Why trading content for a free hotel is 100% not worth it

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Instagram has made travel inspo’s that much more FOMO inducing, and gorgeous locations come with the need for a place to sleep. If you are an influencer and can offer a hotel valuable advertising in return for a free hotel stay, would you ever consider passing on the opportunity to stay in a luxurious location at little or no cost? Hotels also often throw in other amenities on top, such as free meals at the hotel restaurant, so as to entice you to offer a positive review.  In exchange influencers can offer photography, content, marketing, blog posts, positive reviews, videos, and any other creative ideas they can come up with.  Sounds like a dream com true, right?!

A hotel can offer you a free stay at any follower size, just as long as they feel they get value in other forms (content, photos, videos). I got my first stay at about 7,500 Instagram followers in a quaint hotel in Zurich’s city center. My husband and I were very very much looking forward to it and we had all the contracts set in place well ahead of the trip: 2 posts to Instagram per day, 1 blog post, 1 video if we had the chance. The location, and the hotel itself were absolutely perfect. Situated right in the heart of Zurich’s touristy area, our hotel overlooked neighboring red-roofed houses, and was no more than 5 minutes away from all of the finest restaurants, shops, and destinations in that area. A 2 minute walk uphill offered some of the most stunning views over the river, and the architecture that Zurich had to offer. The staff was friendly, accommodating, and gave us the chance to roam but also offered advice and tips if we asked for them.

In all, the experience was superb. But after that trip, my husband and I took a hiatus from pitching hotels. I’m actually writing this blog post from my flight to the West Coast where we had ample opportunities to pitch and stay for free. 

Though I consider myself a content creator, and I have ample skills in my photography, I feel that having a contact and an obligation to churn out content on your vacation, no matter what the upside is (free food, free hotel, free clothes), has the potential to put a damper on your vacation, especially if your travel partners are not in the Instagram / blog world. 

My husband is very supportive of me creating content, working with brands, helping others pursue social media goals. He is my favorite photographer, and the best travel partner I could dream of. But when we travel together, we like to turn off work for a while, and focus on reenergizing and refocusing. We still talk about entrepreneurship and launching projects, and work plenty on our trip, but we do so with coffee, in a cafe, where we can sit for hours and feel no repercussions for letting the time pass.  

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Let’s talk about content creation on a vacation where you have zero obligation to provide photos to anyone.  I find you can generally create content at your leisure with little impact to vacation time - take gorgeous photos if and when they happen, edit them at your own will, on your own time (like at night when we are watching Netflix and powering down), and interacting with followers whenever you have a chance. 

Now, let’s talk about content creation and bring a free hotel into the picture (pun not intended).  You are now financially and contractually obligated to be much more professionally present.  All of a sudden, you feel like there is a clock ticking. You must find the right locations (ones that go with your aesthetic and the hotel’s). You must source gorgeous material, have creative ideas ready for how you will pose and look, find time to edit your photos, pop the photo up on Instagram, and of course- interact with your followers. You must also stay organized and be sure that your work will fully satisfy the contract details requested by the hotel.  You must have a specific look in mind ahead of time, that will coincide with the brand of the hotel. You must also upload the content at agreed times. I had 2 posts per day to make, and therefore needed to space them out, so I had to be very proactive and thoughtful about when I shot my photos, and which ones I posted at which time. You also feel a sense of obligation to the hotel to make sure the content gets properly seen by your followers, so now you are also spending a lot more time actively engaging your followers as to offer more engagement on your post. And finally, you must go home at end of day, and prep for it all over again. 

I hope I’m not painting a grim picture. Working with the hotel was very easy, but it did take my husband and me out of that carefree vacation element. He mentioned that it kind of felt like work, and we were always “on to the next spot, searching for that perfect shot” as opposed to just enjoying our trip and snagging naturally beautiful photos along the way. 

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He was right, and it was an obstacle that we were not aware of before the trip began. We never really had an on-site contact like this, and so the time pressure, combined with the amount of content, kind of added up to feel like we were not in the vacation for ourselves, but to promote the hotel. (Which again, was amazing and exciting to promote.)

At the end of day, spending time with my guy is one of the best parts of the vacation. It’s not the free perks, or capturing great content, or feeling like we didn’t “miss out”. It’s our vacation, and I valued greatly that he told me how he felt. 

If you have similar struggles with vacation content capturing, there are some useful ways we found to meet in the middle:

  1. Have a window that you schedule for yourself where you will take the content. This will help with the constant feeling of “Oh my goodness did we really get enough photos maybe we should go to more spots oh my go—“. Set an hour or two in the morning, and take the rest of the day to enjoy each other’s company.

  2. Have specific looks, poses, and locations in mind. If you want to fit that 1-2 hour window where you scheduled to make content, you better be ready with location ideas, clothing choices, makeup, and poses. Your insta-boyfriend or insta-husband, or even your friends absolutely love you, but they will come to get annoyed when you try to make every location into a 30 minute photoshoot, feeling unprepared and ultimately having all the photos come out looking the same.

  3. Practice the photos, and send them to your phone for your photographer to recreate. We had to show how gorgeous and interesting the hotel was, and the owner gave us a list of places she really wanted to showcase- the dining area, the outside, rooms, hallways, entryway, etc. Tom and I took an hour in the evening to scope out the locations, practice the poses and the shots, and imagine what I would wear or what props I needed. Then, I sent the favorite photos to Tom’s phone, and next day when we were ready to shoot, all we were doing was executing on our pre-planned content ideas.

  4. If you’re staying with a hotel for a longer period of time, send some photos early on with a watermark.  Check-in with your social media contact to ensure you are meeting their targets.  Sending photos without a watermark might leave you open to further requests later on in your trip that are technically out of contract scope.  Sending photos early ensures you have a good professional experience and that you don’t have last minute requests later on in your trip. Check out Pixiset for free ways to upload photos with watermarks.

So, next time you are seeking out chances to travel for free with the help of your Instagram presence, I hope my experience helps you with your decision!  If you do snag that free hotel, use these tips to help make your time off a real vacation!