With borders shut, planes grounded and hotels closed – travel marketers 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 instead this might be a good time to revaluate current strategy and look ahead to what they could be doing when the travel industry recovers. 

Travel marketing has become somewhat homogenised over the past few years, which to me is strange 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? Let’s just take a moment to have a think about one specific hotel advert you’ve seen on Instagram…..keep going…..got one….nope? Exactly! This is the point I’m trying to make, ultimately hotel brand creative tends to focus on one of two things – product, as in the hotel itself or destination. Ultimately, these are both generic by design because most hotels want to put their best food forwards however they forget that the average consumer isn’t going to 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 10 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 indeed why travel brands feel they don’t need to try and innovate any longer, but instead 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. 

Every week for the last year I seem to be reading another article explaining to me what TikTok is, I won’t go into it in too much detail but if you are interested – here is great guide. Personally I found it much easier to just download the app and start messing around on it. I’m 37 and honestly I’m quite set in my ways – that’s not to say I don’t enjoy new things however I am very much a creature of habit…I use FB, Instagram, You Tube and Twitter….then beyond these I have a select number of websites I visit daily – that’s my routine. However, I’m not ashamed of saying that TikTok has rapidly moved to the top of list because it just so much fun…I can easily waste 10 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 marketers which I fear could just become immovable obstacles over time. This is especially true of hotels and airlines who traditionally shy away from UGC, especially as the influencer marketing is coming under more heavy fire for its effectiveness and authenticity. 

TikTok themselves I think have cleverly identified the challenges their platform presents for some verticals, in 2019 they launched their own travel campaign with the hashtag #TikTokTravel. An ambitious campaign which launched in over 100 countries and regions to inspire users to creatively capture and share their travel moments. It’s a smart move by TikTok, by mobilizing the global travel community on their platform through a 30 day challenge and some easy to use templates – it’s effectively acted as a catalyst to stimulate early adoption from tourist boards around the world. 

With tourism boards from cities and countries including Los Angeles, Dubai, Seoul, Japan, Vietnam, Indonesia and Malaysia, it’s a solid foundation to grow their advertising revenue from travel.  In 2019, TikTok partnered with Kerala Tourism in a fun campaign that used the hashtag #YehMaraIndia to showcase India’s most exciting travel destinations.

The waterfall effect from DMO investment in the platform will be excellent leverage to encourage hotels, attractions and airlines lines to follow suit, both from a content perspective alongside dipping their toe in the water with TikTok’s fledgling advertising offering. But, I think this will be the dilemma for many hotel brands, while it’s undeniable that there is a super engaged travel audience using TikTok – do hotel marketing teams have both the time and expertise in house to be creating content specifically for the platform? 

At the time of writing this, all 5 of what I would consider to be the largest hotel brands in the world still do not have official TikTok pages – staggering when you think about how much these same brands value social both for content and advertising

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

So while things have practically slowed to a halt in travel over the last 8 weeks, this 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 focussed then 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!