Live streaming has emerged as China’s preeminent digital trend in 2020. In the wake of a catastrophic first quarter, the country’s tourism industry lept headlong into the medium.

Hotels began beaming out cooking and fitness classes, airlines hosted kitchy choreographed performances, and online travel agencies sent senior management before cameras dressed up in an array of costumes.  

But the pivot is about more than entertaining audiences and brand building. Tourism live streams are generating serious revenue; Ctrip, China’s largest online travel agency, sold $3.8 million worth of travel packages in a single live stream, Spring Airlines has raked in more than $4 million since April, and Atlantis Sanya, a luxury resort on the southern island of Hainan, sold $1.4 milion worth of products in an hour.

It’s a practice promising to rejuvenate a beleaguered sector  — and one that destination marketing organizations (DMOs) are increasingly harnessing.

Tourism New Zealand (TNZ) is one such organisation. In 2019, it collaborated with Viya, China’s top live streamer, and together they sold $20 million worth of dairy, skincare, honey in a matter of hours. Since closing its borders in February, TNZ has leaned into live streaming to maintain its engagement with a market that sent 400,000 visitors last year.

Jing Travel spoke to Xiaomo and Ahou, a pair of professional travel influencers, who turned to live streaming during the pandemic and have been spearheading TNZ’s initiative, primarily through its Weibo account.

Working with travel influencers like Xiaomo and Ahou, Tourism New Zealand is helping Chinese audiences to dream and plan their next New Zealand vacation. Image: TNZ Weiboi 

Could you tell us about your journey into live streaming?

We think of ourselves as a type of self-media [personal accounts not affiliated with the country’s large media organizations]. In the past, we focused on shooting videos and writing travel guides, but this year, with coronavirus making travel impossible, we decided to give live streaming a try.

You’ve been working extensively with Tourism New Zealand recently, how did this collaboration come about?

Our live streams are in cooperation with Tourism New Zealand and facilitated by Sina Weibo. We had worked with Tourism New Zealand in the past when we went to the country to shoot on location, so the relationship was already a smooth one.

What are the goals of the live streams and how do you prepare?

We want to give users the experience of being in New Zealand. We discussed and rehearsed the content and process with Tourism New Zealand beforehand. This included how we planned on interacting with the audience and what prizes we were going to raffle off.

What content do viewers like most? How do you make the live streams both entertaining and educational?

Live streaming is like teaching a class. Each broadcast lasts more than an hour and it’s hard to keep the audience’s attention for the entire time, so you need to prepare ways to maintain interest, comedy and funny stories are a good way. We carefully balance casual chatting with providing important travel material and information, so that the audience doesn’t feel bored and have access to the information they need.  

What have been the main challenges?

Probably using words to describe New Zealand’s beautiful landscape! Language doesn’t do the scenery justice.

What advice would you give to brands interested in live streaming? 

It’s important to understand the personality and style of specific live streamers, each one has a different approach. Brands also need to anticipate and understand what the audience wants and look for the right match.

International tourism markets have been greatly impacted by coronavirus, what positive effects do you think live streaming has had in promoting Tourism New Zealand? 

We feel that the strongest influence is to continually encourage our audiences to consider traveling to New Zealand. A moment that captured this feeling was when Tourism New Zealand broadcast from Lake Roto Kohatu in Christchurch. The live stream was timed to coincide with the sunset and we had lots of viewers commenting on how beautiful it was. There’s a desire to come to New Zealand and post-coronavirus, we believe that people will.