Are Lavish Influencer Trips Still Valuable for Brands?

Marketers look to sponsor experiences that impress creators—without irritating consumers

illustration of camera sitting in the middle of colorful hills
These trips facilitate a more intimate relationship between creators and brands, but they also carry risks.Kacy Burdette

When GoPro hosts complimentary product tutorials for creators, the brand tends to tack on a few additional perks. Instead of offering product education workshops over Zoom calls, GoPro spells out optimal camera settings for influencers between skydiving sessions in Switzerland, surfing lessons in Costa Rica and snowboarding excursions in Japan.

While 70% of the brand’s influencer marketing budget is dedicated to these lavish trips, GoPro does not require attendees to even mention them on social media. 

“We don’t require a set amount of deliverables and just ask that people come join us,” said GoPro senior director of influencer marketing Kelly Baker, who recently sent Victoria Vergara and other creators on a six-day surf trip. “Did they try something new and walk away feeling more confident using the camera? We give them something special that they can’t help but post about, and we’ve never been underwhelmed with the content.”

While these trips carry the obvious perk of facilitating more intimate relationships between creators and brands, they also expose brands to a wider consumer base than a standard ad campaign and can be an investment in high-performing content. However, influencer trips also come with a slew of risks: among them, guests might have an unenjoyable experience and their audiences might consider the content out of touch.

Marketing experts say that to mitigate these risks when planning a group getaway, brands must acknowledge the inclusion expectations of younger generations while considering how their audiences will react to lifestyle content that they can’t afford to emulate. 

Predicting cultural impact 

Earlier this year, makeup brand Tarte faced backlash for sending 29 influencers and their plus-ones on a three-day trip to Dubai. Social media users deemed the trip especially insensitive and superfluous amid economic pressures.

Tarte’s roster included mega influencers Alix Earle and the Mian Twins, who have garnered millions of followers through their fashion and beauty content. Jeffrey Tousey, founder and CEO of agency Beekman Social, remembers that consumers were largely unaware of the selection processes for these trips when they started gaining momentum in the 2010s. 

“Because nobody understood how brands were finding and booking these people, everyone was kind of just happy for them,” said Tousey, who claimed that consumers viewed the excursions as giveaways with randomly selected beneficiaries. “I question whether these trips are as relatable as they were five years ago when people said, ‘I can’t believe they won this contest and got to go on this trip.’”

Social media users are torn on the role of aspirational content in a landscape that is increasingly correlating frugality and trust—audiences are fatigued by established influencers receiving yet another all-inclusive vacation, but they also can’t seem to look away. While nearly 70% of respondents in a study from Gen Z-focused agency JUV Consulting have a favorable opinion of travel content, 72% said this doesn’t impact how they travel.

Gen Z and millennials prioritize travel more than any other generation, according to a Saks Luxury Pulse study, but even if they can only afford a 3-star hotel in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and not a plane ticket to Dubai, they still collectively feel that this content is worth their attention. While one study respondent said, “Sometimes, influencers can get a tad pretentious with their travel content,” another shared, “I love seeing content that is different from what I see outside on the day-to-day. Seasonal depression? Let me go stare at videos from Bora Bora.” 

“It doesn’t matter that the people who are buying the products aren’t going on these trips,” said LaToya Shambo, CEO of influencer marketing agency Black Girl Digital. “Brands are selling a dream and an experience.”

While digital fame is increasingly accessible, primarily choosing creators who post athletic and adventure content limits the pool of attendees to those who have the means to travel and purchase expensive gear. According to Shambo, the biggest issue with these trips is that they tend to overlook inclusion on all fronts. 

“The conversation is less about whether these trips make sense and more about how they lack diversity,” said Shambo, arguing that brands could benefit from working with multicultural agencies to diversify their marketing strategies. 

Defining brand intentions—and GoPro as a case study 

Rick Loughery, GoPro’s vice president of global marketing, stressed that the brand’s outreach has always revolved around creators. GoPro gained traction in 2010 with its “You In HD” TV commercials, which were compilations of user-generated content, and Loughery said executing content creation and product education trips is a natural extension of this strategy.

While GoPro does consider video impressions and engagement, Baker said the success of a trip is primarily evaluated by “soft metrics.” These objectives include strengthening relationships with creators and helping attendees improve the quality of their sponsored content.

For creators who are accustomed to working on their own and have yet to compare notes, these trips are rare opportunities for collaboration. 

“I can’t be pushing out quality content without these types of trips,” said Liv Stone, a disability advocate and surfer who has also worked with brands including Adobe and Lego. “Content creation can sometimes feel lonely, so bringing us together really fights against creative block.” 

Justifying the price tag 

Despite the risks, Tousey said that executing an influencer trip can still be an effective strategy for some brands. Instead of producing an exclusive photo shoot with one or two celebrities, marketers can hit a wider range of audiences by sending a group of smaller creators on an intimate experience for the same price.  

“If brands have the budget to create outlandish experiences, why not?” said Shambo. “They would spend that money on a wild commercial anyway, so what makes influencer trips so different?”

This story is part of Adweek’s Finding the Customer digital package, which spotlights marketers’ efforts to accurately measure and track evolving consumer behaviors and engagement.

JUV Media is a collection of JUV press features — from our staff to our campaigns.