Skift Take

In the event of a national TikTok ban, U.S. tourism agencies will have to massively increase their investment in Google and Meta companies after losing access to an audience of millions of people around the world.

A national TikTok ban in the U.S. would put an end to tourism agencies’ growing investment in the platform and push them to redirect it into Meta and Google’s social platforms as well limit their ability to influence global conversations about their destination.

TikTok is a short-form video sharing app with over 750 million monthly users worldwide. It’s become a popular tool for search, especially among Gen Z. When it comes to travel, users search through TikTok to discover travel itineraries, hidden gems, recommendations and tips, chipping away at Google’s dominance in the space.

To contribute and reach large audiences, U.S. tourism agencies have invested more of their social media budgets into TikTok, especially since 2021, said Mackenzie Bromley, vice president of social media and content strategy for MMGY Global, a travel marketing agency.

Discover Puerto Rico, Yosemite Mariposa County, Visit Savannah, Visit New Orleans, Travel Oregon, Visit Myrtle Beach and many more joined TikTok in the last two years. “We want to put content out there where they are getting it from,” said Joseph Marinelli, CEO and president of Visit Savannah.

What made TikTok especially popular for marketers was that it provided large organic growth and audience reach opportunities. Because the platform puts a premium on authenticity and uniqueness, it gives destinations an opportunity to market their assets and reach travelers regardless of follower size and to rely less on Google.

But there’s momentum now to ban TikTok in the U.S.. In March, Congress grilled TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew about the platform’s connection to the Chinese government and its potential risk to U.S. national security. 

The testimony came as multiple bipartisan bills that would effectively curtail the app’s availability in the U.S. make their way through Congress. The Biden administration has threatened parent company ByteDance to sell TikTok or face a nationwide ban. Public support is more than two to one for a ban, according to the Pew Research Center. 

Ban discussions are prompting some tourism agencies to rethink whether TikTok is a “sound platform” to continue investing time and money into, said MMGY Global’s Bromley.

The national push follows the recent federal and state ban wave. In the last few months, over half of U.S. state governments banned the app among their agencies.  The state tourism agencies of South Carolina, Utah, South Dakota, Arkansas, Georgia, Montana and other states either deleted, made their TikTok account inactive, or could no longer join the platform. 

Meanwhile, tourism agencies in restricted as well as ban-free states said they had no plans to stop. “We don’t have to do what Georgia does, but that’s a storyline that we have to pay attention to,” said Marinelli of Savannah, which is located in Georgia.

A national restriction would hit all tourism agencies in the U.S., and replay what happened for other tourism agencies in the banned states. The restricted state tourism agencies put the brakes on their advertising dollars and content production plans then redirected their resources to Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and YouTube Shorts. 

South Dakota, for example, was about to put $70,000 in advertising on the platform, for which it accumulated over 60,000 followers. Those dollars went to alternative social media channels like Instagram Reels and YouTube Shorts.

Under a ban, all travel agencies will have to join the club. “In the event of a U.S. government ban on Tik Tok, we would work to engage those followers on other social media channels, including Facebook and Instagram,” said a Travel Oregon spokesperson.

U.S. destinations will no longer be able to participate in a global conversation on a popular social media platform, especially at a time when international travel has been slow to recover to pre-pandemic levels. Destinations would have less visibility into what international travelers are saying about them and lose insight into their experiences, which helps crafting messaging and marketing strategies, said Bromley. 

“You just have to sit back and let it happen. You can’t create content to amplify great exposure, jump in to course correct if someone has a bad experience,” she said. “It’s a big loss for marketers.”


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Tags: destination marketing, instagram, international travel, social media marketing, tiktok

Photo credit: TikTok ban would hurt international destination marketing for the U.S. Solen Feyissa / Unsplash

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