TikTok take-off: Your passport to travel branding success
TikTok has transformed the way people consume content, especially younger demographics. With its short-form videos and algorithm-driven content discovery, the platform provides a space for creativity, entertainment, and genuine engagement. For many travel and tourism brands, particularly attractions or sightseeing businesses, TikTok has become an essential tool for marketing and engagement. Depending on your target audience, it’s arguable that in 2023, TikTok isn’t an option but a must-have.
TikTok’s travel community is thriving
TikTok says that its travel vertical is booming. On the company’s blog, they say that since 2021, they’ve seen a 410% increase in views of travel content, with 71% of European TikTok users saying they’re likely to book a holiday based on recommendations they’ve seen on the platform. The hashtag #travel has racked up more than 125 billion views.
TikTok’s impact on the customer journey
The traditional purchase funnel or customer journey includes stages like awareness, consideration, decision, and advocacy. Here’s how TikTok impacts that journey:
Discovery and inspiration: TikTok users are exposed to a vast array of short-form videos showcasing various destinations, experiences, and attractions. Through visually compelling content, users are inspired to explore new places they might not have considered before. Travel brands can use this stage to capture attention and introduce prospects to their offering.
Consideration and evaluation: TikTok users can see real experiences, hear authentic reviews, and view behind-the-scenes glimpses of destinations. This immersive approach helps users consider and evaluate travel options, encouraging further exploration.
Action and booking: TikTok’s integration of short videos and in-app features enables direct action. Users can easily access booking links, inquire about travel options, and purchase tickets and accommodations within the app. This streamlined process encourages users to act quickly, converting their interest into bookings.
Advocacy and recommendations: Once users have experienced their travel, they often share their own journey and adventures on TikTok, creating a cycle of advocacy. User-generated content featuring positive experiences can influence others and lead to recommendations – amplifying a brand’s reach and enhancing its image.
TikTok’s engagement and influence claims
TikTok makes compelling claims regarding user engagement and influence:
- 82% of UK users consider new destinations due to TikTok
- 69% of UK users discover new travel brands on TikTok
- 83% of Spanish users and 76% of French users consider travel products or activities based on TikTok content
- 51% of Spanish users purchase holidays or travel-related activities influenced by TikTok
How TikTok’s algorithm works
TikTok’s algorithm has proved effective at matching content to users. Its algorithm functions as a recommendation system determining the content displayed on users’ For You page. Each user has a unique For You page, and the content shown evolves over time based on individual viewing preferences.
Key elements that the algorithm values include:
- User interactions – such as likes, follows, interests, comments, and overall engagement
- Metadata within the most watched and liked videos – such as captions, sounds, and hashtags
- User device and location – tailoring content to suit local preferences and formats
Conversely, the algorithm disregards:
- Duplicated content
- Content that has been previously viewed
- Content flagged as spam
- Potentially distressing or upsetting content
Notably, TikTok’s algorithm operates independently of a creator’s follower count or the number of viral videos they have. It appears to prioritise long-tail content, emphasising numerous niche pieces over a few popular videos with broad appeal. Additionally, TikTok discourages the recycling of content that has already achieved popularity on other platforms, in keeping with its strategy of shaping a unique audience experience.
TikTok’s rise as Gen Z’s search engine
For many Gen Z and some millennial users, TikTok serves as a search engine. Unlike Google’s extensive repository of images, TikTok stands out as a platform housing genuine, real-life experience videos crafted by everyday individuals. In recent years, travel accessibility has increased, which has led to a shift in preferences away from curated, photoshopped influencer images in idyllic settings. The desire now is for more authentic content.
Furthermore, TikTok is a useful tool for discovering unique content, whether it’s exploring vibrant markets in Marrakech, locating hidden cafes in Tokyo, or identifying top-rated resorts in Bali. This information is presented in a more digestible manner than a conventional Google search, which often leads to uninspiring review pages like TripAdvisor, typically featuring text and a few low-quality images. In contrast, TikTok offers numerous videos showing genuine travel experiences, frequently characterised by their visual appeal and candid travel anecdotes and suggestions from real people.
The emphasis is on authenticity, with TikTok’s vast collection of travel videos covering the full spectrum from excellent to less-than-ideal experiences. As one of Oban’s Local In-Market Experts told us, “It’s like having a fellow traveller conduct a test run of your holiday for you”, providing insights into everything from transportation logistics and service quality to day trips and expenditure.
