How to find and cultivate influencers that make your destination or attraction look awesome

Power up your marketing by partnering with well-known influencers

We all want to impress people, but in attraction, tourism, and destination marketing we’re looking to WOW people. And even when your marketing strategy is working and you’re getting more hits, sometimes that next big thing you do is what really makes a difference. This could be exactly the time to connect with an influencer.

What are the advantages of working with influencers?

“Influencer marketing is designed to tap into an existing community of engaged followers on social media. Influencers are specialists in their niches. These individuals have influence over an audience you might be trying to reach, and can be helpful marketing to those buyers.” – Hubspot

Expanding your reach into new markets is just one of the many perks of establishing relationships and partnering with influencers. The greatest asset of influencer marketing is that someone other than you is talking about how great you are.

Today’s customers sniff out ads like bloodhounds; they’re more likely to be suspicious if the first time they hear about your attraction or destination is through an ad. They want to know that your destination or attraction is the real deal. Is it a good brand and a fun and safe place to visit with their families? Reassure them by having an influencer – that they know and trust – tell your story. 

Never underestimate the Mom who Blogs

Julie Dion of Dion Marketing claims huge success with her 2017 “Summer of Awesome” campaign for the Hawaiian Falls waterparks in Texas. Part of that success came from her use of influencers. In her episode on our Zesty Marketing Podcast, Julie explained that she contacted several mom bloggers and asked them to write about Hawaiian Falls in exchange for free park tickets. The hashtag went viral in the area, and the waterpark’s revenue increased by 13% that summer. When the bloggers promoted the park as a great place to take kids, their followers trusted them and packed up their kids for a day of fun in the sun!

An objective voice can provide a new perspective on your brand

Word-of-mouth marketing is powerful. Consumers stumble over ad after ad on social media and see ads plastered all over cities and public transport, but people want authenticity. We are all more likely to visit a new destination or attraction if someone we know tells us about an unforgettable trip or the best ice cream of their life in a particular place on the map.

Partnering with someone outside of your company’s marketing department also has a way of giving you and your audience a new perspective on your brand. Do you ever feel like you’re using the same tired pitch and the same old language or images in your ads? Influencers can easily put a fresh spin on what you’re offering. They provide authentic, personal testimonials about their experiences. This is a great way to engage your future customers!

So now that you’re ready to find your new best friend, it’s time to figure out who’s right for you. Working with the right influencers is essential to attract the right customers to your website and destination. But how do you know who the right influencers are? And how do you shape the conversation in a way that attracts the right types of guests? Here are four tips for working with the right influencers, in the right way.

1. “Vetting” your potential influencers

Justin Barnette is the Marketing & Communications Manager for South African Tourism in the U.S. He has successfully partnered with influencers to promote the award-winning #MeetSouthAfrica and #WowSouthAfrica video marketing campaigns.  Justin shared some of South Africa’s influencer marketing success with us.

What is the best way to track down new influencers? Justin starts by asking experts for their opinions. This is a good way to find the strongest influencers for the brand and target audience.

Don’t discount the importance of the vetting process. Bring in industry experts to help you select the influencers who are passionate about the destination and the project…You can’t fake genuine interest, and if your influencer consideration set lacks initial passion for the project, the amount of work required to develop an outstanding partnership is multiplied tenfold.” – Justin Barnette, South African Tourism

The most important way to identify effective influencers is to choose them for “reasons deeper than just their follower count,”  says Justin. Marketing is, after all, about reaching more of the right people, not necessarily the most people. Crucial to choosing the right influencers is all about knowing your ideal audience and creating well-researched buyer personas. Who will these customers relate to, follow, and trust? And which influencers will be most likely to engage meaningfully with your brand while having an incredible experience at your destination or attraction? Connect with these people. Consider travel, family, and lifestyle bloggers and/or video vloggers that you’d want to clone as guests.

2. Getting the conversation started; begin slowly

It’s wise to start small, especially if you don’t personally know your potential influencers. You don’t want to seem desperate by pushing partner or sponsorship proposals right away. Get to know them first — “date” before you propose.

