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Working with Press & Influencers for Hotels: Interview with Kellé Alberts, Witklipfontein Eco Lodge


If you have ever asked yourself how to get social media influencers to visit and share their experience of your property, you are not going to want to miss this blog 😊


Kellé Alberts, manager at South Africa’s glorious Witklipfontein EcoLodge, has inspired me to continue on my journey of providing resources and support through the pandemic. She has often hit that reply button just to say how much she loved a blog post, or to say thank you for a certain resource.


In an email exchange about how things are going earlier this year, I loved hearing Kellé say, “we have more interest in Witklipfontein than ever before due to partnerships with some selected influencers and awards that were won in the 2020/21 time period”.


Not only was this positivity amazing to hear after so many months of pandemic enforced challenges, but it also highlighted the way in which influencer endorsement and press presence can really help properties to stand out online.


Many owners I speak with express concern about not knowing where to start with influencers and press, so I asked Kellé if she would share her first-hand experience at Witklipfontein with us all. And she kindly agreed.


So, grab your favourite beverage and get ready to be inspired!




Could you tell us a little about yourself and your property?


The Huyberechts family acquired Witklipfontein Farm in 2013, driven by their dream for a farm in Africa and a desire of going back to nature and the essentials of life.


Since then they have worked tirelessly to create the most incredible contemporary villa that caters for up to 14 guests, a generous vegetable garden and staff accommodation that served as prototype for the Lodge.


With 215 hectares of diverse scenery, the farm is of breath-taking beauty and tranquility instilling a sense of peace and well-being. The experience of the property includes access to our permaculture vegetable garden, fresh farm eggs from our chickens, and interactions with friendly farm animals.



As one of the original farms of the Vredefort Dome (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), it is perfectly situated for hiking and exploring this region.


I have been in the hospitality industry since 2014, where I began working as field guide. In 2017 I was offered an assistant management position and since then I have worked in the Sabi Sands, Welgevonden, Zimbali, Thornybush and other premier destinations within South Africa as a Lodge Manager, Social Media Manager, Field Guide, and Hostess.


I am so grateful that I can work in an industry that allows me to enjoy and appreciate nature, but also that encourages me to grow as I work to stay ahead of the trends and ever changing algorithms.



Have you always had worked with traditional press publications? If so, how do you go about getting featured? I’d love to hear more about that.


The owner of Witklipfontein is the Director at one of the premier architectural firms in South Africa, and because of this we are fortunate to have access to a network that includes phenomenal architects, artists, photographers and more.


As a result, once Witklipfontein’s construction was completed (and throughout the building process) a concerted effort was made to make the public aware of the project in the nearby towns (Parys, Potchefstroom, Vanderbijlpark etc.) and larger centres (Johannesburg, Pretoria, Durban).


Witklipfontein is a masterclass in sustainability and contemporary earth building, so it is no wonder that it is a “hidden gem” just outside of Johannesburg.




House and Leisure, The Sunday Times, and many other local publications visited the property in the first few months of operation to showcase the lodge.


Publications (and the individuals that work for them) are tastemakers in the industry, and if you can showcase your property (and the unique, special aspects of them) you will create brilliant relationships that you can rely on in the future.


I think it is important to note here that most of the scouts that have found Witklipfontein (for publications, TV etc.) became aware of the property through a combination of social media and traditional press publications (that are now online and available digitally).


Personally, my experience is more centred to social media platforms as I have been managing pages and profiles since 2018. Over the last few years, I have seen immense changes in the way properties are marketed and a clear shift to social media advertising. Traditional publications are more often than not also available digitally, and a shift away from printed press can only be good for the environment.


Take a look at some examples of past press features about the lodge:




https://visi.co.za/witklipfontein-eco-lodge/

https://www.vervemagazine.co.nz/earth-to-earth-beautiful-home-xavier-huyberechts/

https://www.dwell.com/article/witklipfontein-eco-lodge-glh-architects-6e1f8d31

https://www.timeslive.co.za/sunday-times/lifestyle/fashion-and-beauty/2021-03-14-couch-couture-stay-in-but-dress-up-with-luxe-knitwear-and-playful-lingerie/

https://www.wantedonline.co.za/travel/south-africa/2020-07-14-simply-smashing-witklipfontein-eco-lodge-in-the-vredefort-dome-is-out-of-this-world/

https://theinsidersa.co.za/tiktok-sensation-witney-ramabulana-enjoys-a-getaway-at-witklipfontein-eco-lodge/




What are the costs involved in getting featured in the press?


Trade agreements with anyone (publication or influencer) involve providing accommodation in return for something. Each agreement will differ, but a standard one would be as follows:


The establishment will provide accommodation for a certain number of guests (must be stipulated and agreed to) to allow the publication an opportunity to experience the property as any other paying guests would. In return, the publication will offer any number of things such as advertising, articles, write-ups, vlogs etc.


