What tourism content creators tell us about the future of work

12 March 2024

In just two years, between 2020 and 2022, 165 million creators newly joined the global Creator Economy. By 2027, it is expected that creators will be generating $480 billion in revenue. This burgeoning digital ecosystem is opening up new pathways of work.

However, in content-creation based work the boundaries between lifestyle and business, identity and brand, hobby and work are often blurred. Individual travel entrepreneurs participate with, but not always in, the travel industry – a phenomenon we term ‘orbital working’ – and this makes it difficult to regulate as a form of employment. This has been noted in the UK where an inquiry into Influencer Culture by the UK Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee raised concerns over influencing, advertisement disclosure and pay disparities.

Our research at the Digital Futures at Work Research Centre is exploring how the rise of this form of economic activity is extending the meaning of work in the digital era. Through a study of travel content creators, we set out to better understand how they carry out their work, and how they move around and between established industries and boundaries.

Influencer marketeers or content creators?

Travel content creators produce travel-related content online, such as blogs, long or short-form videos and podcasts. The proliferation of online content creation and sharing has opened the door to new forms of work, as creators are increasingly seeking to monetise their content as digital entrepreneurs.

We have looked at three important aspects of travel content-creation work: how these workers are perceived by themselves and others; the nature of their work; and the future of this type of work. Attendance at one of the largest travel and trade shows in the world, combined with interviews with 19 content creators and five tourism representatives, helped shed light on the complex nature of this line of work.

We found that travel industry representatives, often associated with a marketing branch of an established travel organisation, viewed creators as influencer marketeers. This is also the language adopted by other institutional bodies, such as the UK government.

However, the creators themselves preferred to be identified as ‘content creators’, with some acknowledging the blurry overlap between influencing and creation, and others outright rejecting the label of marketeers. For example, creators viewed influencing (such as promoting a luggage company on the creator’s platform) as just one part of the job description of being a content creator. Creators cited other creation-based tasks that were equally valued, such as producing assets (e.g., photography, videography or blog posts) which would be sold to a company and not associated with their own business.

Networked Creatives ‘orbit’ the traditional tourist industry

Often starting-out to share a passion for travel and communicating experiences online, we found that creators – as digital entrepreneurs – manage their work as ‘networked creatives’. A networked creative creates a business around themselves and their interests, while building up communities of followers. Therefore, what begins as a hobby evolves into a business with revenue being obtained through arrangements such as advertisement, sponsorship, paid partnership and collaboration with brands, destinations, and businesses.

The types of networks and offerings vary from creator to creator. As self-employed digital entrepreneurs, these creators may sell more than a product or destination. They both acquire and sell their knowledge of destinations, a particular way of travelling (e.g., on a budget, as a single woman or travelling sustainably) or even create and sell itineraries for travel destinations or package tours. They are networked not only in the literal sense of being connected online to fellow internet users, but also networked in terms of the different jobs they perform in their capacity as a creator.

A lot of the work undertaken by these networked creatives was best described as ‘orbital’ in the sense that creators move between real and virtual spaces as they seek to build up their businesses in a way that orbits the industry.

At times, they move closer to the industry. Some tasks, such as creating itineraries or organising group tours to promote bespoke tours, suggests a more direct contribution to the tourism industry. At other times, creators described their participation as working ‘with’ the industry, rather than ‘in’ the industry, for example by working with clients to promote a product.

This orbital relationship tended to manifest when a creator was looking to work with a particular destination or brand. We also found that these creators prioritised themselves, their interests, their community and their business values over straightforward profit-making when seeking out contracts.

This led to the more well-established creators rejecting contracts with organisations/brands that did not align with their goals – in this sense, they would move away from the industry (or organisations) that did not align with their own values. As one creator explained in being invited to work with a tourism board she already produced content for:

‘You kind of have to ask yourself – what’s the value that is gonna come to me? Is it actually worth it? Like, I already have this content. I already had this engagement on my content. I’d be taking two weeks out of my time and where I can’t do anything else. I can get any other income because I’m doing work for this.’

Another noted that her audience knows when she is uninterested in a project, leading her to only take work that she has a genuine interest in:

‘So I will only ever do content and post content that I am passionate about and then, therefore, I will only work with destinations that I am 100% passionate about.’

Orbital work enables this kind of flexibility, which creators saw as one of the advantages of this work. Spanning both industry and non-industry dimensions, depending on what type of content the creator produces, places travel content creators both alongside, and within, the tourism industry.

What does orbital working mean for the future of content creation-based work?

As we continue to carry out research, we need to consider what the growth of content creation and orbital work might mean for the future. This is made evident in research which shows the appeal of content-based work for Gen Z (those born between 1996 and 2010), with one survey finding that online creator (e.g. YouTuber) was listed as the preferred choice for future careers for UK children. Indeed, all interviewees were of this generation, suggesting an age-related shift in what it means to work.

While the UK could be headed towards a more formalised work structure for creators, with regard to disclosures and the establishment of The Creator Union (a trade union designed for influencers and digital creators), challenges will most likely remain. Many travel content creators are physically, as well as digitally, mobile, so their work is difficult to capture within the framework of national conventions.

Policymakers need to consider the longer-term implications of a growing form of work that falls outside of existing labour laws and social safety nets.

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