How to Be an Ethical Travel Influencer
by Insha Khan
Scrolling through Instagram, one brightly filtered picture after another, it’s common to come across someone traveling to a fun destination on a #sponsored trip. Influencers often take up travel industry companies on the exciting offer to jet off to another country for the price of posting strategic social media content. However, there may be a greater price attached: ethical responsibility.
In 2019, many influencers were criticized for partnering with @visitsaudi, the official website for Saudi Arabia’s tourism office, and @MDLbeast, a major Riyadh music festival. Just a year earlier, Saudi Arabia had been in the news for the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The country is also notorious for its oppression of women’s rights and LGTBQ rights. These strategic Instagram sponsorships would help rebuild the image of Saudi Arabia as a destination for tourism and entertainment while covering up its human rights violations and social inequities.
In spite of the country’s track record, many influencers and celebrities such as Armie Hammer, Halima Aden, Sofia Richie, Alessandra Ambrosio, and others attended the MDL Beast music festival and posted sponsored content from there. Actress and model Emily Ratajkowski declined the invitation, stating, “It’s very important to me to make clear my support for the rights of women, the LGBTQ community, freedom of expression and the right to a free press.”
So how can you be a more ethical influencer and avoid this controversy? Here are some tips:
1. Do a quick Google search before you sign that contract.
Often times, one search is all it takes to find out what the headlines are saying about this place or company. If you haven’t been to the country before, it would be worth it to find out if they’re known for kidnapping foreigners or even just overcharging tourists.
2. Consider your values as an influencer brand.
As part of your overall branding, you need to decide what your values and tenets are. Do you post frequently about women’s rights? Would supporting tourism to this country contradict your core values or the image you have built for yourself? It might be in your own best interest to say no to the paycheck this time.
3. Look at the psychographics of your audience.
In order to build content for your target audience, you need to know how they make their decisions. Why do they follow you and would this trip cause them to unfollow? If this trip is supposed to grow your business as an influencer, you should be sure that it’s not costing you a large chunk of your audience.
These tips should help you steer clear of ethical dilemmas in sponsored travel and allow your content to build your brand, not break it down.
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