In our case, we only allow trade agreements in the midweek as our operating income is derived from weekend stays. Every establishment will over time figure out what works and what doesn’t.


In simple terms, a trade agreement with a publication would “cost” 2 midweek nights at our property, which is not considered a loss as for the most part we do not have guests during that time.



What sort of ROI do you expect from a “standard” press publication?


When conducting agreements like this we don’t necessarily view it as a ROI, but rather an opportunity to become more well-known and for greater exposure among people who would potentially travel to our property.


Trade agreements of any kind can benefit you however you choose. If you aren’t working with someone that is featuring you in a press article, you can partner with a photographer to create beautiful photos for your social media/websites.


As our lodge is also an art gallery (the collection forms part of the Southern African Foundation for Contemporary Art), we also facilitate agreements with artists who wish to trade one of their pieces for a stay at the property. Not only does this allow an establishment to grow a collection of art, but it also helps artists monetize their talent which is a phenomenal benefit for all involved.



That is a really interesting take on how to measure success of press interactions, but if you had to look at some metrics, which ones would they be?


Trade agreements with press would involve different aspects:


  • New followers on social media (can be hard to gauge if the followers are organic or if they are because of the publication)

  • Bookings (we assign a specific code to each publication so that anyone who books because of that specific publication will receive 5% off their booking total). These codes allow us to determine the exact number of bookings from each feature.


To “cover” the “costs” involved we would need one weekend booking to be confirmed (our midweek stays are 20% cheaper than weekend, so we “profit” 20% off of the weekend booking).



Do influencers approach you, or do you actively seek connection with people who you think are a good fit with your company branding?


To be honest it is a combination of both aspects.


We are lucky to be approached by influencers, and that first correspondence can set the tone for the entire process.


We always ensure that we are working with professionals who value our business and brand as well as their own. They should not view it as an opportunity to “get a freebie” but rather as a mutually beneficial arrangement.


As we are active on our social media and try our best to ensure that people within a 200km radius know about us, and we have been able to become “THE” destination in the area. Because of this, most of our influencer/content creator collaborations are requests from their part.


On occasion we will come across someone that is an amazing fit for our brand, and we will reach out to them with a proposal. Always ask for more than what you want so that if they barter with you, you are still able to get a great deal.



Which platforms do most of your influencers come from?


Influencers should have a presence across the platforms that are most used in your region (it will differ for each business). In our case, we look for partners who are active on Facebook, Instagram, Youtube (for walk through videos, vlogs etc.), Tik tok and more.


Our most popular platform is Instagram, so we do favour creators that have a larger following on that platform.


An interesting result of the extended lockdowns in South Africa, as well as the travel bans imposed by other nations, is the massive drive by South African Tourism to encourage locals to travel and explore their beautiful country.


Jumping on board with your country’s relevant tourism board/associations (Sho’t Left, Local is Lekker etc.) you can use the “hype” that they have already generated.



If an influencer approaches you, what sort of process do you have in place to decide if you will work with them?


As you are partnering with a particular individual/group, it is best to ensure that they match the ethos of your property.


If you are passionate about sustainable, eco-friendly tourism you would in turn work with influencers that are of the same mindset.


As human beings, we are all imperfect, however, due to the age that we live in (cancel culture, controversies etc.) it is important to ensure that you do not partner with anyone that has any unsavoury moments from their past.


This can be incredibly detrimental to your brand, so I strongly urge anyone who begins these agreements do thorough research before agreeing to anything.


Check their Twitter, Instagram, Facebook etc. prior to any correspondence so that you can determine whether you wish to proceed with anything.



What does a standard “Influencer Package” look like? Do you include transfers in, activities, full board, accommodation for a partner travelling with them for example?


We offer our influencers the full experience that we do to guests. As you are showcasing your property, it is best to ensure that you are doing everything “to the book” and providing everything you would to full paying guests.


Additionally, if you have any activities available at your property (that you can give complimentary) please do so as it provides the influencer’s followers with the “full picture”.


  • Sundowner and game drive

  • Guided Walk

  • Treasure Hunt (if travelling with children)


We also showcase our “experience” which includes farm animals, permaculture vegetable gardening and much more.


Influencers are generally more expensive that your traditional publications, but the exposure that they generate is definitely visible sooner (followers, bookings etc.).


Transfers are not included, we are a self-drive property (however, I understand that some establishments will need to include transfers from airports or main centres).



What kind of visibility do you ask for in return for your standard influencer package? Frequency of posts during stay, minimum length of blog post post-stay for example?


The influencer will showcase a lifestyle/holiday/whatever it may be, and in return the establishment should receive a good amount of content and exposure.


Do not let them bargain you down (too much), know and understand the value of your accommodation, staff, time etc. and ensure that you receive “value for money” from the agreement.


