Jack Bedwani, who runs The Projects, a brand consulting agency that works with several top hospitality brands, said that he's close with the PR manager for a new hotel and day club in Bali. "They get five to 20 direct inquiries a day from self-titled influencers," he said. "The net is so wide, and the term 'influencer' is so loose."
"You can sort the amateurs from the pros very quickly," Bedwani said."The vast majority of cold-call approaches are really badly written. It sounds like when you're texting a friend inviting yourself over for dinner—it's that colloquial. They don't give reasons why anyone should invest in having them as a guest."
Some hotels report being so overwhelmed by influencer requests that they've simply opted out. In January, a luxury boutique hotel in Ireland made headlines for banning all YouTubers and Instagram stars after a 22-year-old requested a free five-night stay in exchange for exposure.
"If I let you stay here in return for a feature in a video, who is going to pay the staff who look after you? Who is going to pay the housekeepers who clean your room? … Who is going to pay for the light and heat you use during your stay? Maybe I should tell my staff they will be featured in your video in lieu of receiving payment for work carried out while you're in residence?" the owner wrote on Facebook.
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But to influencers themselves, this is a fundamental misunderstanding of the value exchange. Instagram has ballooned to more than 800 million monthly active users, many of whom come to it for travel ideas, and influencers argue that the promotion they offer allow hotels to directly market to new audiences in an authentic way.
They're not completely wrong. Most hotels acknowledge that there's some benefit to working with influencers, it's just that determining how to work with them—and manage their requests—is a challenge.
Some hotels, like the Ace and others, have attempted to standardize the process by requiring detailed Influencer application forms for discounts or free hotel stays. Others list influencer-specific contact addresses on their website. But the majority of hotels deal with influencer requests the old fashioned way, through an email to the hotel's primary address. Many influencers use an email template that they customize for each property when requesting a stay.
Hotels evaluate influencers on several criteria, trying to sift through an enormous amount of BS. "We have quite a strict process," said Jones. "We look at engagement more than anything else … We have to filter out influencers who have basically bought bots. There's a lot of those these days."
Laurie Hobb, director of public relations and marketing at Ocean House Management, a resort management company that operates several boutique hotels in Rhode Island, said the hotel keeps a database of trusted influencers who it has partnered with before and can rely on when launching new products—recently, a customized Lilly Pulitzer suite. When new influencers approach one of their properties, Hobb and her team take a close look at the influencer's follower count and aesthetic to make sure it's the right fit.