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Now Is the Time for Travel Brands to Test TikTok

Opinion

Now Is the Time for Travel Brands to Test TikTok

Digital Advertising Specialist Chris Gregory-Pasha wonders, will travel brands be slow to adopt TikTok, or have they learned their lesson?

With borders shut, planes grounded and hotels closed, travel marketeers are facing challenging times. While many hotels and airlines are trying to fill the void with bland, interchangeable videos reminding people that they will travel again (sorry, not sorry) or, more productively, pushing a CSR-driven message during the Covid-19 enforced travel restrictions, perhaps this might be a good time, instead, to revaluate their current strategy and look ahead to what they could be doing when the travel industry recovers.

Travel marketing has become somewhat homogenized over the past few years, which is strange to me, given how much more adventurous people seem to be with their travel choices. Hotels, specifically, have been playing it safe for years with regards to their messaging, especially when it comes to social.

Have you ever taken the time to look really closely at hotel advertisements, especially 5* resorts and brands? Just take a moment to think about one specific hotel advert you’ve seen on Instagram… Keep going… Got one? Nope? Exactly! This is my point. Ultimately, hotel brand creatives tend to focus on one of two things: product, as in the hotel itself, or destination. These are both generic by design because most hotels want to put their best foot forwards. However, they forget that the average consumers won’t be able to tell the difference between two hotels’ pools on the same stretch of beach unless they look very closely. Take Dubai for example. Let’s be honest. If I showed you pictures of ten different swimming pools, could you tell me which hotel group they belong to?

I’m not exactly sure when this apparent lack of creativity took hold or why travel brands feel they don’t need to try and innovate any longer. Instead, they approach social media marketing as a box-ticking exercise with more emphasis being put literally on just having a social media presence rather than curating and creating meaningful content that resonates with people.

Meanwhile, every week for the last year, I seem to have been reading another article explaining to me what TikTok is. I’m 37 and, honestly, I’m quite set in my ways. I use Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Twitter, and I have a select number of websites that I visit daily – that’s my routine. However, I’m not ashamed to say that TikTok has rapidly moved to the top of my list because it’s just so much fun. I can easily waste ten minutes watching prank videos or cats doing dumb stuff.

Putting my travel hat back on, though (I’m imagining a fedora), TikTok does present some unique challenges to travel marketeers which, I fear, could become immovable obstacles over time. This is especially true of hotels and airlines that traditionally shy away from user-generated content (UGC), especially as influencer marketing is coming under heavy fire around its effectiveness and authenticity.

TikTok, I think, has cleverly identified the challenges it presents for some verticals. In 2019, it launched its own ambitious travel campaign with the hashtag #TikTokTravel in over 100 countries and regions, to inspire users to creatively capture and share their travel moments. It was a smart move, mobilizing the global travel community through a 30-day challenge and easy-to-use templates. It effectively acted as a catalyst to stimulate early adoption from tourist boards around the world – including Los Angeles, Dubai, Seoul, Japan, Vietnam, Indonesia and Malaysia – and is a solid foundation to grow its advertising revenue from travel.

The waterfall effect from destination marketing investment in the platform will provide excellent leverage to encourage hotels, attractions and airlines to follow suit from a content perspective, while testing the waters of TikTok’s fledgling advertising offering. But the dilemma for many hotel brands will be that, while there undeniably is a super-engaged travel audience on TikTok, hotel marketing teams may not have either the time or the expertise to create content specifically for the platform in-house.

At the time of writing this, all five of what I would consider the largest hotel brands in the world still do not have official TikTok pages – which is staggering when you think about how much these brands value social, both for content and advertising.

To an extent, I do understand their hesitance towards creating content for the platform. Much of the UGC that hotels have earned largely isn’t high-quality enough to use themselves and consumers are increasingly skeptical of influencer marketing strategies, given this type of content is clearly paid for. However, working specifically with TikTok influencers to help create content could be a good strategy for hotel brands looking to dip their toe in the water without having to fully commit to creating content themselves from scratch.

The fact that, over the last eight weeks, things have practically slowed to a halt in travel could provide the perfect opportunity to download TikTok and start exploring. Follow some hashtags, follow some brands you love, and start having fun on the platform. If you work in travel marketing, perhaps now is a good time to set up your page, even if it’s just a placeholder. Or, if you’re destination-focused, perhaps look at what’s trending in your city and who are the key content creators. It might just inspire you to create some TikTok content for your own brand.

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