A traditional travel agency turned to a non-traditional source to grow its global customer base: social media influencers.
Classic travel servicea full-service agency based in New York, is in the early stages of an affiliate program with a handful of influencers who refer their subscribers’ travel inquiries to Classic and receive referral fees in return.
The pandemic is what sparked the affiliate program, said Classic vice president of marketing Lance Stamps. He was thinking about how the agency could boost business when most travel had stopped and the small travel he saw at the start of the pandemic was taking place closer to home out of necessity.
Stamps began contacting influencers in different destinations and found that they traveled even more than travel advisors, as the nature of their work encouraged them to create content.
“If they could travel, they traveled,” he said.
Stamps started working with a London-based influencer who spent a lot of time in Dubai and the Maldives. The influencer referred followers to the agency so they could either work with an advisor or book online through Classictravel.com.
“We were able to really develop a whole new database during Covid, based on where these influencers were traveling,” Stamps said. “We were getting bookings every day in the Maldives and Dubai. It was a whole new market for us that we would never have been able to tap into without these influencers.”
When researching influencers, Stamps looks for those in the luxury segment with niche markets. The hotels they offer are an important factor in the partnership that Classic will partner with.
As for platforms, Instagram and WordPress are preferred, Stamps said. Both offer a good combination of visual and written content.
“We’ve noticed that our younger clientele tends to choose hotels and book based on what they see on Instagram,” he said. “Our more mature ones tend to like to read a bit more and like our hotel review partner.”
Stamps works with five influencers, including a few who even become independent entrepreneurs with Classic. Stamps partners with others, who tend to be more interested in pure content creation, with an in-house Classic Advisor who handles their referrals.
“It helps our agency grow globally,” he said.
For example, Classic has benefited from several new bookings each week in Singapore thanks to a local influencer. Especially when travel was more restricted than it is today, a number of hotels there managed to market themselves as a “stay-and-stay” destination, Stamps said. Locals were booking through Classic, thanks to the influencer.
“They really have the power,” Stamps said. “People really want to see people in the destination. There’s not a lot a travel consultant can travel.”
Jarvis Marcos, running TheLuxuryTraveller.com and Instagram handle @theluxurytraveller, is a classic influencer-turned-agent. Its website was originally focused on hotel reviews, and over time it has consistently ranked at the top of search results alongside Tripadvisor.
Seeking to monetize his audience, he discovered Classic Travel and started including booking links with reviews. He transitioned into a travel consultant role.
“Classic Travel connections give me access to review properties that would otherwise be out of reach,” Marcos said. “Meanwhile, Classic Travel is able to share the monetization of my highly engaged audience of luxury travelers.”
Classic Travel’s goal, Stamps said, is to connect with influencers in all parts of the world. He plans to connect them with the hoteliers Classic has built relationships with over the years, which most influencers don’t.
Classic has six in-house agents and 18 independent contractors. The agency, a member of Virtuoso, has also created an exclusive online hotel reservation tool to serve customers who want to book quickly.
Stamps said he also enjoys opening more doors for his influencer partners.
“I can also gauge the volume of business and volume of traffic they actually have,” he said. “So the advantage for a hotelier and for us in the future is that I can say, ‘This guy is worth having at your hotel and giving him a three night stay, because I can qualify him and I can tell you it will drive traffic.’”