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Feeling the squeeze: #BudgetTravel on TikTok

Inflation is here and it’s wreaking havoc on travel budgets.

Prices for accommodation and airline tickets are going up at the same time as pent-up demand for vacation travel is going nowhere. Only 14% of participants in a new survey have considered changing their upcoming holiday plans because of higher prices, preferring to cut back on restaurants and fashion rather than travel.

As a result, budget travel is the latest trend to grip TikTok, the world’s most popular entertainment app. In posts that usually last less than a minute, creators post practical tips to help their followers plan to travel at minimum cost. Tagged videos cover everything from suitcase packing to airline compensation, to feigning injury to skipping airport queues.

Millennials and Gen Z are more likely to be on TikTok than any other age group. This cohort is spending more now, especially on travel, than they were pre-pandemic.  Many feel the need to make up for lost time. Travel providers have accordingly started using TikTok to reach them, with Booking.com launching its first TikTok-centric campaign, called “TikTokMadeMeBookIt”, in July 2022.

How can more marketers and travel brands take advantage of this explosive trend?

We’ve analysed and coded more than 100 TikTok videos on budget travel using our first-of-its-kind, qualitative TikTok methodology.

By exploring the hashtags #BudgetTravel, #CheapTravel, #TravelHacks, #WorkAway, #UKStaycation and #BudgetStaycation, we can show brands how to better understand consumer interest, awareness and attitudes to travelling in the face of an economic downturn. What motivates consumers to take action during a squeeze, and what can stand in their way. To identify the key benefits and concerns to feed into service innovation and marketing.

Use TikTok, in other words, to gain insights into unmet customer demand and your efforts will pay off.

Overall, we recommend that you:

  • Keep good company. Working with travel influencers who are established on TikTok can help to build credibility and audience – and is one of the ways of overcoming Gen Z’s reluctance to engage with branded content.
  • Spot the silver lining. Consumers’ urge to travel seems to resist global events. We didn’t see a single mention of needing to travel more cheaply due to rising inflation and the current downturn in the world economy.
  • Show empathy with budget travellers. Express that you understand what drives them and proactively come up with ways for their strategies of budget travelling to run more smoothly, safely and cheaply. They’ll reward you for listening.
  • Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Brands can try to emulate this format of ‘hack’ lists in their advertising, showing they have the consumer’s best –  ie. most effective – interest in mind.
  • Go heavy on plot twists. Be sure to play with audiences’ preoccupation with travel myths in your brand advertising. Challenge the traditional ways of storytelling. By turning consumer expectations on its head, you can reinvent and rebrand travel destinations as well as your own service offerings.

Let’s dive into the details.

1. Don’t mention the war (and the resulting economic downturn)

Good news for travel brands: travel on TikTok suggests that the industry is resilient to global events.

Oddly, we didn’t see a single mention of needing to travel more cheaply due to rising inflation and the current downturn in the world economy.

The focus on low-cost travel was instead centred on simply being young –  and therefore just assumed to be struggling financially.

Budget travel seems here to stay by popular demand, regardless of circumstance.

2. “Yolo”: how to get away with budget travelling

What motivates people to budget travel?

More than ever before, people dream of leaving their worries behind.

Many accounts have been set up by young people who have decided to “drop out” of the rat race and travel the world while they are still young. Travel brands would do well to reference these motivations in their marketing and service selection to better appeal to their audiences.

Dropping a career to travel seems to be being accomplished using 3 main budgeting strategies:

1. Saving money in advance in order to finance the trip, as here:

@claireandpeter

Reply to @xoxokatherineshealy i hope this clears things up haha #budgettravel #travel

♬ Up Beat (Married Life) – Kenyi

The couple in the video say they could travel for one year by $123 per day before they went abroad, amounting to a $45,000 travel budget.

2. Working as a “digital nomad”, which goes in tandem with Tiktok itself being used to make money, if you are able to become a popular travel content creator on the site.

