A traditional travel agency has turned to a nontraditional source to build its global client base: social media influencers.
Classic Travel Service, a full-service agency based in New York, is in the early stages of an affiliate program with a handful of influencers who refer travel-related inquiries from their followers to Classic and receive referral fees in return.
The pandemic is what sparked the affiliate program, said Classic's vice president of marketing, Lance Stamps. He was mulling how the agency could drum up business when most travel had stopped, and when the little travel he saw near the beginning of the pandemic was taking place closer to home out of necessity.
Stamps started reaching out to influencers in different destinations and found they were traveling even more than travel advisors were, as the nature of their work left them motivated to create content.
"If they were able to travel, they were traveling," he said.
Stamps started working with a London-based influencer who was spending lots time in Dubai and the Maldives. The influencer referred their followers to the agency so they could either work with an advisor or book online through Classictravel.com.
"We were able to really grow 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 never would have been able to tap into without these influencers."
When looking for influencers, Stamps seeks out those in the luxury segment with niche markets. The hotels they feature are a big factor in who Classic will partner with.
As far as platforms, Instagram and WordPress are preferred, Stamps said. The two provide a good combination of visual and written content.
"We have noticed that our younger clientele tend to pick hotels and book based on what they see on Instagram," he said. "Our more mature ones tend to enjoy reading a bit more and love our hotel review partner."
Stamps works with five influencers, including a few who are even becoming independent contractors with Classic. Stamps partners the others, who tend to be more interested in purely creating content, with an in-house Classic advisor who handles their referrals.
"It's helping our agency grow globally," he said.
For instance, Classic has benefitted 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 got good at marketing themselves as a "staycation" 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 only so much a travel advisor can travel."
Jarvis Marcos, who runs TheLuxuryTraveller.com and Instagram handle @theluxurytraveller, is an influencer-turned-Classic agent. His website was originally focused on hotel reviews, and as time went on he 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 has shifted into more of a travel advisor role.
"Classic Travel's connections give me access to review properties that would otherwise be out of reach," Marcos said. "Meanwhile, Classic Travel is able to share in the monetization of my highly engaged audience of luxury travelers."
Classic Travel's goal, Stamps said, is to be connected with influencers in every part of the world. He plans to connect them with the hoteliers Classic has built relationships with over the years, something that most influencers don't have.
Classic has six in-house agents and 18 independent contractors. The agency, a Virtuoso member, has also built a proprietary online hotel booking tool to serve clients who want to book quickly.
Stamps said he also enjoys opening more doors for his influencer partners.
"I can also gauge how much business and how much traffic they actually have," he said. "So the benefit for a hotelier and for us going forward is I can say, 'This guy's worth having at your hotel and giving him a three-night stay, because I can qualify him and I can tell you that he's going to drive traffic.'"