What Is Travel Influencer Fraud?

Travel influencer fraud is when an alleged travel influencer either fraudulently misrepresents the value that they can deliver to a hotel, resort or travel brand via the engagement of their (alleged) following by delivering sponsored messages, images, or other owned media (photos/video) or earned media (mentions/brand awareness/links) deliverables on behalf of that brand. The most common occurrences for travel influencer fraud fall into these categories:

  • Not providing promised deliverables
  • Falsely representing true influencer reach
  • Review ‘shakedowns’ or extortion, to receive a good review
  • Intellectual property theft of other influencers

Before we can properly get to the heart of the issue behind travel influencer fraud, we first have to understand the evolution of influencers in general, and why fraud has crept into the picture as influencer marketing has become more and widespread, more and more lucrative, and less and less regulated (or even vetted) by influencer agencies, influencer marketing platforms, and even the actual hotel, resort and travel brands that are supposed to be vetting or screening travel influencers for the value of their proposed earned media.

Travel Influencer Booking Cycle for Hotel | Influencer Fraud | TravelCrush

Putting aside the premise that today’s alleged travel influencers may not actually be as valuable as the previous generation of travel bloggers who created larger digital footprints (see our graphic on the rise of social media influencers or social only influencers), with more fully-formed owned media (blogs and websites) for which their social media profiles were simply an extension,... today’s travel influencers tend to push the notion that having a spread of social media accounts upon which they build a natural, organic following is the base from which they can influence and propel engagement with your hotel or travel brand, once their followers see, experience and engage with your brand via their imagery, hotel review, or single-serving travel experience posts and micro blogs.

Do You Know your Influencers?

Are you familiar with types of travel influencers? Learn more about them and discover their strengths and weaknesses so you can decide which one is the right fit for your hotel, resort or travel group!



How Travel Influencer Fraud First Developed

Some of these next-gen travel influencers started out in the blogging world by either writing a legitimate blog or simply by shooting any number of engaging videos and publishing them over time as a video blog (VLOG) on YouTube. In the past few years, this has extended to Instagram, with clever, creative visual engagements now being the number way travel influencers tend to ‘sell’ their services - and with both Facebook and Twitter taking back seats to the Instagram account (and in some cases merely being a re-posting mechanism for existing posts).

The fast spread of social media only influencers has outpaced the slow but steady blogger influencer market (influencers that actually have a legitimate blog or website where they publish articles or long form content), particularly in the past five years. In either case, influencers wield their influence via the discovery of their owned media (blog, Instagram profile, Facebook page, YouTube channel), and then they try to monetize this by claiming that their social media followings can and will make travel purchases, based on their sponsored posts, tweets, videos, or cleverly spun narratives that are ‘baked into’ their media.

But the real surprise was in mid 2016 when, for the first time, the interest in travel blogging (or people searching for 'how to start a travel blog') was overtaken by people searching 'how to become an instagram influencer' and in only two short years, we now see that the online interest in travel blogging has hit an all time low, while young people are now bursting at the seams to become instagram, or SOCIAL MEDIA ONLY influencers. Have a look at this recent Google Trends comparison from February, 2019, as it paints a telling picture of where travel blogging is headed, as the time and content investment required for blogging is visually displaced over time by disposal photos being taken, filtered, tagged and posted quickly from mobile devices to Instagram, all over the world. (HAT TIP Google Trends,... awwww yeah.)

How Travel Influencer Fraud Developed | The Rise Of Instagram Influencers | TravelCrush

This is due in part to the fact that, while starting a blog itself is an appealing concept, the practice of keeping a blog alive over time, has become a much bigger challenge, especially with Google now demanding more and more relevancy and trust metrics from publishers, and more and more content being required in order to rank for certain keyword searches online, especially in travel seo or hotel seo marketing.

How Long It Takes To Travel Blog Versus Being A Travel Influencer | Travel Influencer Studies | TravelCrush

Of course, the explosion of this social media only travel influencers, coupled with travel brands that have become increasingly willing to work with influencers, partially out of desperation to fight Online Travel Agencies (OTAs) by marketing their brand experiences on their direct (website), has led to a huge increase in influencer marketing fraud, where influencer posts have become increasingly worthless, and the possibility of driving real people to cross the built in travel sales barriers and book a trip based on an experience they’ve seen on one of the social networks, has become slimmer and slimmer.


