Learning Through Experimenting With Technology

NewcastleGateshead Initiative showcased how it is leveraging TikTok and Artificial Intelligence to reach younger travellers (Gen Z) and boost tourism.

NewcastleGateshead Initiative (NGI) showcased how it is leveraging TikTok and Artificial Intelligence (AI) to reach younger travellers (Gen Z) and boost tourism through the power of experimenting in destination marketing.

NewcastleGateshead Initiative (NGI) showcased how it is leveraging TikTok and Artificial Intelligence (AI) to reach younger travellers (Gen Z) and boost tourism through the power of experimenting in destination marketing.

Flora Reeve, Destination Marketing Executive, and Curtis Wake, Marketing & Digital Executive from the NewcastleGateshead Initiative, shared their expertise on the value of TikTok and the power of experimenting with AI in destination marketing.

The NewcastleGateshead Initiative (NGI) is the DMO for Newcastle and Gateshead in the North East of England. Straying away from its reputation as a party city, the DMO aims to showcase a different side of Newcastle, highlighting its rich culture, diverse cuisine and infamous football team.

NGI is experimenting with new technologies and marketing techniques to find innovative approaches to showcasing the city's strengths, all while maximising the potential of a modest budget.

TikTok Marketing

Recognising the exponential growth of TikTok, particularly among Gen Z travellers (18-24), NGI saw an opportunity to leverage the platform's growing user base. Launched in 2016, TikTok now has over 1.5 billion monthly users, with the app's unique algorithm tailoring the content displayed based on each user's interests and the content they've previously engaged with. This highlights the app's immense reach and potential to influence travel decisions.

Recent data further emphasises the potential of the platform as a marketing channel. 29% of users open the app daily and 50% are likely to discover activity recommendations on the platform. Additionally, an Adobe survey found that 1 in 10 Gen Z travellers rely more on TikTok than Google as a search engine, favouring the personalised and digestible content format.

NGI's TikTok Strategy

Launching a new marketing channel requires strong justification for the allocation of new resources, with senior staff needing to be convinced of the potential return on investment for promoting the destination through TikTok. Before launching the platform, a thorough decision-making process considered competitor analysis, target audience and potential risks, as well as advertising opportunities, the potential for new revenue streams and SEO optimisation.

Meticulous planning is essential to achieving success on TikTok, with a need to maintain a frequent posting schedule. To address this content production challenge, NGI cleverly maximised its resources by repurposing existing marketing content from blogs and Instagram. The DMO opted for a 'faceless creator' approach, ensuring the spotlight remains firmly on Newcastle and Gateshead rather than individual personalities. This strategy offers greater flexibility in managing the account and reduces reliance on specific employees for making posts. The TikTok channel also acts as an opportunity to build partnerships and support local businesses.

Creating Engaging Content

Success on TikTok hinges on creating engaging content and tailoring posts for the channel. While there's no single formula for guaranteed success, these guidelines provide a strong foundation for DMOs looking to leverage the power of TikTok and engage potential visitors with their destinations:

  • Content Batching: While consistency is crucial, creating a content library allows for flexibility. Filming content in advance provides a stockpile of material, while B-roll content can be used for multiple posts to repurpose visuals.
  • Platform-Specific Guidelines: Understanding TikTok's unique culture is essential. There is a need to be strategic and extremely strict with the content posted on TikTok, not just simply replicating posts made on other social media platforms.
  • Embrace the Local Voice: Travellers crave authentic experiences and want to see 'hidden gems' and local favourites to get a glimpse into what it's like to truly experience the destination.
  • The Power of Sounds: Sound plays a major role in capturing attention on TikTok, but it should be recognised as a stylistic choice. While trending sounds can be a good starting point, it's important to develop a unique audio style for content that complements the visuals. It's also important to recognise how external legal disputes, such as between TikTok and Universal Music Group, affect the licensing of sounds.  
  • Hooks are Essential: Attention spans are short on TikTok and the audience's interest needs to be piqued in the first few seconds with a captivating question, a surprising statement or a visually stunning scene. Content also needs to be informative and not just rely on stunning visuals in order to create inspiration and encourage visitation.

Leveraging TikTok Trends

Similar to most social platforms, popular content evolves over time. This requires a clear understanding of how user interactions on TikTok are changing, to enable quick reactions and adaptations to content strategies. For example, photo posts are now preferred over videos, while captions add value through their conversational tone.

However, while chasing trends can be tempting for rapid growth on TikTok, NGI's 'Toon Tok' account serves as a powerful reminder to always prioritise target audiences and keep goals in mind. Marketing should be designed to foster a connection that transcends short-lived trends. Blindly following trends can risk alienating target audiences or overshadowing the core messages informing potential visitors about the destination's appeal. Therefore, it's crucial to first consider the value presented by trends and whether they can facilitate authentic communication before jeopardising brand reputation in an attempt to produce viral content.

