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Will Short Video Platforms Beat Ctrip?

Chinese short video platforms like Douyin (TikTok) and Xiaohongshu are, perhaps quite predictably, turning into sales juggernauts. According to industry forecasts, the value of sales completed via Douyin in 2023 will be around 250 billion yuan (about US$35 billion), with the total transaction volume of liquor and travel reaching 60 billion yuan (US$ 8.3 billion). By 2024, the total transaction volume of liquor and travel on Douyin is expected to reach 90 billion yuan (US$12.5 billion). As Douyin and Xiaohongshu pivot from attracting eyeballs to facilitating transactions, their combined gravitational pull on consumers looks to potentially tear down online travel agencies (OTAs) such as Ctrip, also known as

Douyin has been sparing no effort to secure market share in the "cash cow" liquor and travel sectors. Through various platform subsidies and marketing activities, Douyin money and traffic are being poured into the liquor and travel business. It remains to be seen how Douyin's play will unfold in the travel sector, since users who have long since relied on OTA platforms like for their travel bookings value the reliability and transparency of the platform. Douyin will certainly have to pull a rabbit out of the hat to oust

Nonetheless, in 2023, it was still a question up for debate whether or not travel brands should "be on Douyin or Xiaohongshu". Now, in 2024, it's become standard practice for tourism businesses in China. Social media platforms like Xiaohongshu and Douyin accumulate consumer traffic, while OTAs play more of a distribution role. However, given the fact that content and sentiments drive the value of tourism products to a large degree, social media holds a massive advantage over OTAs in attracting and converting customers.

Xiaohongshu and Douyin, as social media platforms, both focus on user-generated and shared content, rather than big official brand accounts. Xiaohongshu is currently a strong platform for young people's purchasing decisions, and has become the platform of choice for these users to search and try out other users' travel shared experiences. Douyin, on the other hand, has moved to integrate services, goods, and locations into a comprehensive e-commerce platform, stimulating interest in purchases through short videos and live broadcasts. As content shapes tastes and interests, users usually quickly snap up tourism products and services on the platform.

The primary difference is that Xiaohongshu's user base mainly consists of highly-educated young women living in large cities, with average to above-average consumption levels. These users have higher tendencies to spend more, have strong purchasing power, and tend to be influenced by popular content on Xiaohongshu, which they then bookmark and use to customize their travel plans - usually while also consulting and messaging travel agency accounts for information. Therefore, travel businesses should start out with the following approach:

  1. Establishing an account

  2. Attracting fans through high-quality content (professional knowledge output, travel guides, high-quality scenic content)

  3. Providing good services (fast responses to traveler inquiries), communicating via private messages before ultimately successfully acquiring new customers

Travel brands thus need to distribute their content organically through the Xiaohongshu ecosystem, facilitate decision-making and sales, and support user-generated content production.

Douyin, on the other hand, can convert sales in a very short time by listing travel products via Douyin group buying, but it's not easy. Brands need to employ multiple methods such as high-quality content, intelligent marketing spend and differentiated group products, leveraging influencers for secondary distribution and tour group leaders for sales. In recent years, the content and sales volume of travel-related live broadcasts and short videos has been on the rise, overall. Douyin and Xiaohongshu will further lean on their OTA functionalities in the future, playing a more proactive role in functions such as transaction conversion, new customer acquisition and product volume, potentially reaching parity with platforms like incumbent OTAs.

While they might not oust OTAs overnight, Xiaohongshu and Douyin are bound to eat away at some of the incumbent OTA market share, mainly targeting the 18-45 age group. As such, Xiaohongshu and Douyin present huge opportunities for DMCs and wholesalers with travel resources on offer. For these brands, these new social media platforms present yet another choice and direct communication Chinese consumers, making it easier to drive China market share.

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