This video gives a lot of insight into the realities of being a Digital Nomad:

https://www.tiktok.com/@ezzzmarelda/video/7121802928624585989

3. Financing your travels by working locally with the help of  “Workaway” or a similar work exchange network website.

The account below, for example, tells of how using workaway to work on farms and in schools has allowed the user to have great experiences while living for free:

@budgetbackpackers

Travel can be cheap if you do it right #budgettraveltips #travelforfree #workaway #workawaylife #wwoofing #savemoneyhack #lifehackstiktok #budget

♬ Young Folks by Peter Bjorn and John – ruby

@mireapellegrino

Best experience❤️ #workaway #viaggiarelowcost #viaggiaquasigratis #vogliadifuturo #perte #foryou #neiperte #travelbucketlist #workawaylife #viaggiare

♬ Chiquitita x Twilight – twibytez

While many videos emphasise the positives of workaways, a lot of others highlight safety risks – especially for women travelling alone. Many creators warn against compromising personal safety just to travel cheaply.

Here is an example:

@michaelajonsson_

how I travel around the world for cheap while living for free! #workaway #travelforcheap #traveling #traveltok

♬ ALL IN – ZaeHD & CEO

As part of a series recounting mistakes this creator has made while travelling through working, she tells the story of being robbed of her month’s wages by a “friend” while travelling and working in Greece:

https://www.tiktok.com/@globalpartyworkers/video/7114741876606995718

 

So show empathy with budget travellers. Express that you understand what drives them and proactively come up with ways for their three strategies of budget travelling to run more smoothly,  safely and cheaply. They’ll reward you for listening.

3. Grabbing a bargain: top budget hacks

Understandably, lots of posts are geared towards giving advice on how to find the best deals for travelling, how to save money and generally how to keep its cost of as low as possible.

Here’s the some of most common advice we see:

  • Fly mid-week when airline tickets are the cheaper
  • Packing light to save on baggage fees
  • Take public transportation abroad
  • Stay in hostels rather than hotels
  • Avoid tourist traps
  • Travel off-season
  • Choose a cheap destination
  • Book in advance
  • Get a local sim
  • Be aware of ATM charges
  • Try and haggle
  • Travel with friends to split accommodation and transport costs
  • Cook your own food to avoid dining out

This video brings together many of these recommendations:

@

♬ –

 

Some posts are specifically focused on reviewing websites or apps that can help with finding cheap flights and accommodation.

@notluxe

If you think you saw me talking about this on YouTube a million times over, you would be correct. IMO the best websites and apps for cheap flights ✈️ #traveltips #traveltipsandhacks #cheaptraveltips #cheaptravel #budgettravel #vanlifegirl #wearetravelers

♬ original sound – Raychel • Travel & Life Abroad

@

♬ –

 

Brands can try to emulate this format of ‘hack’ lists in their advertising, showing they have the consumer’s best, ie. most effective, interest in mind.

4. The stuff that dreams are made of: Mythmaking vs. myth-busting

The travel world is filled with ‘mythconceptions’ and untruths. Not everyone wants to call them out as such, however. One group of TikTokkers work on overdrive to portray idealised images of certain parts of the world – but the other is determined to dispel the travel myths they peddle.

For the myth-makers, budget holidaying can be tantamount to paradise. South-East Asia, and Thailand and Bali in particular, are frequently used as a backdrop for poses of the creator apparently “living the dream”. Usually, this is part of a post stating that the country is one of the cheapest places in the world for young people to travel to.

Here are some good examples:

@harley.hicks

Back with a bang. This is how cheap you can have fun for in Asia!! #travel #budgettravel #backpacking #thailand #summer

♬ Pursuit of happiness – Reneé

@travelwithjaro

Follow me for BUDGET TRAVEL tips & hacks! 🙈✈️🌏 #budgettravel #cheaptravel #travel #tiktoktravel

♬ original sound – JARO

Overall there is a sense of “this could be you” to these aspirational posts. Potential difficulties of making it happen are omitted, however. Influencers with a larger following often present themselves as being able to offer advice or promote a third-party affiliate of some kind to help “make it happen”. This shows that ‘myth-makers’ are often paid by big travel companies.

This video raises and comments on this issue with paid travel promotions:

@lotteboo3

Small content creators, unite! Also, sorry for rambling this much, I won’t do it again. #storytime #eBayWintern #smallcontentcreator #uktravel #uktravelblogger #knowyourworth #lovegreatbritain

♬ original sound – lotteboo | ⌖︎ travel insights

 

Like the creator in the video above, ‘myth-busters’ attempt to bring alternative viewpoints on how TikTok – and the wider world –  presents travel. They rage against the idealisation they see on the platform, frustrated that so many are sold a lie.

