Austrian Marion Payr talked to editor-in-chief Margaret Childs on the evolving world of social media, trends in travel and why Vienna is the best city to come home to.

Marion Payr has one of the most followed Instagram accounts in Austria and belongs to the tiny group of “influencers” (social media personalities with wide reach) who have managed to make blogging and social media promotion a full time job. At nearly 300,000 fans, she’s a hot outlet for marketing and PR agencies. But entering this brand new industry didn’t happen overnight.

After studying journalism and media management, Payr got a job with the then brand-new Österreich Verlag. (“You don’t have to mention that,” she said with a laugh), filling various positions, before switching to the Pay-TV provider Sky – always in marketing, strategy, budget and digital.

It was 2011 and Instagram was just becoming popular, with two million users, compared with the 700 million today. “We were the first in Austria to have the app, and I was totally addicted,” she remembers. By “we” she means herself and her husband Raffael Payr, a.k.a. The Lionheaded, a fellow early adopter of the app. “At first I was only interested in the filters and photo editing, the creativity behind it.” She was very active, posting images every day from her desk at Sky.

“It was a cup of coffee, a front door, a new piece of graffiti … you can imagine “ She also began to discover Vienna in a new way. If you scroll down to the very bottom of her Instagram feed, you’ll find the early days, with random Vienna photos and sepia-toned filters. “Some of them are pretty terrible,” she grimaces.

She and her husband joined the newly-formed IG-ers Vienna group, going on photo walks together. This was the “happy place” of the Instagram evolution. “It still is that,” she says, “but it also has its dark sides.” Back then Instagram was looking for influencers to spread the brand and become advocates for the app. Along with Ana Barros and her boyfriend Gui da Rosa, Payr was selected by Instagram as a “suggested user.”

“Every time someone downloaded the app, it would say ‘Welcome, glad you’re here! Would you like to follow Lady Venom?’” Overnight she had 3,000 new followers. They kept her on the suggested user list for two years giving her the kickstart for her vast followership today. “Even with 150,000 or even 200,000 followers, it was still a hobby form.”

But then she learned that Americans were making money from their Instagram accounts. “There were influencer agencies, something that didn’t exist here yet.” Then came a call from a British agency that wanted to book her for a campaign for Smart, the car. So in 2012 she jumped in at the deep end and has never looked back. She’s honed her camera skills, learning as she went along. She’s even given workshops on mobile photography and editing on smartphones. Today’s travel bloggers all use high-quality hardware, so there is a lot to learn. Payr’s own camera is worth around €5,000.

Traveling for a living, she’s learned what socially sustainable travel means. “Sustainability has a lot of facets, and ecologically, most blogger-style travel is not sustainable because of the air travel,” she says. Still, they seek out the hidden shops, the family-run restaurants, the bed and breakfasts that only insiders know about. Their target followership is interested in connecting to people and having a real cultural exchange. “It means not putting more money into big corporations, but investing in local companies and projects.”

Bloggers are currently shaping travel trends and Payr is proud to be part of a community that celebrates the less visited corners of the world. And to understand anew what she values at home. “Every trip opens new perspectives,” she says. “Vienna is a city to come home to and I feel that more after every journey: how safe it is, the high quality of life, how comfortable.”

 

Destinations Marion Payr recommends for 2017

Buenos Aires, Argentina

Payr has family there, which took her there in 2002, but she wants to go again now. “It’s up-and- down in Argentina, crises and political unrest,” she says. If you have the time, she recommends taking a tango course and visiting La Recoleta, the famous cemetery. “A classic Asado barbecue is a must,” she says, even though she’s a vegetarian. So be warned: “Besides meat, there’s not much to eat there.”

Iran

Before Trump’s travel ban Iran was on the top of Payr’s list, but now she’s more hesitant. “If your passport says you were in Iran, you can’t enter the United States.” She’s not sure whether Iranian authorities have found a workaround for tourists and visitors, but in any case she’d love to see the countryside and Isfahan.

Havana, Cuba

Cuba is a one-of-a-kind destination that merits a place on anyone’s travel bucket list – and perhaps particularly for Americans, as the window may close again. “The great thing there is street life. In the old town, la Vieja, people are out on the sidewalks living, talking. They may not have many things, but they have an incredible amount of time, and that’s worth so much.”

Madeira, Portugal

There are trends on Instagram, Payr explains. “Last year it was the Azores, five years ago it was Iceland.” Madeira is a good contender, because the landscapes are so beautiful, she says. Also, Hannes Becker, one of Germany’s most famous travel bloggers went to Madeira. “That made me so mad, because everywhere Hannes Becker goes, another 400 billion people go.”

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Margaret Childs is the CEO and Publisher of Metropole. Originally from New York, Vienna has been her home town since high school. She is a board member of AustrianStartups and actively supports entrepreneurs in their internationalization efforts. She is known for loving Vienna passionately, talking too fast and inhaling coffee like there's no tomorrow. She tweets @mtmchildsPhoto: Michèle Pauty