TikTok: A gateway to younger audiences
Consistently around the world, a noticeable trend emerges: Instagram predominantly attracts millennials, while TikTok’s primary user base skews much younger, primarily composed of Gen Z. The reason for this is clear: Instagram, established in 2010, is a more mature platform, and its user base has naturally aged alongside it.
As platforms evolve, their user demographics tend to age. Over time, parents and grandparents become users of these platforms, as seen across various social media platforms, including Facebook. Notably, Facebook’s user base, especially in the West, tends to be older, including elder millennials, Gen X, and baby boomers. Similarly, Twitter (now known as X) follows a comparable age distribution, with a significant proportion of its users being over 35.
Twitter and Facebook were founded in the early 2000s, when social media was relatively new for most people. This aligns with the age of the initial user base for these platforms. In contrast, TikTok was globally introduced in 2018, and within just two years, had accumulated over 2 billion mobile downloads worldwide. This rapid rate of adoption is partly a reflection of today’s technological landscape but was also propelled by the Covid-19 lockdowns when people had more time to spend online.
Unlocking TikTok’s potential for travel brands: Tips for success
Understand your target audience: Before diving into TikTok, evaluate if Gen Z (i.e. people born between 1997 and 2012) is a critical consumer group for your travel brand. If yes, develop a content plan and allocate adequate resources. If they are not critical now, but could be in the future, consider TikTok due to the relative ease of growing a following on what is still an emerging platform. If not integral to your strategy, focus on active channels like Instagram or Facebook instead. Quality over quantity is key.
Research, planning, and audience insight: Before creating content, research successful travel content on TikTok, including what competitors may be doing. Explore popular posts, hashtags, and subcultures related to travel. Create a content calendar with room for spontaneous, creative content aligned with trends and challenges.
Leverage existing content and themes: Search for your brand name on TikTok to identify existing mentions. Take note of positive mentions and prevalent themes to inform your content strategy. Highlight your USPs and integrate them into your content. Engage with conversations about local areas, popular tourist spots, and attractions to participate in broader discussions. Use data from TikTok Analytics to refine future posts based on audience preferences.
Embrace TikTok’s unique style: TikTok is known for its informality and emphasis on personality and humour. The platform is less about striving for picture-perfect aesthetics, and more about engaging storytelling that appeals to its diverse user base. Brands like Virgin Atlantic, Ryanair, Disney Parks, Visit London, booking.com, and hotels.com have built sizable followings on TikTok – look to them for inspiration. Big Bus Tours makes use of its entertaining tour guides to create great TikTok content.
Collaborate with influencers (or creators as TikTok calls them): TikTok is fertile ground for influencer marketing. However, not all influencers translate well across platforms or markets. Evaluate potential partners based on their TikTok presence and alignment with your brand. Use Local In-Market Experts to help identify influencers in your target markets. TikTok also has a Creator Marketplace to help brands identify influencers.
Optimise video length and capitalise on trends: Keep videos concise, ideally 20-30 seconds, to cater to short attention spans. Quickfire edits and short videos are often highly viewed. Capitalise on current trends by incorporating viral sounds, challenges, and hashtags into your content. Stay agile and creative to seize trending opportunities swiftly.
Sustain engagement and interaction: After gaining traction with a video, maintain engagement by reposting, responding, and creating follow-up videos. Active and varied engagement within the comments section is crucial. TikTok’s algorithm considers engagement, making it essential to sustain and diversify interactions to boost a video’s visibility.
Harness user-generated content for social proof: Encourage users to share their travel experiences and reviews related to your brand on TikTok. User-generated content builds social proof, enhances authenticity, and creates a sense of community. Repost and engage with user-generated content to bolster brand credibility and attract more travellers.
Integrate TikTok into your digital PR and SEO strategy: Make the most of TikTok’s search capabilities and engaging content to enhance your brand’s search visibility. Engaging content on TikTok can gain traction in mainstream media, reinforcing your brand image. Use TikTok content for digital PR, gaining coverage and valuable backlinks to support a robust, long-term SEO strategy.
In summary, TikTok offers a great platform for travel and tourism brands to engage a vast, diverse audience. Crafting tailored content, tapping into trends, and collaborating with creators can effectively showcase your offering and fuel wanderlust among potential travellers.
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Oban International is the digital marketing agency specialising in international expansion.
Our LIME (Local In-Market Expert) Network provides up to date cultural input and insights from over 80 markets around the world, helping clients realise the best marketing opportunities and avoid the costliest mistakes.