ – Lexie Willems, stepstofollow.net

  1. Flexibility – across all the responses, bloggers were keen for flexibility when it came to campaigns. Some suggested campaigns in which the blogger is involved in the planning stages, meeting with the brand to compare goals and the type of trip, with regular communication. One blogger described her dream campaign as one she’s already working on.

‘Not a perfect world, already doing this. In short: In collaboration with the destination, we first compare goals and type of trip (active/cultural, etc.), then they suggest activities, I pick what I want to do, they put itinerary together, preferably with afternoons free to do my own things (a must if campaign is not paid, so I can work) and we communicate on what coverage I do (social/photos/#posts/other things), then feedback afterwards, we both share content, we keep in touch, keep sharing each other’s content and repeat.’ – Nienke, thetraveltester.com

There are some great tips here – campaigns which offer bloggers flexibility, so they can work alongside their blog, and setting KPIs between brand and blogger early to keep communication positive.

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Conclusions

There have been a lot of interesting findings from the survey, with useful suggestions on how brands can work better with travel bloggers. Travel bloggers make up one of the industry’s most valuable online communities now. As word of mouth and reviews become increasingly important within the travel industry, and with bloggers themselves becoming more involved in constructing campaigns, travel brands need to look at ways to improve how they collaborate.

There’s a clear push from the bloggers for better communication, and for the building of stronger relationships between themselves and the brands. There’s a need for flexible campaigns, campaigns where the blogger has input on what they want to do. Flexibility is a dream for these bloggers, who often must balance their blog work with full-time jobs, and long-term campaigns which speak to the blogger’s passions – for example the need to get off the beaten track and to explore the world  are vital. It’s tapping into this passion which will lead to great campaigns.

PushON would like to thank all bloggers who took part in this survey – the data has been a great help in suggesting ways to improve how travel brands and travel bloggers work together, and will hopefully go towards structuring engaging and exciting future campaigns.

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