Businesses have been warned to carry out background checks on social media influencers to ensure they are licensed and not "chancers" looking for "something for nothing".
Hotels and restaurants are being bombarded with requests for free stays and meals in exchange for publicity, typically Instagram video posts and images.
experts have warned businesses to deal only with licensed and established influencers for coverage on their social media channels.
In some cases, hotels and restaurants are being asked to pay influencers as much as Dh50,000 for a single post on their social media channels.
The National spoke to a number of UAE-based hospitality experts who said that businesses should be wary about approaches from people claiming to be influencers.
The UAE brought in new laws earlier this year requiring influencers, who are paid for content, to have a trade licence and an e-media licence costing a total of Dh30,000.
Celina Aoun, 35, a marketing consultant for luxury hospitality in Dubai, said those who are just looking for something for free are easy to spot.
“They contact me and ask if we can cover their birthday parties, baby showers and also ask for tables of eight over a weekend,” she said.
“We didn’t get any return of investment when we did invite them. They would never return to the restaurants any other time.”
She said that experience has taught her to advise her clients to only invite local influencers from Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait and the UAE rather than international influencers.
One of the most common signs that an influencer is simply trying to get something for free is when they ask for money, according to Ms Aoun.
“When they ask for money they try to justify it by saying they will bring some of their influencer friends with them,” she said.
“It only ever happens when we approach them and invite them to a restaurant. It is a different story when they need you and they are almost begging for a table.”
She said that many companies in the UAE do end up paying fees to influencers.
“Small brands fall for it because they have no marketing experience,” she said.
“In some cases the influencers’ rate cards can vary from Dh10,000 to Dh50,000 per post. They try to justify it by saying they are creating content but I could go to an advertising agency and get a much better return on investment.
The Lebanese national said there is one particular area that is responsible for the attitude of many of the influencers.
“The fashion industry is fuelling their sense of entitlement,” she said.
“When I speak to my friends in the fashion industry they say they get very little of the return on investment they expected, or none at all in some cases.”
Nathalie Visele, director of Shamal Communications in Dubai, receives frequent requests from influencers to work with her clients.
“Anyone can have millions of followers on social media. There are a lot of chancers out there who call themselves influencers but are not,” she said.
“You have do your research and dig a little bit further. You have to look at who the followers are, the quality of their output and who is actually liking their comments as well as the overall standard of communication between them and their followers.”
She also questioned the integrity of reviews that have paid for.
“While quality influencers are invaluable to the food and beverage industry, paid reviews are completely unethical,” she said.
“You have people who want to come with their whole family for a full week in a five-star hotel in exchange for a couple of posts on their blogs.”
Ms Visele, from Belgium, urged businesses to think twice about paying influencers.
“You cannot rely on a review that has been paid for, not only is it completely unethical but it also defeats the purpose,” she said.
“Hotels and restaurants need to be discerning about which influencers they use because there are many people out there who are abusing their position.”
David Allan, general manager of the Radisson Blu Dubai Waterfront Hotel, said that paying cash to influencers was not something he would encourage.
The Scottish national also said that the less credible influencers tend to be the ones who contact the hotels directly asking for free stays and meals.
“We would normally approach influencers through reputable PR firms and there would be an agreement they would have to put up so many posts or share a certain amount of images,” he said.
“That way, if they do not honour their end of the bargain we can give the feedback to the PR firm.”
Caroline Rowe, director of marketing and communication at Dubai’s Media One hotel, is a fan of influencers and believes they provide a vital service.
“I receive about five to 10 requests a week from influencers to come to the hotel and we even have a form on our website for them to fill out and contact us through,” she said.
Ms Rowe, from England, said it was not difficult to spot the influencers who are not right for a property.
“It is easy for people to buy followers online but it is no good working with an influencer who has millions of bots as followers,” she said.
“To find the right ones you have to look at their engagement rate. It does not matter if they have millions of followers if nobody is liking or commenting on their posts.”
She said that some influencers can occasionally take advantage of the hotel’s hospitality.
“The ones who misbehave are never the influencers with the biggest reputations,” she said.
“But we have had people turn up with lots of their friends, which is not okay, and sometimes they act like divas and sometimes they can drink too much.
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“When that happens I just subtly mention to the team that we won’t be inviting them back. But they are only the minority of influencers.”
It is not uncommon for Media One to offer influencers four nights’ stay in the hotel in exchange for their comments and videos on social media but money never changes hands.
“We would never pay influencers to come here, we have to be very aware of the regulations but the better influencers who are respected in the industry would never ask for a fee anyway,” she said.
There is a negative misconception about the role that influencers play in modern society, according to Ms Rowe.
“Influencers have been around for a very long time. We just used to call them socialites or celebrities,” she said.
“It is human nature to look at other people and be influenced by them. It is not a new phenomenon and anybody who is simply trying to get something for free will be quickly found out.”