Choice Hotels Next Top Instagrammer

As the wife of a retired race driver (Russell Ingall), I’ve led a really busy life, travelling and meeting the demands of a professional athlete’s schedule and children as well. So when my husband retired from full time driving a couple of years ago, suddenly I had all this time on my hands. It was the perfect excuse for me to rekindle my love of photography and continue travelling, trying to break into the extremely popular and very tough, Destination Marketing industry.

With over 400 million users per month on Instagram, it’s the platform to be on for anyone with an interest in photography or tourism marketing.

I soon realised however, that just being a good photographer wasn’t enough. My dedication and hard work often feels like I am just bashing my head against a brick wall. I’m not one of these young, carefree wanderlust travelers who lives out of a suitcase, travelling the world with no responsibility or mortgage to think of. I have a full time life already, so dropping everything and working for next to nothing just wasn’t going to work for me. I need something more substantial.

Then came Choice Hotels Asia Pacific – one of the largest hotel chains in the region boasting 270 hotels in Asia Pacific. Earlier this year, they announced an Australia wide competition to find “Australia’s Next Top Instagrammer” in conjunction with the First Professional Instagrammer and world renowned social media guru, Lauren Bath. Lauren has a social media following across the board of over three quarters of a million.  Wow, it was as if this was custom designed just for me.

First part of the competition was to simply say in 25 words or less why you should win. I figured with nothing to lose I may as well just be totally honest (very hard in just 25 words let me tell you). This is what I said:

I have good content, engagement, personality, I work damn hard. Always learning but struggling to get noticed/ahead on Instagram. This is a great opportunity”

Low and behold, I received a phone call saying I was one of 20 finalists and was off to Mackay for the next part of the competition. To be truthful, when I saw the other finalists, I figured I didn’t really have any chance of winning. There were Instagrammers with up to 80,000 followers and me, I had a measly 15K. This was serious competition. But I was being given a chance to simulate a “photography travel gig” with instruction from Lauren by way of a 2 hour webinar so at worst, this was a great opportunity to see how things are done by the professionals.

In July 2016, I headed to Mackay for a weekend with Choice Hotels and was escorted around the region by Mackay Tourism. This experience ended up being a pleasant surprise. I thought a lot about my brief and the fact that I was there to promote Choice Hotels, and I worked my butt off for the weekend. I researched the hell out of the region, had a plan in my head what I wanted to achieve and worked from 4 am until 11pm while there, capturing everything I possibly could. And I LOVED every minute of it. The lack of sleep didn’t bother me one bit (I’m a mum after all – sleep is over rated). I was in heaven. Being paid to take photos, shown around and finding the very best of a location is like my dream job. No matter what happened in the competition, I learnt a lot on this weekend and it confirmed that this was what I wanted to do.

After the weekend, I compiled a report and sent it through to Choice Hotels. I thanked everyone involved with individual emails, I posted my best photos, I made a short video of the trip for social media. I felt like I did absolutely everything I could, but still thought looking at some of the other finalists, I was out of my league.

The T&C’s on the competition advised a final judging reveal date, a Thursday and this day came and went. So even my tiniest glimmer of a hope of winning was gone. The weekend came and went, and I moved on. Then on the Tuesday after the end of the comp. I receive a phone call from Choice saying I had won. I had been judged “Australia’s next top Instagrammer” and was off on another weekend away with Lauren for one on one advice and tuition. I think after the shock, I may have even cried a little. How awesome was this. I couldn’t believe after everything, I had won. What an absolute honor and thrill.

Fast forward 4 months (trying to find a spare weekend between myself and Lauren was somewhat challenging) and we headed off to Hervey Bay for a weekend. To say that Lauren was amazing would be a total understatement. I was actually a little nervous about going because I had four months to prepare so I had a little notebook with a billion questions to smash her with as well as a draft media kit and lots of travel photography lessons I wanted. To her credit, Lauren was beyond generous helping me, patient answering my questions and we even had time to talk some girlie rubbish and get to know each other over wine and hot chips (truly!).

I feel like I still have a long long way to go, and I know numbers which are ever important on social media still need some work, but I also have more confidence and two trips with amazing memories to keep me busy for the next year at least. Cannot thank Choice Hotels or Lauren enough for the opportunity and the belief in me. I promise not to let them down.

On to more adventures and more travel!