Tourism operators should be wary of using social media influencers to promote their business, a travel expert warns, as the strategy can backfire.
Doug Lansky, an American author and researcher based in Sweden, says travellers need to be more aware of the motivation of influencers on platforms such as Instagram.
''They're working with the destination - they're totally on the PR side,'' he told Auckland Airport's recent tourism forum.
Described as an ''international thought leader'' on tourism sustainability and destination development, Lansky says he is pained by the filtered lives of influencers.
''Building up expectations is what advertising and marketing does. But it's hard to deliver on the [Instagram] promise of all being supermodels with the sun just right.''
Paid influencers were not critical of anything, he said.
One New Zealand agency - the Social Club - calculates that someone with 1000 followers could make $50 per post and if they had 100,000 followers, the figure could be more than $1800 to $2000 per post.
Instagram has about 1 billion active monthly users, and according to a survey by Expedia, 30 per cent of Americans are influenced or inspired by social media when booking a trip, and a destination's photo potential is an important consideration.
Just on 84 per cent of Gen Z travellers (those born between the mid-1990s and mid-2000s) said social media can be influential, particularly deals or promotions, and travel pictures or videos from friends or experts.
Lansky said tourism businesses should do a good job of promoting themselves.
''If they come up with a strong product, deliver great customer service and then they should get recognised for it on travel sites with review sections. It's much more natural and organic,'' he said.
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A tourism industry leader says tourist businesses need to do their homework before signing on influencers.
''They've got to make sure the values align with the values of their business,'' said Tourism Export Council chief Executive Judy Chen.
''And they should make sure that the followers they claim are genuine.''
It is possible to buy followers.
Chen was formerly the director of sales and marketing for Hotel Grand Chancellor and advises tourism businesses which are unsure what to do, to ask regional tourism organisations or Tourism NZ, which have experience of using influencers.
She said if businesses did their own social media posting, they should be very clear what the target audience is.
Tourism New Zealand says it uses influencers ''from time to time'' to promote the country. ''We find that in markets where there is little knowledge of New Zealand, influencers are successful and raising awareness with large numbers of people,'' said Rebecca Ingram, general manager of NZ and Government relations.
The key to selecting an influencer was to work with ''authentic and credible'' people who connected with a business' audience.
''Tourism operators considering using influencers should seek advice about using [them] if they are unsure and we would be happy to speak to them.''
In last month's Budget, the allocation to deliver key visitor messages was cut by nearly $400,000 to $8.8m but as well as ''opinion leaders'', this also includes broadcast production and media.
Social Club chief executive Georgia McGillivray agrees tourism brands shouldn't be using models as their influencers.
Rather, they should be using ''amazing'' content creators and micro influencers (those with up to 15,000 followers) who had large followings because of the content and the new and exciting locations they shared.
She said the payment calculator was based on data from 3000 campaigns her company had run during the last 3 years.
However, rates depended the number of photos, videos, an influencer's reach, engagement rate, past campaign performance, length of the campaign, and exclusivity period.
Advertising Standards Authority guidelines state that advertisements should be clearly distinguishable from editorial content with a #ad hashtag.
McGillivray said her company had worked with the authority, and that consumers were now savvy and understood the relationship between a brand and an influencer.
''As consumers are very savvy these days, influencers need to ensure that any collaboration they enter into is authentic, otherwise they will lose followers and influence.''
She said Queenstown Lakes District had done an amazing job of using international influencers to raise awareness of the area as a travel destination.
''Roys Peak, for example, was a locals-only secret spot prior to social media and influencer marketing raising its profile and attracting tourists from all around the world. In fact, it was so successful that it brought too many people to the peak,
it overachieved its goals and there was an unintended consequence at the Department of Conservation.''
Lansky dips into Instagram himself and says ''I'm so old I still use Facebook'', but doesn't blame Instagram for overtourism.
''You can't expect tourists to manage themselves. That's up to the destination. The problem is that there is no management in most places.''
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