The travel media and blogging world has been rocked in recent days over a drama that is totally unique to the new world order of so-called "influencers" — and pretty controversial depending on where you fall about the very notion. Let's break down what happened.
A budget Ireland hotel known as the White Moose received a request for a free stay from blogger Elle Darby. She had sent over a pitch explaining how she could promote the hotel in exchange for the comp, but he hotel was not down with this idea — so it put her on blast. Here's what marketing man Paul posted. (You'll note he crossed out Elle's name, although people were quick to see it when they turned the brightness up on their phones.)
The blogger in question hit back with a video of her own saying she was sad and humiliated to be called out like that, especially when it's completely standard in her industry — and a matter of reciprocity, with mutual benefit. She said she's usually very non-confrontational and confrontation gives her anxiety — so this was a huge deal for her.
Online bulling is real, and she got some really hateful messages after the fact. ("Skanky freeloader" was just one among the insults hurled her way.) For that matter, so did the hotel — to the point that Paul announced he was banning all bloggers from staying.
The truth behind all this is that the guy behind the hotel has done this before (to vegans, to breastfeeding moms... and even all of Brazil). He later admitted the manufactured scandal was a PR stunt... and he was pretty happy with how well it had all gone.
After the blogger's reply, the whole story started to go viral. The hotel seemed pleased with the publicity effect, and unleashed a series of a Facebook posts — like an invoice asking her for money, and eventually the post banning all bloggers.
Now, I'm an established travel blogger with tons of inside knowledge of how all this sausage is made. And let me tell you what I think: The hotel was outright bullying her, sharing a private email, and the online world was happy to jump on that bandwagon — as it does.
But, let me ask you: Do you know how brands and bloggers work together? If you're angry at Elle for asking, then you should keep reading to see how bloggers and hotels have a great mutual relationship — and hotels often love it.
In her video, Elle explains her side of things in approaching the hotel which she did with the "purest intentions." But I'm going to share a little bit too. I've personally worked with hotels, tourism boards, and large travel brands in countries all over the world. I've stayed for free and I've been paid by hotels to stay. I'll break down a few points you need to know about this subject.
First of all... the "reach." The hotel getting this story featured on 43 websites would have cost him around 2 million euros (or about $2.5 million in U.S. equivalency). A hotel would pay a lot to be featured in big websites, in-flight magazines, and billboards. Ads are quite expensive — duh.
So, when a large blogger is willing to work on an exchange basis, the hotel will usually consider their "reach" and if the blogger's audience matches the hotel marketing goals.
If a blogger in the luxury travel space with 500,000 monthly readers reaches out to a luxury hotel, that property likely may be happy to have the blogger stay, send amenities up to the room, and yes — sometimes even pay in cash as well if the reach is high enough. It's not an unearned freebie — it's a mutual exchange to which dollar values can be assigned on both sides.
As a travel blogger, I get on average five invites a week to stay at hotels across the world. For example, a private villa in Bali recently told me: "If you come to Bali again, please come stay with us complimentary for a few nights!" So, when I go to Bali next, I can search my emails and probably find a month's worth of places who have invited me to stay. If it were a place I didn't yet have these relationships, I could reach out to hotels that make sense to collaborate with.
On the flipside, hotels also reach out for "paid campaigns" or "influencer trips." In these cases, they may pay for your flights, pay you a daily rate, and even pay for a photographer or guest to join you. If I felt like it, I could bounce around the Greek islands or overwater villas in the Maldives for months, staying in free rooms where I've been invited — and often hotels will offer meals and activities to boot.
This is where blogger integrity and knowing your audience comes in: Bloggers need to make sure they are helping their readers, inspiring their trust, and staying true to them. If we didn't have readers, we wouldn't have a blog that earns an income. That means if we stay somewhere, we will already have done our research — and we know the place will be worthy. If there are issues, we'll need to include them in our honest reviews.
Elle reaching out to the hotel in question was not out of line. Many hotels would have been happy to accept her, as they have in the past, if it matches their marketing goals. If hotels weren't seeing a positive result from bloggers staying with them, then why as a travel blogger do I get so many requests each week? To put it into context, a blog like mine with 900,000 monthly readers can earn about $3,000 for a two-night stay at a hotel on a paid campaign — and I have. There is a very measurable return on investment for these hotels — or influencers wouldn't be a thing. Love it or hate it, it's reality.
More so, we build our hard-earned audience over years and thousands of posts. For me, I've been blogging for four years and it takes a lot of time to grain trust and be able to build a relationship with readers. When you partner with a hotel or brand, they are tapping into your audience — and why should that be free? Bloggers with large followings should of course be paid for their promotion — not just get "free trips."
Yes, I use quotation marks when I say "free" stay. Usually, the stay entails writing up a guide to the city with the hotel information in it, or a full review of the hotel if it's a longer stay. It means taking photos that are Instagram worthy, which is a space that is getting more and more competitive every day. The blogger has to mention the property on YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, take awesome photos, and write a blog post. If it's a paid campaign, that blog post will require SEO research — it's not something just thrown together hastily. On paid campaigns, there are contracts stating which hashtags to use, times to post, and viewpoints the hotel prefers. In other words... it's work.
Elle mentioned she wasn't going to reply as she felt mortified. Nut after many bloggers reached out to her (even I sent her an Instagram message!) telling her that man was very rude and she should just keep doing her thing, she decided to stand up for herself.
What is sad is the number of people chiming in who don't understand the industry. So I hope that this gives you a little more insight. Travel blogging is a real job!
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