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Types of Travel Influencer Fraud

To put it simply, fraudulent travel influencers (a.k.a. - instascammers, repeatstagrammers, skinstagrammers, etc.) try to either subvert of find a shortcut to growing their followings organically. Many travel influencer scammers use fake accounts, leverage instagram bot platforms or services to attempt to inflate their engagement rate, and (in general) lie about the value that their accounts actually represent on their social platforms. Influencer fraud occurs when these faker influencers reach out to travel brand or hotel, usually with a call to urgent action that promises the delivery of great online earned media returns, traffic to their website, or increased brand awareness metrics, if the hotel, resort or travel brand agress to work with them. Some travel brands will comp room nights, stays, F&B credits, attractions tickets or vouchers, or even pay for these influencers to post about them during a stay or experience, but since the followers that these influencers engage with are either fake, bought, thin (irrelevant), then the net long term marketing effect for the hotel or travel brand is worthless, and ends up being a waste of money and time for the brand, with little or no new bookings to show for it, and no real way to measure if an alleged influencer campaign worked or not. Some type of travel influencer fraud can include:

  • Sourcing fake engagements through bot accounts or purchased engagements
  • Intellectual property theft, either through falsely representing someone else’s existing media or via mimickery that simply mirrors original, native creative works
  • Thin engagement strategies such as ‘skinstagram’ accounts or ‘repeatstagram’ accounts
  • Purchased followers in order to inflated the perceived influence of an account
  • Veiled review ‘shakedowns’ where an influencer intones that they will leave a good review, if the property wishes to ‘work with them’

Here at TravelCrush, we believe that knowing is half the battle (Obligatory - 'Go Joe!' reference), so in order for you to be 'in the know' of what exists in the world of influencer fraud enablement, mainly - bots, purchased likes, follows, comments, engagements and other services,... OR simply automation platforms which are enabling alleged travel influencers to build large 'thin' followings that probably won't deliver engagement on your earned media (or paid media) that delivers and actual roomnight ROI,... (deep breath) here's the ULTIMATE LIST OF INSTAGRAM BOTS, PURCHASING SERVICES, & AUTOMATION PLATFORMS so you can see what legitimate blogger influencers and SEO influencers are up against, and you can have a look at the breakdown of this cut-throat, highly-unethical market that is adding to the influencer fraud problem, every single day:

