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Instagram, YouTube, TikTok, and other platforms still haven’t perfected the transactional tools to make it easy to buy the trips that social media influencers show off online. But a few startups, such as TrovaTrip, Luxury Travel Hackers, and Thatch, are focusing on the e-commerce challenge — and this summer have received investor backing.
The startups aren’t targeting celebrities at the level of, say, Kourtney Kardashian — an influencer who has 140 million followers looking at her August trip to Italy. Instead, they are working with lower-level online personalities.
“A lot of our most successful trip hosts have fan bases that remain small enough to be manageable for them to engage with their audience by replying to comments,” said Lauren Schneider, a co-founder of trip management platform TrovaTrip.
A case in point: Ally Coucke, a Denver, Colorado-based creator, entrepreneur, and traveler with about 103,000 followers on Instagram, has recently been selling travel, such as a just-departed group trip to Alaska, via TrovaTrip.
“Her trips typically sell out the same day, and her Instagram stories clearly demonstrate why,” Schneider said. “She is authentic, vulnerable, and relatable, and she shows it through video.”
Coucke has been sharing highlights from the late August trip via her Instagram stories.
Here’s how the process typically works for an influencer who wants to work with TrovaTrip. The influencer visits its portal to see a selection of approximately 100 itineraries already approved by professional tour organizers. It works with Peak DMC, a destination management company, operator and product developer in partnership with a couple dozen tourism promotion organizations — and which is the same tour operator Intrepid travel uses Intrepid Travel.
The professionals will run the trip and supply a licensed guide, though the host can upsell guests on workshops or other joint activities that they lead on their own. The tour operators choose if they want to work with the freelancer or pass.
Operators upload itineraries and note a cost per traveler, which includes a $200 fee that TrovaTrip charges the operator. Hosts then select a trip and how much they earn via their markup, inclusive of the startup’s 10 percent service fee and a 2.9 percent credit card processing fee. The host markets the trip with the startup’s help.
Creator Economy Gets New Tools to Sell Travel
The power of social media influencers to impact people’s travel choices isn’t new, of course. in 2015, a Justin Bieber music video featuring Iceland’s Fjadrárgljúfur Canyon led to so much tourism that the country closed the canyon to protect it.
What’s new is the pandemic, which is prompting a rethink in the travel creator economy as tourism boards and brands reinvent their business models and messaging priorities — as Skift recently analyzed in Travel’s Creator Economy Resets for Next Boom.
What’s also new are online tools to reduce the friction of converting what followers see on social media into more quickly bookable itineraries. Several influencers, such as the ones behind The Bali Bible, have become travel agents by creating their own sites with booking engines. But the new startups remove some of the friction of influencers face when trying to make money off their content.
People who understand travel are backing these startups, too. For instance, Barney Harford, former CEO of Orbitz Worldwide and former chief operating officer of Uber, and Eric Breon, founder and former CEO of Vacasa, invested in TrovaTrip this month as part of a bigger $5 million round.
Influencers Can Turn Old Trips Into New Money
The approach of LTH, or Luxury Travel Hackers, a startup that launched this summer, underscores the importance of professionalism.
“We’re the only travel tech company to produce travel content with influencers and make vacations bookable via social media with each trip curated according to the interests and budget of each traveler,” said co-founder Gary Kohn. “No one until now has really leveraged the influence of social media content on traveler purchase decisions at scale.”
The Austin, Texas-based company believes high production values are important to the online recommendation of travel.
“We have two businesses, essentially, and one is that we have a small group of influencers that we produce content with using our Hollywood-based video production team,” Kohn said. His startup has revealed three of the influencers that are salaried, including Lina Lindholm with 103,000 Instagram followers, since its launch a few months ago.
“We also have this other model where we’re taking content handed over by travel influencers and creators from destinations they’ve been to in the past, and we help them re-purpose it and make parts of their itineraries bookable as a travel agency,” Kohn said. “We’re building the landing pages for travel shoppers that includes a booking engine.”
“Influencers, creators, and travel bloggers often have all this content that they’ve got sitting on hard drives, collecting dust that we can re-purpose to create passive income and help fulfill people’s wanderlust,” Kohn said. “An influencer can post visual or video content and include a link in the comments that followers can click to book a trip that they customize with our agents. We typically do a 50-50 commission split with the influencer.”
Travel Selling for All Types of Influencers
On Monday, another startup, Thatch, announced it had raised a round of funding. The company helps influencers organize their travel knowledge into shareable, interactive, and monetizable travel content via a single gateway link. It raised a $3 million seed follow-on round. Investors included Netflix co-founder Marc Randolph. The startup plans to launch its monetization tools soon.
Trvl is another startup that influencers and other people will be able to tap to sell hotel rooms — once it relaunches after pandemic travel restrictions lift. The Amsterdam-based peer-to-peer marketplace lets people earn commissions when travelers book the hotels they recommend.
A person doesn’t have to have millions of fans to take advantage of the new tools from Trvl, Thatch, and other startups.
“A micro-influencer with 15,000 or fewer followers could also do well,” Schneider said. “We have certain KPIs [key performance indicators] that we look for when we reach out to someone directly to use our platform. Some of the most important ones are authenticity, likability, and relatability.”
“We can use analytics tools to check if influencers are connecting with their audiences authentically through their content,” Schneider said. “We can check how the followers are engaging with the content.”
While the democratization of travel selling is notable, it will be a truly billboard moment when a travel company or social media platform makes it seamless for mega-influencers, such as the Kardashians, to sell travel. A company that can enable that could become a major force in travel sales very quickly. Maybe it will be Facebook. Or maybe the entrepreneurial Kardashians will be the ones to figure it out.
Photo credit: Gloria Atanmo, a social media influencer, had planned to sell trips to Portugal this summer via TrovaTrip before travel restrictions interfered. TrovaTrip