“Influencer” was the only indication of the email’s subject. Stelios wearily clicked it open. “Hello! My name is Alessia. I am from Italy and will be on Santorini in a few days. My Instagram account, @alessia_xxx, is very popular, the more than 120,000 followers and I would really like us to work together! We are offering high-quality posts and stories from all areas of your hotel, in exchange for two nights’ stay. Thank you very much and I hope to see you on your beautiful island!”
Stelios didn’t even bother answering. As social media manager of a boutique hotel on the Greek holiday island, he has learned to spot a serious proposal from a serious influencer – someone with a large following on social media, often running into the hundreds of thousands or even millions – at a glance. And if Alessia had been serious, she would have known that you can’t expect to find a room on Santorini at such short notice.
“That’s not the only reason I dismissed the proposal, to be honest,” Stelios told Kathimerini, asking that his full name not be disclosed, as most Greek businesses don’t like to advertise that they work with influencers.
“Just a few days ago, we had a Russian influencer staying with us who has 610,000 followers. The deal had been made months in advance. She stayed for two days and posted some amazing photos as she’d brought along a professional photographer. We have the privilege of being extremely selective with our collaborations. At popular destinations like Santorini or Myconos, we don’t need to reach out to the influencers; they find us.”
The hotel Stelios works for gets two or three such requests a week.
Santorini is a hugely popular destination, with the number of overnight stays rising 66 percent in the past five years. Travel agents believe that social media have had a lot to do with this explosion in interest, and especially the photo- and video-sharing platform Instagram.
In an age where not posting photos of your holidays is considered by many as tantamount to not having been on holidays at all, Santorini’s indisputable photo-ops – from its sugar-cube houses and blue church domes to its stunning caldera, the picturesque village of Oia, its dramatic volcanic landscapes and celebrated sunset – have seen it scale the ranks of the world’s most popular destinations with dramatic rapidity.
It is also regarded as Greece’s number one most “Instagrammable” island – ahead of Myconos, Corfu, Crete, Cephalonia and Milos – by international tourism media.
All about looks
Businesses on the island adapted fast to the demands of social media. “A hotel or restaurant without a social media presence is simply inconceivable today,” Manolis Sigalas, the owner of Santorini’s Mylos restaurant, tells Kathimerini. “Because of the ever-increasing importance of these platforms, we now have a specialized company managing our profiles and a chunk of our annual advertising budget goes to targeted ads on Facebook and Instagram.”
Sigalas says the benefits of this strategy are more than evident, adding that Instagram serves as the “face” of any business, and a growing number of travelers (mainly foreigners) now book tables via that medium, often months in advance.
“The phone hardly ever rings anymore; bookings are made almost exclusively through the internet, while many patrons contact us directly via our social media pages,” he says, adding that there’s no arguing that the trend is here to stay.
“The first thing almost everyone who comes here does when the food comes to the table is to take a photograph of it and post it; sometimes at risk of a cold dinner,” says Sigalas. “It is a bit worrying, though, to see a group of friends playing with their phones or a couple who are silent because they’re looking at Instagram.”
Sigalas’ restaurant has a great view of the sunset, “but no one actually looks at it live; they’re all seeing it through their phones,” he says.
Just as on Santorini, businesses on Myconos are also increasingly investing in their social media presence.
“The trend has benefited us quite substantially,” says Giorgos Polydefkidis, owner of the restaurant Solymar. “Every new season brings lots of emails from bloggers and influencers who want to visit the island and enjoy free services from a number of businesses in exchange for posts. This is something that doesn’t really affect us personally, because my restaurant has been around for 15 years and is famous without needing every blogger who claims to be the best in the world.”
Nevertheless, a brief perusal of the #santorini and #mykonos hashtags on Instagram provides ample evidence of visitors on both islands enjoying an entire holiday for free, simply by posting a few good photographs with a tag of the businesses depicted. Roughly nine in 10 are good-looking women traveling with another female friend (usually also an influencer) whose job it is to take attractive photographs of the locations and the user.
As Stelios on Santorini says, influencers often even turn up with tripods and lights. “The better their photographs, the better their feed and the more their followers. Their attraction depends on the number of followers and the quality of their work.”
It is common for an influencer to visit an island for around nine days, staying at two or three hotels and eating at a different restaurant every day. “We ask them to take photographs in all of the hotel’s areas. They will post a story or two when they visit the spa, for example, or the restaurant. Everything is give and take,” says Stelios, who is already preparing for next season’s arrivals.
“We have some Australian influencers coming in the fall, which is a great way for us to increase our appeal to that market,” he adds.
Like the Instagram users who play with filters and shades to perfect their photographs, businesses also create the “perfect” setting for social media platforms.
“Sure, Instagram plays a role in how we decorate a space,” says interior designer Yiannis Panagopoulos, whose clients include several big hotels on Myconos and at other destinations. “It affects how you set up the decor of a hotel or a space, making it more photogenic and ‘Instagrammable’ so that it plays well on social media.”
It is impossible for any business to ignore what he calls a “parallel universe” anymore. “The Instagram trend is so intense that people come to Santorini or Myconos on the morning flight, spend a few hours taking photographs and posting them, and then leave on the night flight, just so they can say, ‘I was there.’”