I would ask for the following:


  • Stories on Instagram and Facebook (stipulate how many you want per day, but don’t be unreasonable, 2-3 per day is enough)

  • Youtube Vlog (tour of accommodation, facilities, what’s on offer, activities etc.)

  • Facebook Post

  • Instagram Posts (request a 9x9 grid- from there you can bargain down, but I would accept no less than 6)

  • Access to all photos, content etc. created whilst visiting (ask what cameras they shoot with- do not accept “iPhone Only” as you want high quality content in return for your investment).

  • Twitter (tweeting or sharing content about their trip)


Additionally, I will request that each time we post any of their content (we do tag and give credit), that they will reshare to their stories and profile for extra visibility.



This is great! I love that additional request to reshare when you tag and give credit :) Do you have a standard contract that you use when working with influencers that you expect them to sign and adhere to?


Our influencers will agree to the following:


  • All T&Cs that standard guests do

  • Breakages Policies to be adhered to

  • An agreement stipulating what the influencer will provide to the establishment

  • An agreement stipulation what the establishment will provide to the influencer


Your agreement can be a legal contract or an email, whichever you prefer, however I would ensure that you have everything (including all correspondence) agreed to and signed by all parties involved.


How do you measure the ROI from your “standard influencer package” stays?


Assign a specific code to each influencer (with a discount if you are able to) so that you can determine whether or not any bookings were made as a result of their stay with you.


Followers: generally speaking, each social media platform that you are on will have a follower increase (or decrease) each day. Determine your standard daily/weekly increases and calculate your growth accordingly.


The main reason to work with influencers is to gain more exposure, showcase a lifestyle experience that you are selling and hopefully result in confirmed bookings.


Take a look here at the examples of influencers who have visited Witklipfontein and the work they have published:




https://luckypony.co.za/witklipfontein-eco-lodge/

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BTrXzSgOrxQ

https://sleeplessinsoweto.co.za/tag/twiggy-moli-travels/

https://twitter.com/twiggymoli/status/1431524514828013570

https://www.instagram.com/p/CWAJoR6qW32/

https://www.instagram.com/p/CTADXBvtRTm/


And here is the work from influencers that visited having booked and paid in full. They did not have a prior trade agreement, but Kellé confirmed that after such great publicity, they will of course offer a discount or even a complimentary stay should they ever rebook:




https://www.instagram.com/p/CVU6lHBM6wN/

https://www.instagram.com/p/CLVtylQpxUl/

https://www.instagram.com/p/CH-2oYcJ69F/

https://www.instagram.com/p/Bpi_vT3BORs/



And finally, here is an example of a partnership and giveaway that Witklipfontein worked on recently with Country Road + Woolworths South Africa + Influencers:




https://www.instagram.com/p/BwtYJQ7hLqZ/



This is some amazing coverage! Before we finish, I am also interested to know more about the awards you mentioned in your email with me. Which awards has Witklipfontein won, and what is the background behind how you received them? Did you apply to take part in the awards yourself, or were you nominated?


As mentioned in above, Xavier is the director of GLH and was able to submit Witklipfontein for these awards, however some were awarded without any nominations on GLH/Xavier/Witklipfontein’s part.


Awards:



Nominated for ArchDaily award in late 2021 which helped us gain more international followers.


Take a look here to find out more about the awards and the wonderful architecture of the property:




https://www.sustainabledesign.co.za/award_submissions/witklipfontein-eco-lodge/

https://witklipfontein.co.za/architecture/

https://www.archdaily.com/935202/witklipfontein-eco-lodge-glh-architects




Wow! Great stuff, right?


I´d like to say a special thank you to Kellé for so freely sharing this detailed information with us all.


I would also like to invite you to scroll right to the bottom of the page and post in the comments your biggest takeaway from this interview.


And if you have any questions about this topic or want to add the detail of your own experience of hosting press and influencers at your property, head on down to the comments section and post them there.


Here are my closing thoughts on the interview:



>>> You don’t need to be as big a property as Witklipfontein to find influencers that fit with your ethos and who will appeal to the travelling style of your target audience.


>>> Be proactive in researching who your target audience is reacting to online.


>>> Be bold and reach out to influencers and press who fit your style.


>>> Be confident in what you can offer and what you want in return.


>>> Get your agreement down on paper to avoid confusion pre-, during, and post-stay.


>>> Be prepared to reshare the published content to maximise exposure and visibility.


>>> Harness the power of press and influencer content to further explore and stay relevant in the domestic market even post-pandemic.



Defining your target audience and your unique marketing messaging are both crucial elements to success in attracting the right type of press and influencers and getting them to notice you.


I have just opened the wait list for an upcoming workshop that goes deep on both, so click the link below to find out more and guarantee an invite for your spot:


Persuasive Marketing Workshop for Hotels, Lodges, B&Bs, and Hostels



I wish you a wonderfully productive day and thanks again to Kellé at Witklipfontein Eco Lodge !

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