Top 5 Douyin KOLs fueling China’s travel economy

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China’s travel industry is steadily recovering from the pandemic. A three-year backlog of travel desires is being fulfilled, and enthusiasm for travel continues to rise.

The number of domestic tourists is expected to reach 5.5 billion this year and domestic tourism revenue is forecast to exceed $690 billion (5 trillion RMB), according to a recent analysis report from the China Tourism Research Academy.

Luxury brands and beauty players are betting on a domestic travel surge. Domestic tourists and tourism revenue will recover to 90 percent and 80 percent of the level just before the pandemic, the report predicts.

This summer, Louis Vuitton took over Xiamen’s iconic Huangcuo Beach to create a resort pop-up store comprising a Louis Vuitton bookstore and unique dining experience. Last year, Valentino Pink PP debuted in the beachside Aranya neighborhood in Qinhuangdao with several installations, painting some of the coastal city’s landmark spots fuchsia. Meanwhile, together with Douyin, Chinese makeup brand Florasis launched a purple-themed pop-up in Yunnan’s Dali, one of the hottest travel destinations among young consumers in recent years.

Leading travel booking platforms Qunar and Xiaohongshu recently released 2023’s travel trends. Chinese residents are increasingly personalizing their trips according to their hobbies, such as by integrating food tasting, art and countryside experiences into their itineraries.

The domestic market has matured, and travelers are trying new leisure experiences such as beach resorts, skiing trips, and staycations in home cities, McKinsey says in its China tourism outlook report published in May. 

Jing Daily identifies the top five travel KOLs on short video platform Douyin who are inspiring tourists’ choice of experiences and destinations. Most of these influencers were determined by follower growth according to data provided by Launchmetrics, covering the period from April 31, 2023, to July 31, 2023, and are ranked by media impact value.  

Travel bloggers like Betty, Kiki and September are seen by many white collar employees working grueling schedules as shining examples of the joy travel brings. Their “healing videos” (治愈视频), a nod to Chinese youth’s increasing demand for mental and physical well-being, are growing in popularity.

Kiki @房琪kiki

Followers on Douyin: 23 million 

Average MIV (Media Impact Value): $117,040 (847,311 RMB)

Douyin mega travel influencer @房琪kiki enjoys over 23 million followers on the platform. Image: Kiki’s Weibo

Douyin mega travel influencer Kiki (@房琪kiki) boasts over 23 million followers on the platform. Kiki artfully uses words, including chengyu (成语), or four-character idioms, to poetically describe China’s diverse landscapes and inspire followers to explore emerging travel destinations. 

Her captivating videos and charming depictions have gained tens of thousands of likes and grabbed the attention of numerous domestic brands, which collaborate with the blogger to co-create content and seed products. For instance, Hangzhou-based beauty brand Florasis invited the KOL to create a short video about its place of origin and promote its new powder, Flawless Jade.

In October last year, the blogger released her first book, I hope you like yourself, too, sharing her life experiences, adventures and struggles. The book sold 542,000 copies.

Muqi @木齐

Followers on Douyin: 5.8 million

Average MIV: $68,814 (49,818 RMB)

Trending on Douyin is “college student special forces travel,” whereby young travelers are packing as many experiences as possible within the span of a day or two.

In comes Muqi’s fast-paced videos. In one to two minutes, he reveals all his tips for creating the ultimate itinerary — the best unknown places, the most delicious local restaurants, and many other must-tries. But most notably, he is a romantic soul, a lover of sunsets. At all the destinations he showcases, he reveals the best places to catch the sunset.

Encompassing freedom, new experiences, and beautiful skies, Muqi is representative of young travelers who dream of quitting their jobs or adopting a digital nomad lifestyle. Many of China’s Gen Z consumers yearn for a slow-paced but adventurous life far from the rat race and hustle and bustle of the city.

Captain Han @韩船长漂流记

Followers on Douyin: 10 million 

Average MIV: $53,078 (384,258 RMB)

Thirty-seven-year-old Captain Han travels around the world by sea with his sailing boat. Image: Captain Han’s Weibo

One man, one boat. Thirty-seven-year-old Captain Han travels around the world by sea with his sailing boat. After crossing the Indian Ocean to visit the Middle East, he is now in Europe, visiting the Balkan Peninsula, Greece, Albania, and Croatia. 

A fan of extreme sports, Han is the first Chinese person to have jumped from Mostar’s Old Bridge (a Montenegro tradition). His video recording the full experience garnered 391,000 likes on Douyin, with many users expressing their awe and respect for the blogger. The bridge is 24 meters above sea level, and since 1964 only about 2,000 people have accomplished the feat. 

While few are able to imitate Han’s travels, newness-driven young audiences are attracted by his extreme experiences — his survival documentaries on the Indian Ocean and exploration of lesser known places.

Betty @何香蓓Betty

Followers on Douyin: 3.8 million

Average MIV: 52,517 (384,258 RMB)

In 2019, Betty borrowed 30,000 RMB from her parents and started traveling around the world. Image: Betty’s Weibo

In 2019, 19-year-old sophomore Betty borrowed $4,133 (30,000 RMB) from her parents and started traveling around the world. The blogger went on to visit 12 countries before she graduated in 2021. During that period, she transformed a truck into a camper van and traveled with it across 25 regions in China. She shared the videos of the two-month-long camper transformation process on Douyin, inspiring many users to do the same.

Whether it’s for a domestic or international trip, people turn to Betty’s Douyin account for inspiration. She has walked on an active volcano in Indonesia, visited England’s Stonehenge, and explored the ruins of the ancient Zhangzhung kingdom, which dates back to 625 AD. Under her videos, many users comment: “Betty has lived the life I want.” 

September @江寻千 (九月)

Followers on Douyin: 12 million

Average MIV: N/A

September is a Gen Z game designer-turned-blogger who eventually became famous, posting videos of her travel on Douyin in 2020. Image: September’s Weibo

Looking for unique and unforgettable travel experiences? September is a Gen Z game designer-turned-blogger who became famous after she started posting videos of her travels on Douyin in 2020. 

Although she isn’t on Launchmetrics’ top five travel KOLs list, September delves deep into Chinese culture, making her a noteworthy frontrunner. She has learned how to craft silver headsets from China’s ethnic Miao minority, create datiehua (打铁花), a traditional Chinese firework that involves throwing iron against bricks to create sparks, and transform lychee peels into cascading incense waterfalls. She often starts out her videos by looking for raw materials and then charts the whole process of the traditional cultural practice.

September’s followers are often enthused by her content and fascinated by Chinese culture. For brands that want to tap into China’s guochao trend, September is one influencer who resonates with the rising national pride among younger generations. 


Consumer Insights, Gen-Z, Health & Wellness, Influencers, Market Analysis