Begin simply by following your influencers on social media. Like, comment and share their posts. This will ease you into developing and nurturing a relationship with prospective influencers. Show that you support them and engage with their content in significant ways. A quick “Very cool!” comment on one of their Instagram posts probably won’t cut it, however. Give them a reason to respond – a reason to believe you’ve got a unique perspective or something new to add. Once you’ve started a dialogue, you can offer a visit to your destination for attraction, complete with a free ticket or some other incentive. Invite them to bring friends and family!  

Partnering with a strong influencer who is also a creator will increase the likelihood that your partnership will prove to be mutually meaningful and productive. Explain ways in which a project or initiative will be advantageous to both of you. Someone who sees genuine value in your destination or attraction will end up being a more powerful, authentic brand advocate.

3. Let your influencers use their own voices

Sandy Sponaugle, President and CEO of Platinum PR, assists DMOs, tourism offices, and economic development offices in their marketing efforts. She discusses influencer marketing on her podcast episode with us, emphasizing the importance of adopting a somewhat hands-off approach. Managing Partner Whitney Hahn asks Sandy about providing influencers with “seeds” or tidbits of information that could be used in new promotional content. Sandy’s take? While this type of preparation can seem helpful, it’s best to let new influencers express their own authentic styles. Consumers can smell a paid promotion from miles away! You don’t want to risk turning the influencer’s audience (your prospects) away from you! Let the bloggers write in their own voice.

“With influencers, I believe it’s all about empowering them to be authentic. Don’t turn it into a job, don’t make it a thing, don’t try to micromanage what they say, how they say, how they deliver it, but let them be true and support your community [or business] as they will naturally.” -Sandy Sponaugle

The best and purest form of influencer marketing

For a great example, watch this video marketing example from What’s Inside?, (a YouTube channel with 5.8 million subscribers!)

Channel hosts Dan and Lincoln, a father and son, visited Hershey’s Chocolate World. Their video, with over 2 million views, explores the attraction’s plethora of guest activities and amenities through the eyes of a child. That’s music to the ears of Hershey. Dan and Lincoln genuinely enjoyed their visit to the chocolate-filled paradise, capturing it all on camera for a massive audience. Since Hershey markets itself as family-friendly, a father and son duo with millions of subscribers on their YouTube channel is a perfect choice! Dan and Lincoln were able to freely express themselves and engage with their viewers in their own way, rather than throwing out facts and statistics that might signal a paid advert by the Hershey Company.

Of course, Hershey’s Chocolate World is already a widely-known and respected attraction. But the best and “purest” form of influencer marketing is generated by the influencers themselves!

4. Think long-term

An ideal goal when reaching out to influencers is to maintain a long-term relationship with them. This approach makes it more likely that you can work together again in the future to generate new ideas, campaigns, and prospective customers. As Justin notes, “A beautiful halo effect from these successful campaigns is the long term relationships we form with our influencers and the meaningful relationships they form with South Africa. It’s always a point of pride when an influencer who has worked with us a year, two, even three years ago, will reshare content from their visit and talk about the lasting impression South Africa has had on them.”

If your destination or attraction really resonated with one of your influencers, stay in contact with them! They’ll be more likely to consider another adventure with you when they’re creating their own content. They might just become some of your most loyal and well-trusted promoters!


To choose the best influencers for your brand, start by figuring out how a potential influencer acquired their follower count. Partner with those who have earned followers organically. Next, think about who you are trying to reach. Know your buyer personas inside and out, and select only influencers who can impress your target audience. Always ensure that your proposition is meaningful for their personal or professional goals as well as yours. That’s the best way to find “authentic stewards” of your brand! And lastly, allow your influencers to use their own voices. You want their promotion of your business to feel real and true to their followers, always!



Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on pinterest

Related Posts:

RSS Zesty Marketing Podcast
  • Season 1 Finale: The National Aquarium in Baltimore dives into a mission-driven campaign.
  • Destination Innovate argues for smarter, more personal integrated marketing.
  • Lyon Distilling's "turn ons and turn offs" of marketing