How Best Western Built a Creator Program to Hire Travel Influencers

  • Best Western is looking to build long-term business relationships with travel influencers.
  • Its creator program currently has over 200 active clients.
  • Marissa Daniela, one of two employees running it, explains how she trials influencers and finds the right fit.

Travel influencers have become a key way that some hotels can market themselves globally in a cost efficient way.

And some chains like Best Western have even begun to build out official creator programs to help foster these relationships.

Marissa Daniela is a brand manager at Best Western who was one of two employees hired in 2021 specifically to help formalize the process around how the company works with influencers. Daniela told Insider that hotels like Best Western are no longer interested in taking deals with anyone with clout, 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’ll give you free hotels for content,” Daniela said. “Now, it’s more thoughtful: What influencers do we want, who can be highlighting the 18 Best Western brands. We need influencers who can storytell.”

Daniela said she looks at Marriott and InterContinental Hotels Group as her company’s biggest competitors in the influencer space. But while many chains do some deals with influencers through their marketing teams, or through third-party agencies, the drive to build a dedicated in-house


team — as Best Western is doing — is a relatively recent phenomenon.

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

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

Daniela outlined for Insider how the Best Western creator program works, and how the team selects who it wants to work with.

screenshot of Instagram from @part.time.tourists

@part.time.tourists / Instagram

How Best Western finds and hires travel influencers

While the company still gets a high volume of pitches from travel influencers, about half the time Daniela uses a third-party customer relationship management system to help research and reach out to various personalities.

Specifically, Best Western is looking for travel creators who are family oriented, 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 a following, that’s not the issue,” Daniela said. “A lot of what I look for is how they align their audience. They have to know why their audience follows them. This is how you craft your story to align with Best Western.”

As an example, she pointed to Instagrammer @part.time.tourists, who has over 30,000 followers. 

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

Daniela will at times help an influencer craft the copy for an Instagram or other social-media post, but she is really looking to work with someone who has that narrative ready on day one.

On the more technical front, Daniela added that knowing how to cut video or make a Reel is a bonus, as Instagram’s algorithm seems to be heavily favoring the short-form videos. She also makes sure that an influencer’s following can appeal to both men and women.

The initial trial period, and cultivating repeating brand deals

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

“The first trip I put them on it’s kind of a test for me to see if they follow instructions, because a lot of people don’t do that well,” she said. “It’s all about the second trip. There’s a lower chance they’ll do 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 ask for additional compensation. She said about 30% of the time she’ll negotiate and work with the talent to structure a unique payment plan.

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

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

Expanding the program and what’s ahead

Best Western’s creator program was founded in 2018, but Daniela said it’s seen a major overhaul in the last year. 

“2020 and 2021 was a challenge for us,” she said. “In 2021, we revamped how we look at influencers, and we revamped our storytelling. I was brought on to be the social strategist.”

In 2020, influencer tourism hit its lowest recent point with global shutdowns putting an abrupt halt to airline travel, lodging, and posting content. In early 2020, the volume of travel and tourism sponsored content had dropped by 66%, according to research from the influencer-marketing firm Izea. But travel content rebounded in 2021 and into 2022, though some travel influencers have recently had to contend with rising airfare costs and Instagram changing its algorithm to prioritize video formats.

As travel comes back, Daniela and her colleague are looking to grow their program and budget in 2022 to be able to work with more influencers, as well as those with larger followings.

“We do have a great budget but we can’t give everyone prices that we want,” she said. “We’re trying to expand that.”