In one video, three young women travellers warn viewers of their own mistakes made while travelling. They advise:

“Don’t pay too much attention to Tiktok because it romanticises stuff, so you’ll show up to a bar like Lucerne and be severely disappointed.”

Watch the video here:

@vibesofnada

Avoid these mistakes so you don’t end up like us🤭 #europetrip #europe #europehostel #hosteltips #budgettips #budget #traveltok #traveltiktok #traveling #foryou #fyp #traveltips #travelmistakes #vlogwithme

♬ Music For a Sushi Restaurant – Harry Styles

 

Another interesting post that’s myth-busting, but in a different way, is this one showing the “expectation vs reality” of travelling in Iraq:

@dnzh.travels

Iraq expectation vs reality 🇮🇶🕊🤍!! #iraq #iraqi #iraq🇮🇶 #iraqitiktok #iraqibantz #fyp #expectationvreality #baghdad #iraqtravel #cheaptravel #budgettravel #fyp

♬ original sound – Erin Fang | thelittlebasket

 

Presented by a creator whose whole account seems to be aimed at trying to dispel potential preconceived notions that Arabic nations are riskier to visit, this creator wants to show a more positive side to them.

So play with audiences’ preoccupation with travel myths in your brand advertising. Challenge the traditional ways of storytelling. By turning consumer expectations on its head, you can reinvent and rebrand travel destinations as well as your own service offerings.

5. TikTok made me go there: comparing destinations

How do price-sensitive consumers decide where to go? One simple formula influences their choice: the ‘don’t go here – go here’ TikTok post.

We see users starting to determine what types of destinations and experiences appeal to them while in the early stages of building their bucket lists. It’s a perfect opportunity to marry young viewers’ desire for inspiration with the unique travel experiences your brand has to offer.

A popular way to format videos is to compare and contrast the pricing and quality of experience in two similar locations. So instead of Hawaii, some creators say ‘go to Saint Martin’. ‘Pick Holbox over Cancun’.

Advice revolves around offering cheaper alternatives to popular – and therefore pricy – destinations. It is also closely related to concerns about responsible tourism for the young, ethically-minded TikTok crowd.

Here are some representative videos:

@getlostmore

beachy on a budget🥥

♬ original sound – Get Lost More 🛩️

@louisetruman

this is the best place to visit paradise on a budget 🥥💖 #budgettravel #paradise #luxurytravel #islandlife #cheaptravel #parati #travellife

♬ original sound – darcy stokes

 

Brands can take advantage of this trend to market overlooked or up-and-coming travel destinations. Recent studies emphasise the importance of building destination image through social media. For example, TikTok made two off-the-beaten-track destinations in Hainan, China famous overnight.

So recognise that social media for what it is: the essential marketing strategy for tourism promotion. The ‘TikTok effect’ will do the rest.

The success of #BudgetTravel on TikTok presents an opportunity for travel brands. It shows an appetite for receiving travel information and advice with authenticity, humour and relatability.

Years of crisis habits have led to permanent shifts in behaviour. The perfectly manicured influencer look is suddenly not so appealing. TikTok is the new travel agent in town.

How might brands use #BudgetTravel on TikTok to reach new audiences, understand what makes them tick and what their ideal customer journey looks like?

Brands need to:

  • Keep good company. Working with travel influencers who are established on TikTok can help to build credibility and audience – and is one of the ways of overcoming Gen Z’s reluctance to engage with branded content.
  • Spot the silver lining. Consumers’’ urge to travel seems be resistant global events. We didn’t see a single mention of needing to travel more cheaply due to rising inflation and the current downturn in the world economy.
  • Show empathy with budget travellers. Express that you understand what drives them and proactively come up with ways for their strategies of budget travelling to run smoother, more safely and cheaply. They’ll reward you for listening.
  • Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Brands can try to emulate this format of ‘hacks’ lists in their advertising, showing they have the consumer’s best, ie. most effective, interest in mind.
  • Go heavy on the plot twists. Be sure to play with audiences’ preoccupation with travel myths in your brand advertising. Challenge the traditional ways of storytelling. By turning consumer expectations on its head, you can reinvent and rebrand travel destinations as well as your own service offerings.

So keep on checking #BudgetTravel on TikTok – you’ll have front-row seats to how travel trends are moving.

By Louise Alestam

Want to know how TkTok insights could help your business? Schedule a chat with us.

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