By finding a niche and developing a consistent style, as NGI has done (for example, with their popular 'hidden gem' style videos), it becomes possible to build a loyal audience on TikTok, which will reward consistency. The DMO's success demonstrates the power of a strategic approach that blends trend awareness with brand identity.

To maximise success, TikTok's built-in analytics provide plenty of data, including video retention rates, follower locations and peak times. This enables destination marketers to regularly analyse content performance, helping to inform posting strategies. For example, insights into audience usage are crucial to ensure posts are made at the right time, when the majority of followers are online, maximising engagement.

Data is also crucial for understanding which content performs well on the channel. A lot of the time videos following the same pattern perform better than those which don't have the same cohesion, where repeating success can be a strong way to boost engagement. Importantly, the channel should develop over time, taking into account that, just like any other content, it will take time and resources to get the best possible results.

Through following this strategic approach, NGI's 'Toon Tok' has garnered an impressive 7 million views, half a million likes and nearly 20,000 followers since its debut in October 2022, demonstrating the platform's effectiveness in reaching a new audience and showcasing the region's diverse offering.

Inspiration from other DMOs

Destinations that have been early adopters of TikTok have seen their channels successfully garner attention, taking a variety of approaches to content creation. These are some other DMOs with a strong TikTok presence:

Visit Singapore

  • Its strategy highlights the power of collaboration. It has leveraged partnerships with celebrities to create content, while also incorporating interactive video formats. This multi-faceted approach has garnered over 1.8 million followers, showcasing the potential for audience growth through strategic content creation.

Example: Sounds of Singapore with Charlie Puth

Cape Town Tourism

  • Its focus on food content taps into a universally popular theme on TikTok, while also capitalising on current events to quickly produce raw and authentic content that evokes emotions.

Example: Cape Town Rugby Celebration

Read more about Cape Town Tourism's approach to organic social media growth

Vienna Tourist Board

  • Its TikTok strategy exemplifies balancing authenticity with trend awareness. It has cultivated a distinct brand voice that reflects the city's rich culture and heritage. Additionally, it integrates trendy elements like street interviews to keep the content engaging for a younger audience, through a focus on sharing information instead of direct promotion. Vienna has also innovated with immersive ad formats on TikTok, demonstrating the platform's potential for destination marketing beyond organic reach.

Example: Food recommendations from your favourite district

Experiments with AI in Marketing

As AI tools become more sophisticated, destinations are reaping significant benefits across various departments. AI can support content personalisation, where it is more useful for visitors, resulting in an increased engagement rate. Additionally, AI streamlines the delivery of content, so that it is seen at the right moment and speeds up the visitor information search. Providing more relevant information results in increased digital channel growth and is an opportunity to entice tech-savvy tourists.

NGI has been keen to leverage AI in its marketing tools. While at the start of the AI journey, it has already experimented with AI across various marketing functions:

  1. Analytics and Insights: Transforming insights into high-performing content and identifying opportunities faster.
  2. Google Analytics (GA4) and Hootsuite,
  3. Content Enhancement: Content is tailored to audiences, with the enhancement of creative assets
  4. ChatGPT and Adobe Generative Fill
  5. Search Engine Optimisation (SEO): Producing copy that performs well with identified keywords
  6. SEMRush
  7. Chatbots: Directly answering visitor queries
  8. OpenAI

NGI acknowledges the importance of responsible AI implementation. The DMO recognises the need to keep a degree of scepticism about AI-generated content and the need for human oversight to ensure the technology is used ethically and delivers the desired results. Its experience highlights the significance of fostering a company-wide understanding of AI to navigate these emerging technologies effectively and the need to understand the telltale signs of AI-generated outputs.

Experimenting with an AI Chatbot Prototype

Recognising a gap in the UK market for virtual tourism assistants that cater to regional nuances, NGI became an early adopter of chatbot technology. Experimentation was key to determining the feasibility of turning it into a new product.

NGI's goal for the Whey.I. Geordificial Intelligence chatbot was to create a virtual tour guide that could answer visitor inquiries about Newcastle and the surrounding areas. This innovative chatbot incorporated a subtle Geordie accent and the local dialect, adding a layer of authenticity to the user experience. Furthermore, the chatbot's ability to personalise suggestions based on individual needs and interests promised to enhance visitor engagement and satisfaction.

NGI adopted a hands-on approach to explore the potential of chatbots. Their initial prototype, built using ChatGPT 4, was embedded through AI Engine Pro as a 3rd party API into a testbed WordPress website. The chatbot was accessible through both desktop and mobile. The development process involved providing instructions to train the chatbot before giving answers to users, followed by refinement of the output.  

A key takeaway from this experiment was the importance of data quality, with high-quality responses about specific topics, such as history. Meanwhile, testers enjoyed attempting to outsmart the AI, showing strong potential for obtaining community input and raising awareness of the destination among a wider audience. However, the chatbot was not always accurate in the information provided to visitors, with hallucinated events, such as an Easter Parade through Newcastle and inappropriate language being used in some responses.  

