Are you ready to reap the rewards of your hard work and get sponsored travel experiences around the world? The most glamorous benefit of becoming a professional travel blogger has got to be that it will open doors for you wherever go.
What if I told you, you could convert your pageviews and Instagram followers into complimentary hotel stays?!
Before we get too excited, I have to tell you that nothing in this world comes for “free”! You will have to do a fair amount of work, but this is a very accessible way to monetise your blog by saving on accommodation when you travel.
With good content and an engaged social media following, you can quite easily offer your services in exchange for a complimentary stay at your favourite hotels. As a new blogger, this may sound daunting. But if you put the work in, you can start reaching out to hotels and they will reach out to you!
Today, I want to share with you a helpful guide on how you can secure your first complimentary hotel stay. Your travel blog and online presence are valuable tools and I want to teach you how to use them to the best of your ability.
How to Stay at Hotels for Free Using Your Travel Blog
- Step 1: Offer value first, before you ask for something in return
- Step 2: Create a list of hotels with relevant contact information
- Step 3: Contact the hotels
- Step 4: Follow up and contact more hotels
- Step 5: Overdeliver your part of the agreement
Step 1: Offer value first, before you ask for something in return
You should only ask for a complimentary stay if you can offer something of value in return. If you get minimal traffic on your blog, or you don’t have a decent social media following, then you might not be ready. From the point of view of the hotel, they are running a business and they are going to want to see a good return on their investment.
This should go without saying, you need to be able to approach hotels and media contacts with a professional request, from a custom domain email address! I am sorry to be so brutal, but if you can’t invest $10 in a custom domain name then why should anyone take a serious investment in you and your blog?
Before you start contacting hotels, gather your website traffic analytics and social media metrics. I would recommend having at least 5,000 monthly users and a DA score of 20+. But, you can get around this if you are killing it on social media.
However, I am going to contradict myself and remind you that it’s not always about numbers! It’s about how well you can tell a story and how engaged your readers are. It can also simply be down to the availability of the hotel at that given time, how well your brand fits theirs, and whether the marketing manager is feeling generous that day.
When you have over 10,000 followers on various social media platforms, notably Instagram, this will set you up for the best chances of success. You are more likely to come across as a professional blogger, rather than someone that’s looking for a handout.
In fact, with almost 20,000 followers on Instagram @thattravelblog, I have started to approach hotels with my social media following alone. Blog content is highly valuable and time-consuming. I reserve my blog for in-depth articles like this one, rather than niche reviews that aren’t likely to perform as well. You can still provide a hotel with great value based on what you can share on social media.
If you do want to offer a hotel a review on your blog and you don’t own a location-based travel blog where it would easily fit in, I would recommend offering to include the hotel within a guide to the local area. This will give you better chances of SEO success with a broader search query and higher value, shareable content. Doing so can actually work better for the both of you and come across as an authentic representation of your experience there.
If you haven’t met my recommended analytics before contacting hotels and you have your heart set on this avenue for you and your travel blog, you can always write reviews regardless. You can do this on either your blog, or your social media profiles. It is great practice and can be used as portfolio examples when contacting hotels in the future.
Step 2: Create a list of hotels with relevant contact information
Now it’s time to come up with a list of hotels in the destination you plan to visit. When you are looking for different properties, make sure that they match the style of your blog. For example, you shouldn’t contact luxury hotels if you’re a budget travel blogger. You will also find that the higher priced hotels will expect much more from you, so plan accordingly with what you can offer.
You can start with using websites like Booking.com or Agoda. These will give you a quick look at some of the best hotels in the city. It’s a good idea to keep everything organized in an Excel spreadsheet or on Google Docs. This way you can avoid messaging the same hotel twice or lose track of who you’ve contacted and when.
Here’s another useful tip that will give a pretty good indication of whether or not hotels are open to working with bloggers; hack Google to find recent hotel reviews in your target area.
Search for “[your destination] hotel opinions are my own”.
My favourite thing about this method is that you will be able to judge the hotel’s criteria based on the audience size and theme from the blogger they have already worked with.
Once you have found a hotel you like, you will also need to keep track of the relevant information. I recommend trying to find the contact details for the media or press team, PR or marketing manager. If not, then the general manager of the hotel is a good alternative. The more targeted your email, the better and try to address a person by name but you can always message reception if you’re not able to find the right contacts. I quite often tweet the hotel as well just to get myself noticed by the right people.
