So You Want To Be A Travel Influencer? Here’s How.

Everyone has been asking me to clarify two things: The difference between travel writers and travel influencers, and how to become a travel influencer.

While I believe, to some degree, that travel writers (which I’ve been for 15 years) and travel influencers (which I hire for my full time job) rarely merge, I thought I would focus on the impact these two have (and don’t have) in the world of travel because it’s not necessarily what you’d would think, especially for those who constantly ask me: “How can I be a travel influencer?”

With the rise of social media, and the fact over 75 percent of the world uses platforms like Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and Twitter, travel influencers have been popping up all over your feeds. They take amazing photos and offer great visuals on their travel experiences, whether it’s a luxury hotel or a beautiful destination. The higher their following, the chances of them getting paid are greater, so it can turn into a career.

Travel writers or travel influencers?

On the other hand, travel writers tell a great story, bringing you into the destination with their prose and offering a sense of authority on what to do, eat, play and sleep. Travel writers spend hours, weeks and even months reporting on a story, dedicating a lot of time while making sacrifices for their passion.

The main difference between travel writers and influencers

While it’s rare to see a travel writer with a huge Instagram following, you won’t find a travel influencer with a lot of knowledge behind they’re photos. Travel writers don’t need to take great photos for their stories (it’s mostly handled by the photo team for the outlet they’re contributing to) while travel influencers don’t have to know any history, culture or whether something is UNESCO or not as long as their photo gets a ton of likes (how do I know this? I’ve traveled with dozens of great travel influencers who have proven it. Getting the “perfect room service” or “standing on a balcony” photo is priority over facts).

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That’s the biggest difference between travel writers and travel influencers, but there’s something a lot bigger. While I love the work of many travel influencers, many ironically have very little influence. I call them “visual storytellers” or, more traditionally, “content creators.” Now, I only say this coming from both sides of the fence: Working as a travel writer for 15 years, and working in public relations in travel where I hire travel influencers.

How to be a travel influencer

So you want to be a travel influencer? Here’s the one thing you need: clout.

Brands hire travel influencers who have HIGH engagement. It doesn’t matter if you have 20K followers or 200K followers; you must have a lot of engagement, including likes and comments. It’s a red flag for us when we’re approached by a travel influencer with 20K followers, but only 40 likes per photos and 5 comments (which are generally emojis).

Secondly, if you’re asking yourself how to be a travel influencer, you really need to create amazing content. If you have great engagement and followers, but your content is NOT good, we would not consider you only because we know you won’t put a lot of effort in making the visual pop.

Now here’s the secret that many travel influencers don’t really know about. When brands seek out travel influencers, you’re not the only one we’re looking at to hire. We already have an idea of who we want (yes, influencer marketing exists!), and we get approached by HUNDREDS of influencers every month. It’s all a case by case basis on who we will work with. So if you want to be a travel influencer, take great photos, have high engagement and be easy to work with — and know you have a lot of competition.

Lastly, your fees. Travel influencers charge for producing content. I’ve seen a big shift with this because there’s thousands of great content creators to choose from. We pay all our content creators, and it really is case by case, but know that if you’re getting a free trip (paid flights, accommodations, meals, etc) don’t expect that a brand will pay you what you want. Be willing to negotiate. Remember: there are about 100 other travel influencers who do the same kind of content as you, have the same follower count and engagement, who could charge $200 less. Obviously, charge what YOU think you’re worth. If brands believe in you, you’re golden.

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Remember this rule brands use to determine booking a travel influencer:

Let’s say a travel influencer with 50K followers gets hosted in a luxury hotel and takes about three great photos. They’ll get a ton of “likes” but very few (if not any) of their followers will actually book that hotel. They can certainly inspire you and encourage you to travel, but most followers know they worked hard behind-the-scenes to get that hotel stay for free. So, we need to know (on the PR side) that you’re not just putting up great photos, but you’re helping spread awareness of our brand and your contend produces leads and sales.

That’s the difference with travel writers, btw.

Friendly check-in with influencer

Travel writers actually have major influence. They work for magazines that serve as experts and authorities. They want to inspire you through writing. They are too busy traveling, writing, pitching, exploring, researching, interviewing and editing to take photos so they can get the best stories to inspire readers to book certain hotels, restaurants, activities and dream trips.

The problem with travel writers, however, is that they’re a dying breed. At this point, with the state of the publishing industry, there are very few outlets that hire or even pay well, nobody wants to read long stories anymore and it’s hella competitive.

You see fewer travel writers these days because it’s hard to be one, so the art of travel writing is becoming extinct. They don’t have the platform that travel influencers have.

But what if travel writers and travel influencers were able to work together in some way? Do you think that will be the next big trend in how we read travel stories?

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Jimmy Im has traveled to 113 countries, stayed at over 600 hotels and clocked millions of air miles. He currently lives in New York City.

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