As Snapchat and Instagram Stories take off in the West, China is having its own live-streaming boom, with hundreds of platforms and 24 million daily active users getting in on the trend. That’s a pool of potential for China’s luxury travel marketers who want to sway holiday goers by giving them a realistic taste of tourism without them needing to leave home.
Hilton Hotels and Resorts was one of the first international tourism companies to use live-streaming for a major travel campaign in China. In October, the hotel group chose to showcase its family-friendliness by teaming up with Chinese KOLs during the National Holiday and asking them to film themselves and their families enjoying Hilton’s activities at its properties around the country. They also offered lucky draws to followers for free stays and restaurant discounts. Instead of a centrally-managed marketing campaign, Hilton let each of its hotels in individual cities around China work with their own influencers and their respective live-stream apps to ensure that its marketing efforts were targeted and reflected the uniqueness of each property.
While there otherwise hasn’t been much activity from international travel brands, an increasing number of local tourism companies are taking advantage of live-streaming’s surge in popularity, especially with millennial and Gen Z users in China. Even before marketers began capitalizing on the trend, social media users have been tuning into the live broadcasts of individual influencers who take trips around China and around the world and document, for hours on end, what they eat, where they sightsee, and where they shop. People’s Daily reported over the summer that, according to industry data, users view live-stream content for up to 135 minutes a day, and travel companies in China are eager to get a slice of this time.
Live-streaming is considered a step up from more typical forms of travel marketing, according to experts, because it gives users a chance to experience a tourism destination through more authentic means, as opposed to seeing pictures on a travel website and being disappointed when the place is not what they expected. For hotel groups in particular, “live broadcasting, when done right, can work wonders,” said Jeremy Webb, vice president and head of Social at Ogilvy China.
“Live broadcasting an experience provides authenticity that other platforms cannot—there is no editing or photo-shopping, instead just a focus on the human reactions to the surroundings,” he said. “It also provides levels of detail that other platforms cannot—individual properties will often need to talk about features that make their property unique, while still within the standards of the brand they operate under.”
International brands that do explore the marketing trend are faced with major differences between live-streaming platforms in China versus in the United States, where there are fewer platforms and more focus on the main social media players like Twitter and Facebook. “This is likely to change in 2017, with tighter government regulation and demand to monetize, which will make it harder for the smaller platforms to survive [in China],” Webb said. “Expect more consolidation and more sophistication from the surviving platforms.”
Webb said he expects to see more international hotel brands in China capitalizing on live-streaming audiences, but as the platforms grow in sophistication, travel marketers will need to as well: “Gone are the times of ‘quick wins’ — i.e., winning by just showing up.”