Your best travel advice comes from TikTok

The most watched TikTok video of all time shows a young man, disguised as a Hogwarts student, fly a magic broom in an industrial park. The 18-second clip has been viewed some 2.2 billion times.

But TikToks on travel didn’t take off in the same way. Some reasons are obvious: Pandemic lockdowns have severed the wings of traveling content creators. There are other reasons: The public appetite for brilliant influencers posting jet-set content from around the world seems to be waning.

Still, some creators have found new ways to explore places that appeal to TikTok audiences and to highlight places that are off the beaten path. Now, as people armed with vaccines delve into travel planning, the social media platform may end up changing the way people approach travel.

This is especially true for American millennials and millennials, who are more likely to be on TikTok than other age groups. This cohort is spend more now, especially on travel and meals, than they were before the pandemic. Their number presents an opportunity for the massively popular platform, launched in the United States in 2018, has hit two billion downloads worldwide last August, and was the most downloaded application in 2020.

It also presents challenges: Can TikTok’s knack for showing unfiltered bursts of life be harnessed to educate travelers without saturating destinations with unwanted attention, which could lead to overtourism or worse, sink deeper into the sky. in the confusing quagmire of paid influencers and product placements?

Samanta Rosas, a 28-year-old designer from Houston, believes there is a way to thread the needle: produce videos that present destinations in an authentic way, tell engaging little stories, and model responsible tourism.

During a trip to Mexico City, where she has parents, Rosas posted a TikTok of Grutas Tolantongo, a holiday resort with heated swimming pools in a canyon box a few hours north of the capital. While most of its posts get thousands of views, this TikTok, showcasing the area’s natural beauty, struck a chord and ultimately received over 3.5 million views.

“A lot of my family has been there,” she says. “People from Mexico go there, but it’s a hidden gem for tourists.”

(Here’s how you can travel sustainably.)

Surfacing in unexpected places

On TikTok, users typically spend time on the “For You” page, an algorithm-based selection of videos based on what the user has watched in the past. Unlike YouTube or Instagram, which users already follow on specific accounts, TikTok users engage more with new accounts, creating opportunities for creators to be found by new audiences.

For this reason, unexpected content, such as Davud Akhundzada’s videos of his trip to Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, can reach a global audience. Based in Prague, Akhundzada, 27, has been running a YouTube account for years, amassing a few thousand followers. But after his TikTok video showing him to the dry Aral Sea went viral, it attracted 100,000 new subscribers in one month.

“Americans are really interested in this geographic area,” Akhundzada says. “And they are interested in a unique story.” While he would love to become a full-time traveler, he doesn’t want to become an Instagram style influencer and make TikToks whether they make him money or not. “I have no income from TikTok,” he says. “But it’s fun for me.”

Like other social media platforms, TikTok includes users who have made full-time careers posting content, partnering with brands or doing advertisements. Alex Ojeda, who has over six million followers, is one of them.

Austin-based Ojeda, 19, has always loved traveling, but started out on the platform doing fun dances and skits. Eventually, he realized that traveling could be part of what he shared on his account. Her TikTok of a hike on the Koko Head Trail in Oahu, Hawaii begins with the expected beauty photos at the top, but then shows how difficult the climb is to get there. He’s since partnered with destinations and says he feels determined to help places bounce back after more than a year of limited activity.

But there’s a difference in how TikTok videos feel – they’re looser, less edited, and idealized. This is now appealing to travelers, according to Ellie Bamford of RGA, an innovation consultancy.

“All of our crisis habits have led to permanent behavior changes. The perfectly groomed influencer look is suddenly not so appealing, it’s out of step with what we’re going through, ”she says. “When it comes to travel, it’s about culture, what cooking is like, how to think about traveling in a sustainable way.”

Celebrate the hometowns

On most social platforms, travel issues, like overtourism, can be hidden; on TikTok, they are called. One of the reasons for this is that the platform’s audience is generally younger and more socially engaged than on other platforms, according to Joon Park, senior cultural strategist at Sparks & Honey, a cultural consultancy firm. .

“They are concerned about consumerism and ethical travel,” Park says. “TikTok will boost responsible tourism, especially in light of a pandemic.”

These concerns allowed content to flourish from people showing off their hometowns, authenticity “seen as a status symbol on TikTok,” Park said. “They are local celebrities because of their knowledge of the cities they inhabit.”

New Orleans Lansa Fernandez, 24, had posted fashion articles on TikTok but began to focus on her favorite restaurants just before the lockdowns began. His first video, on the snacks he ate growing up, got hundreds of thousands of views, thanks to his outspoken charm. A typical joke: “I know you guys are all going to judge me, but I really don’t care! Since then, he has focused more on showcasing other restaurants in his city, including a quick visit from her favorite vegan spot (“although I’m not even vegan”).

“People don’t want to do touristy stuff,” he says. “They want the real New Orleans.” Now that the city is opening up, he wants to spotlight clubs that play bouncy music, a local hip-hop style, and other authentic experiences that won’t appear at the top of a YouTube search.

(The historic architecture of New Orleans is particularly suited to living in a pandemic.)

One of the reasons for the growth of Travel TikToks is that they are successful in providing helpful advice. After being fully immunized, N’Taezha Davis traveled to Houston last month with a friend and scoured TikTok for ideas. The bars and restaurants the 25-year-old discovered on TikTok – Hungry Like the Wolf, FAO and Present Company – have all been successful. They even impressed the local friend she visited. “She hadn’t heard of any of the places we found,” Davis says.

Davis is now planning a trip to San Francisco with the help of TikTok tips. “TikTok is going to give you the holes in the walls and the mom-and-pop stores that offer more experience,” she says. “You find some of the best kept secrets on TikTok.”

The new travel agent

The easiest way to start planning a trip with TikTok is to follow a hashtag, such as #Mexico or #rollercoasters. Not everything that happens will be about travel, but even locals dancing or making fun of a movie star can give travelers a sense of where they want to visit.

(Here’s why planning a trip can help your mental health.)

All kinds of travel tips can be found under #travelhack, like the Salt Lake City-based flight attendant Kat Kamalaniseries of hotel and plane hacks. She offers advice on how to check into a hotel safely or which drinks to avoid on planes. (Although some viewers not always agree with his advice.)

Travel brands, destinations and publishers are in the game. While this brings a diversity of colorful coverage, users should take note of video sources and potential business interests. [Disclosure: TikTok helped National Geographic launch an account this year.]

As TikTok’s algorithm learns more about your preferences, the platform reveals more secrets, in the form of unexpected (and sometimes unvarnished) videos. This haphazard approach reflects what makes discovering a new destination so rewarding in the first place.

Jackie Snow is a technology and travel writer based in Washington, DC Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

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