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Travel in the TikTok Era: A Positive Change?

September 17th 2023

TikTok is taking the world by storm – and not least, the tourism scene too. If you somehow haven’t heard of the app, it’s all about short-form videos. Think, Vine for the modern age. 

There was a massive surge in TikTok users during the Covid-19 pandemic, with people of all ages downloading the app. As of May this year, it’s been downloaded 3.5 billion times. Since then, TikTok has steered away from dance routines and Dalgona coffee to influencers and brand social strategies all over the world. 

But what does this type of instant video consumerism mean for the modern traveller? Here are some examples of where we’ve seen TikTok’s power used for good, and those when it hasn’t. 

selfie travelWorkingAbroad BlogsWhen TikTok works for the modern traveller 

As with many social platforms, you can search hashtags and see what’s trending – TikTok is no different. The phrase #traveltips has an astounding 9.5 billion views at the time of writing. Everything from tricks for making the most of your small baggage allowance to local customs you need to know before landing. 

And if you’re anything like us, you’re using TikTok to research your next trip. In fact, Skift Research tells us that 20% of travellers use social media before their next adventure – whether that’s looking for destinations or searching for activities. What used to be a Google search is fast becoming a TikTok search – though we’re not quite sure that name will catch on. 

For us, the most exciting part about this is finding local experiences. The places that you ‘had to just know about’ previously are becoming far more accessible. While this can mean hidden gems won’t stay hidden for too much longer, it’s also a great way to support smaller tourist spots and vendors – from North Wales to Australia, you can find the places off the beaten track. 

We’re seeing a rise in smaller businesses going viral on the app too. With better opportunities to engage with and build relationships with users, TikTok is fast becoming a great way to support local business owners and community projects. In fact, a recent survey by Business Wire tells us that among small businesses that post on TikTok, 72% say organic content (that’s free content) is extremely valuable to their success.

Heck, you can even follow our adventures and see some of the great projects you can get involved in. 

travel selfieWorkingAbroad BlogsAnd when it doesn’t

Unfortunately, it’s not all positive. In June this year, you may have heard about a press trip to China that went viral. Fast fashion company Shein, known for its incredibly low prices and reports of poor environmental practices sent a group of micro influencers to their ‘innovation centre’. 

The trip focused on the brand and the group’s positive experience of the factory – many of those who went turned the trip into bitesize travel vlogs for TikTok. It didn’t take long for the influencers to start receiving backlash for endorsing Shein. Many went back to the app in self-defence. One influencer, Dani Carbonari, even instead chose to talk about pay as a plus-sized influencer and the ‘anti-Chinese propaganda’ she’s seen in the US. 

In an interview with TIME, Catalina Goanta, an associate professor at Utrecht University and influencer marketing expert shared the negative effect this type of political advertising and disinformation can have when travelling to other cultures.

“If you’re going to put out information like, ‘Oh, there’s propaganda in the U.S.’ and you’re actually not very diligent in how you convey that message, you could potentially end up doing a lot of harm with the misinformation that you perpetuate.” 

But it’s not just on international press trips we’re seeing trouble. Last year, euronews.travel reported that Tiktok has been banned at Buddha’s birthplace and other tourist hotspots in Nepal. With tourists causing disrupting crowds at sacred sites to take selfies and record dances – no TikTok signs have been put in place. It’s these types of trends that can damage holy places across the globe, many of which are still used for religious practices. 

festival videoWorkingAbroad BlogsA new type of travel 

In the era of TikTok and social media-driven travel that brings with it a change to the way we see the world, a few vital reminders can help shape our journeys into responsible experiences – prioritise respect for local cultures, environments and fellow travellers. 

Using TikTok as a tool can help us see the world in new ways we’d never experience otherwise. We can uncover local delicacies, support communities and even find volunteer projects across the world – but we must remember that every location we visit holds significance for its residents.

Ultimately used responsibly, TikTok can be harnessed as a force for good. It provides a platform to amplify important messages about sustainable travel, cultural understanding and conservation efforts.

To see the latest volunteering projects you can get involved in, follow us on TikTok or use our project finder. 

Written by WorkingAbroad Blogger Lucy Gordon

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Blog articles about our volunteer projects, the wider world and from volunteers in the field are shared here for everyone to get inspired and learn more about wildlife conservation topics, volunteering abroad and much more.