Building upon its experience, NGI learnt about the importance of digital accessibility and the need for reliable and up-to-date data. The DMO also recognised the importance of appropriately marketing the tool as a novel interactive experience, as opposed to being a definitive guide.

Following this initial experiment, NGI is now collaborating with an external agency to develop a more robust solution. This new chatbot will leverage a larger and more comprehensive dataset of events and information sourced from local destination websites, with updates on a weekly basis. Seeing the importance of a phased roll-out to ensure that continuous optimisation is undertaken, the new tool will initially be available as an OpenAI plugin before being embedded directly on websites in future development phases.

Developing Chatbots

Building a chatbot can be a valuable asset for any DMO, improving efficiency in the speed of responding to visitor requests and facilitating the trip planning process through more specialised responses to specific questions. Here are some key considerations to guide the development process:

  1. Platform Selection: Decide where your chatbot will reside. Will it be integrated into your existing website or will it exist as a standalone application?
  2. Data Acquisition and Training: The quality of your chatbot's responses hinges on the data it's trained on. Gather a comprehensive dataset encompassing frequently asked questions, local information and relevant keywords. Crucially, the chatbot should not only be able to identify factual responses but also recognise the right tone of voice to be a brand representative.
  3. Scalability and Performance: Anticipate visitor traffic patterns and choose the correct subscription package to handle peak volumes.
  4. User Interface and Design: Craft a visually appealing and user-friendly chatbot interface and consider how to give it a unique personality.

AI chatbots can be developed through a four-stage timeline, starting with the training of the AI model, set up of the tool, integration into the website and finally the release of the new tool.

Other Experiments with AI in the Tourism Sector

As the most popular topic in the industry, destinations globally are actively experimenting with AI tools, from image generation tools such as MidJourney as in the case of the Vienna Tourist Board's #UnArtificialArt campaign, which showcases the city's appeal as a premier art destination, and Imagine the Faroe Islands, which uses AI interpretations of the Faroe Islands in the style of famous artists.

Alongside the development of AI-generated imagery for marketing, significant attention is also placed on the development of intuitive chatbots and virtual guides, as in the case of NGI. Specifically, NGI was inspired by Visit Malta, who developed Marija in 2022 as the world's first virtual citizen, acting as an interactive bot on physical information terminals to help tourists learn about the country's history and tourism offer. However, despite this early action, the bot is yet to see widespread release, effectively demonstrating the challenges in building a fully functional and reliable AI tool. Despite this, there are many examples of effective AI chatbots in the tourism sector, many of which leverage the capabilities of ChatGPT:

  1. Austrian National Tourist Office: The DMO built an AI-powered chatbot to share real-time and personalised information with visitors, curating information from the country's nine federal states. This approach ensures that only trusted and reliable data can be accessed by the chatbot.
  2. Bookline: This AI solution acts as a virtual reservation agent, talking with customers on the phone and answering their questions. Such an approach also has the secondary effect of improving the efficiency of collecting lead information, from which integration with the booking engine can directly send pre-filled out booking requests via WhatsApp.
  3. Bespoke: The company launched Bebot to give people quick responses during times of crisis. With the same questions being asked regularly, chatbots can respond much faster than humans who are often overwhelmed by the volume of queries received during major incidents.
  4. Hijiffy: The company's AI tool is specialised to support the hospitality sector. The Aplysia OS system has a 97% automation rate, with the company regularly making data-based optimisations based on changes in customer satisfaction scores. Interestingly, higher engagement with guests is achieved through this AI tool compared to more traditional forms of communication, while it created time for employees to focus on more strategic tasks.

Key Takeaways

  • Strategically Leverage TikTok - Don't just jump on every trend. Focus on your target audience and develop a consistent content strategy that resonates with them. Utilise analytics to track performance and identify best practices to maximise your reach and engagement.
  • Meticulous Planning is Key - Marketing success comes from having a clearly defined strategy, while being flexible to quickly adjust to evolving visitor behaviour. Continuous learning is therefore crucial to understanding what content resonates best with audiences and tailoring it to each communication channel.
  • Embrace AI for Marketing Advantage - Explore AI tools to enhance content creation, SEO and personalisation, with experimentation key to understanding how AI can best meet marketing goals. Responsible AI implementation is crucial and should address ethical considerations and potential biases to ensure reliability and trustworthiness.
  • Develop a Chatbot - Identify a gap in the visitor experience and address it with a unique chatbot solution. High-quality data is essential for accurate and informative responses. User-testing can ensure high-quality outputs through frequent refinements to optimise user experience.

Published on:
May 2024
About the contributor

Flora Reeve

Flora works as a Destination Marketing Executive at NewcastleGateshead Initiative. She works on promoting the region to visitors and locals through NGI's TikTok account, using her skills on social media to help populate a wide range of social channels.

Curtis Wake

Curtis is a marketer with a first-class honour’s degree in Business and Applied Marketing Management, with experience and a passionate interest in digital marketing, advertising and the customer experience. Creating an excellent customer experience is a main driver in Curtis’ work.


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