1 Jarvee.com Online $29.95 / monthly for up to 10 accounts on 8 social media platforms | Check Pricing Page For Changes High / Total Multi-Account Social Media Automation, Auto-Following/Liking/Posting/Commenting/Messaging
2 Blackhatlinks.com Online Diverse & Competitive | Check Pricing Page For Changes High / Diverse Signals
3 Socialsignifier.com Online $19.99 / monthly for ~ 250 mixed social signals on a single URL | Check Pricing Page For Changes High / Diverse Signals
4 Fuelgram.com Online $5.00 for ~ 500,000 likes | Pricing By Post Volume Behind Firewall High / User Engagement Groups / Likes
5 Followadder.com Desktop $49.99 / 6 months licensing | Check Pricing Page For Changes High / Instagram Automation (Likes/Follows/Unfollows/Comments)
6 Boostupsocial.com Online $225/month for ~ 600 PowerLikes per post | Check Pricing Page For Changes High / User Engagement Groups / Likes
7 Smm-heaven.net Online Wholesaler Varies By Panel And Product / Panel Reseller | Check Pricing Page For Changes High / Bulk Follows, Likes, Views
8 Instajool.com Online $99 / lifetime | Check Pricing Page For Changes High / Instagram Automation (Likes/Follows/Unfollows)
9 Gramcreator.com Desktop $99 / lifetime | Check Pricing Page For Changes Medium / Instagram Mass Account Creation / Phone & Email Verification
10 Igblade.pro Online $29 / month for 25 accounts | Check Pricing Page For Changes Medium / Instagram Account Automation Alerts
11 Followliker.com Desktop $97.99 + $5.99 / monthly for unlimited accounts | Check Pricing Page For Changes Medium / Instagram Account Automation
12 Smm.net Online Varies | Check Pricing Page For Changes Medium / Instagram (Likes/Follows/Comments/Video/Live)
13 Smm-labs.com Online Varies | Pricing Available After Signup Medium / Instagram (Likes/Follows/Comments/Video/Live)
14 Vurku.com Online (Scraper) $9.99 / monthly | Check Pricing Page For Changes Medium / Instagram Content Scraper, Image Hash Changer, Re-poster, Repeatstagrammer
15 Grammultitool.com (GMT) Desktop $10.00 / monthly | Check Pricing Page For Changes Medium / Total Instagram Account Automation
16 Xscrape.net Online (Scraper) $12.50 fpr ~ 10,000 credits | Check Pricing Page For Changes Medium / Instagram Account, Follower and User Email Scraper
17 Tupandas.com Online $200 / monthly for Full Account Management | Check Pricing Page For Changes Medium / VIP & Private Instagram Blackhat Services
18 Igramtool.com Desktop $77.00 / annual | Check Pricing Page For Changes Medium / Instagram Account Creation, Email Verification
19 Smmfollows.com Online Varies By Product or Post | Check Pricing Page For Changes Low / Instagram (Likes/Follows/Comments/Video/Live)
20 Instantsocials.com Online $2.00 - $5.00 for ~ 20-60 Social Signals | Check Pricing Page For Changes Low / Mixed Social Signals
21 Socinator.com Desktop $9.95 / monthly for up to 10 accounts | Check Pricing Page For Changes Low / Instagram Account Automation, Scraping, Extraction, Broadcast, Verification
22 Influencerchefs.com Online $24.99 / monthly for ~ 1000-7500 new followers per month | Check Pricing Page For Changes Low / Instagram Follower Engagement
23 Playsmm.com Online Varies | Pricing Available After Signup Low / Mixed Instagram Services
24 Dripfeedpanel.com Online Varies | Pricing Available After Signup Very Low / Mixed Instagram Services
25 Instantpanel.net Online From $0.20 for ~ 1000 Instagram Followers | Check Pricing Page For Changes Very Low / Mixed Instagram Services
26 Smmpanel.net Online Varies | Check Pricing Page For Changes Very Low / Mixed Instagram Services
27 Thepennypanel.com Online Varies | Check Pricing Page For Changes Very Low / Mixed Instagram Services
28 Socialpanel.org Online Varies | Pricing Available After Signup Very Low / Mixed Instagram Services
29 Centercb.org Online Varies | Pricing Available After Signup Very Low / Mixed Instagram Services
30 Instantsmo.com Online Varies | Check Pricing Page For Changes Very Low / Mixed Instagram Services
31 Socialpanel24.com Online Varies | Check Pricing Page For Changes Very Low / Mixed Instagram Services


Travel Influencers Fraud V.S. Typical Influencer Fraud

It’s been said that travel influencer fraud is worst type of influencer fraud, because the travel brand or hotel truly has no way of knowing whether the travel influencer really did a good job, or whether it was a scam from the beginning, due in part to the low engagement rate that even genuine influencers have with their followings when it comes to motivating people to travel. Normal fraudulent influencers do the same thing for other industries, but they aren’t able to necessarily hurt the brand with negative sentiment or reviews the way that a travel influencer might, by offering to review a hotel or resort (which live and die by their star ratings and reviews).

For this reason, mainly hotel brands have turned to PR companies to identify, screen and vet legitimate travel influencers and even micro influencers in an attempt to bring some measure of earned media strategy to this new ‘wild west’ of influencer engagement, now riddled with influencer fraud at every turn. This introduces new costs to the hotel or travel brand, since they are paying a PR company extra hours to accomplish these tasks, and adds a new dimension of loss to the fraud if and when it happens with a travel influencer, because now, not only has the hotel been scammed, it’s also paid out a lot of money in the form of Pr fees and management costs.

Typical Influencer Fraud VS Travel Influencer Fraud


Why Travel Influencer Fraud Hurts Hotels

It goes without saying that any kind of influencer fraud hurts the brand that is getting scammed, but there are problems that are specific to hotel and resort travel influencer fraud which go beyond the obvious. While typical influencer fraud does take advantage of already tight marketing budgets and over-promises while under-delivering on results, travel influencer fraud at a hotel also impacts the following:

  • Revenue Management | Revenue managers work tirelessly to adjust the rate strategy of a hotel and optimize the Average Daily Rate (ADR) to a level that is most profitable, based (sometimes) on very short windows of data and forecasted bookings. The prospect of giving away a room night or an entirely comped stay (while a sound marketing decision in some cases) can be a tough pill to swallow from a revenue management standpoint, especially if the influencer can only stay during a specified period of time. It’s situations like this where travel influencer screening services performed by an earned media expert who is familiar with the challenges hotels face, are invaluable.
  • Diluting Direct Channel Marketing | A hotel’s direct channel, or website is the most important digital sales channel, because it has the best chance for a hotel’s online brand to resonate with visitors that are marketed to, and subsequently arrive there (as opposed to the OTA channel where there is virtually NO BRAND and NO MARKETING, since ‘sort by price’ is simply not a marketing strategy - hat tip Seth Goden for this one).
  • As most hotels have an extremely tight direct channel marketing budget (made up of SEO/SEM, PPC/Retargeting, Email Marketing, and Paid Social Media tactics), the addition of another direct channel tactic such as travel influencer marketing is always difficult to make room for in the digital marketing budget pie, so-to-speak. This makes influencer fraud prevention a top priority for hotels or travel brands looking to get into this side of online marketing, to ensure that the influencers they do business with truly deliver value.

  • Social Media Analytics Pollution | Imagine if your social media coordinator at your hotel or resort all of a sudden saw a large influx of brand mentions or tags on the name of your hotel or resort. Putting aside the fact that most hotels outsource their social media operations, and that very few social media travel marketers know what they are doing today, if this scenario developed, how would you measure success? Would you ask your social media person to measure the average engagement on your brand accounts? Or would you simply measure it under the nebulous (but underwhelming) auspices of ‘brand awareness’, simply admitting that hopefully more people  ‘out there’ know about your brand, and maybe, magically, one of them will book your hotel now at some point? The point here is clear - neither you nor your social media person will really know how to translate these activities into measureable room nights for your hotel. It’s precisely for this reason that many hotels have shifted away from travel influencers already, in favor of social advocacy marketing as a new, and more effective version of travel influencer marketing for hotels. Check some of the new and innovating social advocacy campaigns our friends at flip.to are creating below.

  • Negative Sentiment | Believe it or not, there have actually been cases where alleged influencers have threatened to negatively review a hotel, unless the hotel provides them with some kind of discount or comp, based on their posted, earned media about the hotel. This is the worst, and most direct kind of fraud because not only is it extortion (and illegal in some cases), it also greatly damages a hotel’s brand with false negative reviews that are completely baseless in most situations. This, as well as all the other reasons listed above, are compelling reasons for a hotel to partner with an expert in online influencer earned media that understands the needs of hotels and can not only screen out fraudulent or weak travel influencers before ever engaging with them, but also provide a more comprehensive hotel SEO influencer strategy that doesn’t rely on brand awareness or other unmeasurable metrics to deliver traffic and revenue to the hotel’s website over time.


Fight Travel Influencer Fraud!

So how can a hotel, resort or travel brand prevent influencer fraud? The best way is to partner with someone who can take on the challenge of vetting potential travel influencers, working with established PR companies that the hotel uses to provide SEO value and source the right travel influencers, and bring a more SEO-centric influencer marketing strategy to bear on behalf of the hotel’s website, so that earned media is less about brand awareness, and more about increasing ranks, online discoverability by search engines and creating more traffic to that hotel’s website permanently, so that the direct channel can either convert it or have the chance to segment it into an audience for future retargeting. Regardless of whether you choose to partner with TravelCrush or feel like going it alone, here are some key strategic takeaways that you’ll want to make sure you’re following on the road to travel influencer marketing success!

  • FIND YOUR TRUE NORTH | Reduce reliance on influencer deliverables that don’t contribute to your TrueNorth Traffic strategy.

  • START SCREENING | Stop travel influencer fraud and shakedowns by having an influencer screening strategy.

  • TRANSPARENT TALK | Make influencer value propositions transparent, and communicate them professionally but firmly, including which influencers are most valuable to you and why.

  • MAKE IT MEASURABLE | Make goals measurable in terms of links, ranks, traffic, and mentions (in that order).

  • PREP YOUR PR TEAM | Understand you PR company’s approach to identifying, screening and engaging with potential travel influencers before committing roomnights to any marketing campaign trade out or comp.

  • OWNED EQUALS EARNED | Shift focus towards influencers who actually have a blog or main website as their platform, versus social media influencers who only have a spread of social media accounts (and request analytics for their website in order to vet their own market penetration).

  • FIND FEEDERS | Research your top feeder markets for SEO travel influencers who meet all of this criteria, and who blog and post regularly (more than three times per month) within that market.

If you take these keys to success to heart, you’ll find that you’re in a much better place when it comes to travel influencer marketing than your competitors, and the results will pay for themselves over time.