The pandemic rapidly sped up a trend in livestreams. But the early success of Trip.com Group's and Alibaba Group's Fliggy webcasts marketing travel suggests that the phenomenon is here to stay.
Livestreaming has been around for years, but only a few travel companies and organizations have embraced it with vigor and generated significant bookings.
A rare travel success story is Trip.com Group, China’s largest travel company. Its co-founder and chairman of the board, James Jianzhang Liang, has done more than 25 weekly live streams since March. Liang’s webcasts have sold $294 million of travel packages and hotel room reservations.
Many travel companies worldwide have done live streams this year, especially experiences operators and museums. But some have done a better job of building awareness or making money than others, as we heard from several speakers during Skift Forum Asia earlier this month.
Livestreaming may not be the fad that some people assume it is. Consider that China has seen a notable rebound, though not complete recovery, in its domestic tourism. Yet the relaxation of stay-at-home restrictions didn’t stop the popularity of livestreams. Trip.com Group reports that viewership and bookings have continued to grow over time rather than the opposite. That fact suggests that the livestreaming trend may outlast the pandemic.
Klook, an online agency for travel and local experiences, debuted a mobile-friendly live stream feature in late September. By offering exclusive promotion codes on tours, restaurants, and other offerings, the Hong Kong-based startup was able to drive bookings. Some staycation deals sold out in minutes.
Klook COO and Co-Founder Eric Gnock Fah said at Skift Forum Asia that the events have been popular.
“In one of the live stream events, we had more than 350,000 exchanges with the viewers in that one hour,” Gnock Fah said. “We saw a four times uplift in conversions on experiences that we were featuring.”
Tourism organizations in North America and Europe tend to take a lackadaisical approach to live-streaming. They point webcams at animals in zoos or run webinars with panels of guests.
Given the vacuum of brand-created livestreams, audiences gravitate instead toward user-generated livestreams. A case in point is the “where in the world” channel on the online forum Reddit. It features a rotating series of live streams, such as a recent bus ride through Nairobi and a trip outdoors during a rainstorm in Texas.
A more professional approach to live-streaming by travel brands can deliver better results. Examples show the value of playing up the entertainment factor and being willing to sound a bit like a cheesy infomercial. Loosening up appears to work well in live video right now. Ctrip’s Liang often acts silly in his videos, dressing up in costumes or engaging in light banter with guests at destinations he visits in person.
To be sure, Ctrip and Trip.com has been able to ride a broader China’s national fascination with live streams that’s been around since 2015. The country has more than 200 live-streaming apps and services. About a third of the country’s internet users watched an e-commerce-based live stream last year, estimated China Internet Network Information Center. Mass-market platforms like Douyin, which owns TikTok, and Tencent’s WeChat lead the pack in impressions.
Yet there are also travel-specific platforms. Trip.com Group has built a live-streaming platform with engagement tools. Its webcasts support English, traditional and simplified Chinese, Japanese, and Korean.
E-commerce giant Alibaba’s travel brand Fliggy has rolled out hundreds of travel-themed live-streaming shows since February. The Shanghai-based online travel agency has held virtual tours led by Chinese-speaking guides of the British Museum, the Louvre, and the Prado.
It matters what tech a company uses. Enabling audience interaction helps boost engagement. Examples include having a comments section, running audience polls, or running question-and-answer sessions. Most of all, it’s critical to have a straightforward way for customers to click and buy the travel shown in the live-stream.
Putting in the work can pay dividends. Trip.com Group said its live streams have so far sold travel products in the mid- to the high-end range for China’s domestic market. Transactions averaged $180 (1,200 renminbi). More than 60 percent of customers made repeat purchases throughout one or more of its live-streaming sessions. The webcasts had more than 100 million cumulative views this year.
On November 8, the Japanese National Tourism Organization will live-stream a tourism promotion event from Okinawa on Facebook. The broadcast will be targeting users in Australia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand in light of Japan’s plans to lift a ban on overseas travel between it and several of those countries next month. The broadcast will include a live folksong performance and a quiz event, mixed with pre-recorded footage of the island’s charms. The organization plans to offer live streams once a month through March as a test.
Livestreaming on many platforms at once is possible with the help of software, such as OBS (Open Broadcaster Software). Having a high-quality camera and internet connection are keys. In August, camera maker GoPro made it possible for more than 400,000 subscribers to a premium service to live stream from their higher-end GoPro cameras on GoPro.com and then text the live stream link to their family and friends.
On October 29, Alibaba’s travel services platform Fliggy and Jing Travel will have a webinar on live streaming, with an aim of offering strategic and tactical advice. Jing Travel has intensely covered the livestreaming trend. You can also learn more about the livestream trend by watching the on-demand recording of Skift Forum Asia.
Photo credit: James Jianzhang Liang, chairman of Trip.com Group and co-founder of Ctrip.com, has done a couple of dozen "Boss Live Stream" webcasts in 2020. Trip.com Group