If Montana's state-wide ban goes into effect, legislators in other states may replicate it. Tourism boards will have ditch to TikTok, which will reduce the platform's influence in destination marketing in the U.S.
Tourism boards in Montana haven’t given up their TikTok accounts just yet. They’re waiting for legal challenges to play out following a recent state-wide ban.
Last week, Montana Governor Greg Gianforte signed legislation that banned app stores from offering TikTok, a response to allegations that the Chinese government uses it to spy on Americans. Starting January 1, 2024, app stores that offer it will face penalties starting at $10,000 per day.
TikTok and Montana TikTok influencers both filed lawsuits to block it, and for now, Destination Missoula and Glacier Country Tourism are still active. “We think waiting for it to play out at the national level is probably the place for us to sit and wait,” said Glacier Country Tourism President and CEO Racene Friede.
TikTok has become an important tool in travel discovery and has chipped away at Google’s dominance. In the U.S, tourism boards are establishing accounts, producing content, investing in advertising and collaborating with the platform’s influencers. TikTok estimates it has over 150 million users in the U.S.
Montana tourism boards use TikTok to promote their destination’s natural recreational offerings. Glacier Country Tourism has only been growing its platform organically and has not committed paid advertising to the platform yet. Discover Kalispell has done paid advertising.
Late last year there was a wave of TikTok bans by state governors. Over 30 governors banned TikTok use over allegations of its connection to the Chinese government. Up until now, the bans were applicable only at the state government level. Montana is the first state to take the extra step to outright ban all personal use of it within its borders.
When their governors signed off their bans, the state tourism offices of South Dakota, Utah, Arkansas, South Carolina and others closed their accounts, halted their investments in the platform and then redirected them to other social media like Instagram.
Montana Tourism Office, the state’s tourism board, rendered their TikTok account, which had grown to over 100,000 followers, inactive after Gianforte’s ban. In December, the Montana governor released a memo that prohibited the use of TikTok on state equipment. The prohibition only applied to the state government agencies like the Montana Tourism Office.
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Tourism boards within the banned states have not followed suit and don’t want to leave the platform. “It’s something we have to watch, but we don’t have to do what Georgia does,” said Visit Savannah CEO and President Joseph Marinelli.
Montana tourism boards have found it valuable for reaching visitors. “I mean it’s where the consumers are,” said Discover Kalispell Executive Director Diane Medler.
If Montana’s ban comes into effect, in-state tourism boards will have to give up their accounts. Other states may come up with their own bans if federal courts approve them. If the ban is stopped, the status quo of bans being limited to some state governments will continue. There’s also the possibility that only some parts of Montana’s ban are struck down.
There are multiple directions Montana’s situation can go, Friede said. “Being the first in the country, it’ll be interesting to see where this goes,” she said.
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