You don’t want to waste anyone’s time so avoid messaging too many hotels at once, just in case one of your preferred options gets back to you with a yes. If you don’t hear back after a few days, then you can continue to contact more down the line. For this reason, allow yourself at least 4 weeks in advance when contacting hotels.
For each city you’re visiting, come up with a list of at least 10 hotels. When your list is ready and you have the relevant contact information in place, you can move on to the next step.
Step 3: Contact the hotels
It’s time to contact your favourite hotels! Open your email browser along with the spreadsheet where you’ve accumulated all of the contact information.
An old trick, back to when I was working as a marketing apprentice in London, was to send your email in the evening on Sunday so that your email is at the top of their inbox Monday morning. I also find that people are more receptive to receiving emails earlier, compared to later on in the week.
Remember what I said about providing value first! Pitch your idea with that at the forefront of your proposal. What will they get from this collaboration you are offering?
Are you a professional photographer or videographer? Show them! Do you have 100,000 Instagram followers? Lead with that.
So, what should you say in the email?
Here’s a quick template that you can use for contacting hotels, for the best results, try to make it as unique as you can and throw some personality in there for good measure.
That’s all there is to it!
You’ll likely start to get responses from staff right away, either forwarding you to an appropriate person or asking you more about your proposal. Hotels that aren’t interested in working together can be quick to reply but don’t be surprised if some hotels don’t reply at all. The hotels interested in hosting you are going to have to make some decisions on what they’re able to provide and they are likely to ask you for more details on what you are willing to offer. This could take a few days or even weeks before you secure a deal with them.
It’s a good idea to start messaging hotels, a minimum of one month in advance before you plan to arrive. This should give you enough time to find somewhere to stay and it will avoid any issues with room availability.
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Step 4: Follow up and contact more hotels
A week after you’ve sent your first batch of emails, it’s time to follow up. Send a message to any of hotels that you haven’t heard back from yet. A short email letting them know that you contacted them the previous week is perfect, nothing pushy! Ask if they’ve had a chance to consider your proposal and leave it at that.
I recommend sending a single follow up email as hotel staff can be quite busy and they might not have time to reply to all of their emails. If they don’t get back to you after a few weeks, it’s likely that they are not interested in working you.
Some hotels are more likely than others to work with bloggers and influencers, so don’t take it personally if you don’t get a response. You will find that some hotels are too busy to work with bloggers and it’s important to respect their decision. Dry your eyes, then send out another batch of emails to increase your chances of a sponsored stay.
Step 5: Overdeliver your part of the agreement
When you get your first sponsored stay at a hotel, it’s important that you fulfil your part of the agreement. Make an effort to overdeliver with everything you have promised. This is a good tactic to follow whenever you are working with any hotels, travel companies, or anyone for that matter. You never know where the relationship might lead or how it could benefit you in the long run.
That being said, make sure you have ample room to overdeliver in your proposal (don’t overpromise anything). This will ensure that you will never underdeliver if things don’t go as planned.
After you’ve left the hotel, keep in touch with your contact at the property. Let them know when you’ll be providing them with anything else, like a follow-up review. You should of course be sharing social media content during your stay. For videos or blog content, it is expected to give a timeline on when you’ll be able to complete what’s been agreed.
As soon as you’ve completed your part of the arrangement, send an email over to your hotel contact with some results from your social media posts. Ask them to share your content on social media, or add a link from their website to your blog review. Remember, that the collaboration should benefit both you and the hotel.
Blogging is hard work. Like I said before, nothing in this world comes for free and you will be working long hours unpaid until something satisfying comes along. You should blog because you love it, not for the free stuff (it doesn’t actually exist).
Writing reviews and securing mutually beneficial partnerships is a sizable commitment, so bear that in mind when you are chasing sponsored travel. For me, I don’t seek out sponsored opportunities unless I know that the stay will cost upwards of $200. Sometimes, it’s just easier to pay yourself and enjoy the stay without the additional working hours!
But, without crushing too many of your dreams, it’s not as hard as you think to get your first sponsored hotel stay using your travel blog. This will also help you to grow your blog and learn what it takes to collaborate with brands around the world.
You can stay at some amazing places, meet interesting people, and enjoy unique experiences that wouldn’t have been possible if it wasn’t for your blog. Just make sure you have enough time when you’re there to deliver everything you’ve promised.
Now it’s over to you! Have you ever secured a sponsored stay in exchange for online exposure through your blog? How did that work out for you? I would love to hear your thoughts and ideas so don’t hesitate to drop a comment down below.
You can also join my Facebook Group for Travel Bloggers & Online Entrepreneurs to discuss topics like this in greater detail.