How Best Western is implementing an in-house creation program to hire travel influencers for long-term partnerships

  • Best Western seeks to establish long-term business relationships with travel influencers.
  • Its creator program currently has over 200 active clients.
  • Marissa Daniela, one of the two employees who run it, explains how she tests influencers and finds the right person.

Travel influencers have become a key way for some hotels to profitably market themselves globally.

And some chains like Best Western have even started setting up official creator programs to foster those relationships.

Marissa Daniela is Chief Brand Officer at Best Western and was one of two employees hired in 2021 specifically to help formalize the company’s process for working with influencers. Daniela told Insider that hotels like Best Western are no longer interested in making deals with somebody with weight, but thinking more strategically about the types of travel creators who are in good brand alignment with them.

“Before it was who was influential, we gave you free hotels for content,” Daniela said. “Now it’s more thoughtful: what influencers do we want, who can highlight the 18 Best Western brands. We need influencers who can tell stories.”

Daniela said she sees Marriott and InterContinental Hotels Group as her company’s biggest competitors in the influencer space. But while many chains make deals with influencers through their marketing teams or through third-party agencies, the desire to create a dedicated internal structure

influencer marketing

team — like Best Western — is a relatively recent phenomenon.

Daniela was hired specifically to forge a more direct relationship between the hotel and the individual.

“When I was hired, I wanted the brand to be much more hands-on with content and become creators ourselves to interact with potential customers,” she said.

Daniela told Insider how the Best Western Creator Program works and how the team selects the people they want to work with.

Instagram screenshot of @part.time.tourists


How Best Western finds and hires travel influencers

Although the company still receives a high volume of submissions from travel influencers, about half the time Daniela uses a third-party CRM system to help research and reach various personas.

Specifically, Best Western is looking for family-oriented travel creators who travel often for business and those who have a very cohesive online identity.

“Everyone seems to be an influencer now – everyone can talk about whatever they want, everyone has an audience, that’s not the point,” Daniela said. “A lot of what I’m looking for is how they align their audience. They need to know why their audience follows them. That’s how you shape your story to align with Best Western.”

As an example, she cited Instagrammer @part.time.tourists, which has over 30,000 followers.

“Her niche is traveling with a one-year-old; she does an amazing job of weaving in tips and tricks and incorporating the Best Western brand that feels natural,” Daniela said.

Daniela will sometimes help an influencer write the copy for an Instagram or other social media post, but she’s really looking to work with someone who has that narrative ready from day one.

On a more technical level, Daniela added that knowing how to cut a video or create a reel is a bonus, as Instagram’s algorithm seems to strongly favor short videos. She also makes sure that an influencer’s following can appeal to both men and women.

The initial trial period and cultivate recurring brand deals

Daniela described a “test” period when she signs the first paid trip with an influencer client.

“The first trip I took them on was kind of a test for me to see if they followed the instructions, because a lot of people don’t do it well,” she said. “It’s all about the second trip. There’s less of a chance that they’ll take a second trip with us and continue that relationship.”

According to Daniela, most of her influencer clients simply ask for a free stay as compensation. But some, depending on their reach and ROI, will require additional compensation. She said about 30% of the time she would negotiate and work with the talent to structure a unique payment plan.

It can be a competitive program, so most of the time she had to send tough rejection emails. But if an influencer seems like a good fit and is reliable, there are 4,000 hotels around the world she can easily send them to.

Currently, the program has around 200 active influencers with whom Daniela is building a more sustained relationship.

Expanding the program and what lies ahead

Best Western’s Creator Program was founded in 2018, but Daniela said it underwent a major overhaul in the past year.

“2020 and 2021 have been a challenge for us,” she said. “In 2021, we revamped the way we view influencers and we revamped our storytelling. I was named social strategist.”

In 2020, influencer tourism hit a recent low with global shutdowns bringing air travel, accommodation and content publishing to a screeching halt. By early 2020, the volume of sponsored travel and tourism content had dropped by 66%, according to research by influencer marketing firm Izea. But travel content rebounded in 2021 and 2022, although some travel influencers have recently had to deal with rising airfare costs and Instagram is changing its algorithm to prioritize video formats.

As travel returns, Daniela and her colleague are looking to grow their schedule and budget in 2022 so they can work with more influencers, as well as those with more followers.

“We have a big budget but we can’t give everyone the prizes we want,” she said. “We are trying to expand that.”

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