Tourism officials in China have been utilizing social media platforms to promote local attractions through creative short videos, leading to a surge in their popularity. This mostly welcome approach has added to tourism revenue as well as the pressure for destinations to upgrade what they offer.
One of the most well-known official-turned-social media influencer is He Jiaolong. The then deputy head of Zhaosu county in Northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region became an overnight sensation in November 2020 after a video of her riding a horse across the snowy plains went viral.
In 2021, in her new role as the deputy director of the culture and tourism bureau of the Ili Kazak autonomous prefecture in Xinjiang, she and her e-commerce team sold over 210 million yuan ($30.5 million) worth of local agricultural products, creating more than 2,300 jobs.
Another example is Liu Hong, director of the tourism authority in the Garze Tibetan autonomous prefecture, Southwest China's Sichuan province. In one video, he dresses as a swordsman from Louis Cha Leung-yung's novel The Smiling, Proud Wanderer, becoming a spokesman for his prefecture's tourism resources.
As the most-liked video on Liu's account on Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, it had garnered more than 2.39 million likes and some 92,000 comments by Wednesday.
In February, Liu Jiehua, head of the tourism authority of Anyang, a city in the central province of Henan, dressed up as Fuhao, China's first-known female general, at an event held in Beijing to promote the Yinxu Ruins in Anyang.
Zeng Bowei, director of the research center for China's tourism economy and policy at Beijing Union University, told China Tourism News that in this age full of fragmented information, it is eye-catching content that is crucial to capture people's attention. Tourism officials appearing in videos to attract tourists is an attempt at exploring a new marketing method.
On the other hand, he said, many local tourism departments have limited budgets, while developing the tourism industry is a tough task and faces fierce competition. Making short videos has thus emerged as a cost-effective way to promote tourism.
But Zeng also noted the destinations that officials represent, rather than the officials themselves, should become the center of attention. "The purpose of promotion should not be solely to make a bureau chief an internet celebrity, but to make the tourist destination they represent an internet celebrity," he said.
While social media marketing can be an effective way to promote tourism, the short-term surge in popularity should not replace efforts to improve the quality of facilities and services offered to tourists, said Song Changshan, assistant researcher at the Jiangsu institute of culture and arts, China Tourism News reported.
The more important thing for tourism officials, Song suggested, is to focus on quality control and new experiences for tourists to enjoy so that the tourism destinations they are promoting retain their appeal over the long term.
Several destinations in Henan province, including Jianye Film Town and the Yuntai Mountain, proved popular with tourists during the Chinese New Year holiday in January due to their unique and high-quality sights and events, such as a "sea of roses" and immersive shows, Henan Daily reported.