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Beth Santos on the Rise of Influencer Marketing in the Travel Industry

Beth Santos, founder and CEO of Wanderful, and creator and host of the Women in Travel Summit, talks influencer marketing and what it might mean for the travel industry.

Beth Santos

Founder and CEO, Wanderful and Creator and Host, Women in Travel Summit

Why is influencer marketing the next big thing for the travel industry?

The travel industry is going through some major changes. The rise of low-fare transit like Norwegian has democratized travel and made it easier than ever before to get to new places without spending a lot of money. Social media has made travel planning and discovery accessible — we can discover and learn about new places that we’ve never seen or even heard of thanks to Instagram and Pinterest.

Creators and influencers are at the forefront of that. They build their entire brands around being able to provide authentic, real feedback, and recommendations about places and products to an engaged community of warm leads. Their ROI is incredible — influencer marketing has been proven to have 11 times the return on investment of traditional advertising. And it’s measurable. You can see and modulate the amount of reach you get in real-time by using analytics and data.

But the best part of influencer marketing is that you can use it to reach audiences outside of your network. By tapping into the knowledge and community of an influencer, you can get a unique perspective that can speak for you, that you’d never be able to make yourself. More and more industry members are beginning to see that, and to look to influencer marketing as a way to build exposure around their destination, product, or service.

Why did you create the Women in Travel Summit?

We initially created WITS in 2014 after seeing how many women were building travel blogs. They were following trajectories similar to ours — realizing that by sharing their words and stories, they could carve out an impactful voice in the travel industry and create communities of readers that trusted them.

We could never have guessed that today, influencers and creators would be such powerful voices in travel. But that’s what happened. Our average attendee reaches over 100,000 people through her blog and social channels. Plus, many of the creators in our community are not just writers, they’re also incredibly accomplished entrepreneurs, using their expertise to create new products, to consult for industry marketers, even to publish their own books.

The Women in Travel Summit is an annual summit that connects women travel creators together to discuss emerging trends in the travel industry, to examine new developments in content creation and brand and community building, and to ask real questions about how to lift underrepresented voices in travel. It’s also a huge opportunity for industry members, destinations, and travel companies to meet and vet content creators to work with. We devote a whole afternoon to speed networking.

As our WITS community grows, we’ve also begun new initiatives to grow with them, including the creation of the Bessie Awards, an annual award ceremony named after Bessie Coleman (the first African American and also Native American woman to get her pilot’s license), as well as the Wanderful Creator Collective, a membership community to help creators build their businesses and grow.

But perhaps most importantly, we help these creators do their job better, and help travel brands find the right creators to work with as they build and execute their marketing strategy. In the end, that makes the travel industry better on a whole.

Why have you been so focused on women creators specifically? 

The travel industry is dominated by women. Eighty percent of travel decisions are made by women. In a $7 trillion global tourism market, that’s a lot of dollars commanded by women. Yet when you look at senior leadership of these travel companies, it’s still extremely male and white, which doesn’t reflect the travel customer.

While WITS is open to anyone, we focus heavily on supporting and strengthening the work of women creators and industry members and lifting the voices of those who may not have been well represented in the past. This allows us to explore new perspectives that can make the travel industry better, while also supporting women-owned businesses in a very lopsided market and giving them a space to voice their concerns and build community.

We’ve found that travel industry members that grab an exhibitor table are also able to benefit in a number of ways beyond marketing. Many use their attendance at WITS for R&D, recruiting, or even as an educational benefit for their employees.

Do you have any tips for the private sector to lean into this industry effectively?

I get a lot of questions about how travel brands can tap into influencer marketing. It’s getting trickier and trickier to DIY, and agencies and communities like ours can be helpful in finding, vetting, and managing your influencer work. If you do DIY, coming to a conference like WITS will get you in front of a lot of creators that you can vet on the spot to fill a press trip, a product review, explore a brand ambassadorship, etc.

Make sure you understand what, exactly, you’re looking to achieve with an influencer campaign or relationship, and the metrics that you’ll use to measure that achievement. What does success look like? Then make sure you have clear expectations and also trust when a creator pushes back. They know their own audience much better than you do and they’re inclined to tell you what will work.

In travel, ROI can take time. It’s not common that someone will read an Instagram story and immediately book a ticket somewhere. Much like other forms of advertising, and especially in travel, there’s a long sales cycle so focus your success metrics on reach and visibility rather than direct sales.

Be thoughtful about who you work with. You’ll get the best ROI by working with a diverse range of content creators from different backgrounds and identities. They’ll also reach more communities and therefore more unique consumers than a more homogeneous group. Make diversity a priority and not only will your reach be greater, but your customers will notice and thank you for it.

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