Using influencers as a marketing tool has led to success for a number of travel agencies. Being able to use two large networks (yours and the influencer’s) to sell a group booking built around a theme or a personality opens a range of possibilities for agencies.
Meet Tamoy Thelwell, the co-founder and owner of Go Luxury Cruiser, a Florida-based luxury travel agency that specializes in influencer travel programs.
Thelwell and her partner Chris DeBonis created the agency in May 2020 during the COVID-era cruise industry shutdown. They had met during their time at a different agency and had connected through a shared vision of marketing travel as a lifestyle rather than just a vacation.
Chris (left) and Tamoy.
“It’s a way of life for a lot of people,” Thelwell told TMR. “It’s true freedom, to be able to pick up and do whatever you want when you want. We wanted to target those kinds of clients.”
It was a leap of faith for the two to launch an agency with the cruise industry still shut down, but they saw it as a chance at a fresh start.
“We just thought that this would be our opportunity to quit our job and just start from scratch because we had nothing to lose,” she said. “We thought, the world is slow right now and this would be the time to just go out there and go for it.”
Thelwell is a self-described millennial and says that she was familiar with influencer marketing before starting her agency, but quickly recognized the potential of using influencers to sell travel. The idea was to be able to use an influencer’s own network to access a new population of possible clients, while also using an influencer’s clout to sell to your own prospective clients.
Here are four tips about harnessing the power of influencers:
1. Don’t Just Look at the Numbers
Finding influencers is easy—social media is full of people with large followings, especially travel influencers, who are looking for opportunities to monetize their reach. However, finding the right influencer for you is more difficult. Thelwell told TMR that her advice would be to look at more than just the number of followers.
“The biggest mistake I see is that people just look at numbers and say, ‘this person has 2 million followers and I’m going to reach out and do something with them,’” she said. “Those people with 2 million followers are going to have a lot of higher retests and demand a little more.”
Thelwell said that her agency does a lot of the research itself, but there are talent agencies you can employ to find talent and book them for you.
2. Be Specific
Do not go to an influencer for a general partnership or simply to start building a relationship. Instead, go with a plan and an offer that you think will be relevant to them.
“Don’t go in there blank,” she said. “You should already know what you want. You are hiring talent and a person to fill a spot. Some people approach an influencer and think that magic is just going to happen. You are essentially booking talent. You should have a plan.”
That plan comes from research, including partnerships that an influencer has made in the past, which will give you a hint if they will be interested or not. The plan will also come from talking to supplier partners (more on that later).
For example, Thelwell curated an exclusive super yacht cruise experience with Bobby Giancola, who appears on the Bravo reality television show Below Deck, from Barbados to Miami for 7 days starting Dec. 6. The TV personality will mix and mingle with travelers at a cocktail party and exclusive VIP event. In addition, guests can experience everything that the all-inclusive Explora Journeys’ ship has to offer.
At the end of the day, Thelwell and her agency, she is selling high-end luxury experiences to a specific type of client. Presenting a plan to an influencer that he or she is going to be on a trip with luxury clientele and have a high-end experience will get her farther than just using generic language.
3. Don’t Overlook Supplier Relationships
In order to accommodate groups with specific requests, advisors also need to have a good relationship with their supplier
When the agency was just starting out, being in the Miami and Ft. Lauderdale area (Thelwell is originally from Ontario, Canada) gave her and her agency the ability to market with cruise line sales executives who can help build these types of bookings.
“I put myself in situations and environments where I get to meet some of these people,” she said. Think networking events, cocktail parties, cruise line-specific events, conferences, and more.
Thelwell also made sure to carry over any contacts she had from her work at the previous agency.
“My job was to nurture relationships with a supplier, so when I left and started my own business, I understood really early the power of those relationships. I always keep in touch, even if I don’t have anything in place right now,” she said.
4. Be Creative with Compensation
If you are looking at an influencer with a million or more followers, they are going to want a flat fee “of at least five figures” to work with you on a group trip. Someone under 200,000 or so followers will be more willing to do commission, which is a good approach, especially starting out, because you don’t have to invest right away. That approach also ties an influencer to the success of the trip, giving him or her a reason to help you market.