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Innovate to stay ahead of the tech curve in travel and tourism

The fifth part of Travel Daily Asia's series exploring the growth of Asian travel, in association with the STB's TravelRave 2013

There has been no greater change to the travel and tourism industry than the technological revolution that is continuing to take place.

The application of technology in tourism, whether in the vacation-planning process or during the actual vacation, is changing the entire industry.

The statistics speak for themselves. According to Think With Google’s ’5 Stages of Travel’, the average traveller visits about 22 travel-related sites prior to booking a vacation and 70% of business travellers will check into their flights and hotels via their mobile devices.

And the online travel story in Asia is one that is getting travel businesses even more excited. While the growth of online travel may have been initially hindered by low internet penetration and infrastructure challenges, prospective travellers are increasingly turning to solutions such as 3G and wireless broadband access for mobile booking.

This helps them to incorporate modern technology into their travel behaviour to obtain information and buy travel products and services. This combined with the increasing wealth among middle-class consumers (MAC) and greater internet penetration in emerging Asia-Pacific countries has also led to the rapid increase in online travel sales.

In 2012, online travel sales in Asia-Pacific accounted for 23% of the total travel market in the region with a value of US $68 billion. This impressive figure is only set to rise; with an estimated growth at a CAGR of 18% through 2016, the region has the fastest growing online travel market in the world after Latin America.

The potential of mobile platforms to facilitate travel is also compelling. According to Google, a fifth of search queries for the hospitality industry come from mobile devices, up from 12 to 13% in 2012.

Industry experts such as Yeoh Siew Hoon, editor and producer of Web In Travel, highlights the potential of Asia’s market, specifically with the online travel market still nascent in many markets across Asia.

She says that the convergence of several factors will lead to accelerated growth in the online travel market across the region.

“Among them – increased web penetration, leapfrogging of technology to mobile first, more low-cost carriers and a new generation of consumers – all these will drive consumers increasingly online,” elaborates Yeoh, who is also behind the Web in Travel Conference, an event of TravelRave.

Growth of the online travel market in Asia

The surge in online travel bookings was also discussed by industry experts at ITB Asia 2012, a TravelRave event. According to a 2012 special report for ITB Asia by PhoCusWright, it was noted that China and India will be the fastest-growing online travel markets in Asia-Pacific through 2013.

Online gross bookings in China will more than quadruple between 2008 and 2013 to become the second-largest online travel market in the region. India in particular, remains among the fastest growing travel markets in Asia. According to another PhoCusWright study, online travel in India continues to go beyond the total travel market, with online gross bookings projected to reach US$12.5 billion in 2015, up 80% over 2012.

At the by-invitation Asia Travel Leaders Summit (ATLS) 2012, a joint-study by Singapore Tourism Board (STB), The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and Visa affirmed this trend, revealing that Asian MAC from China, India and Indonesia are using online sources, particularly social media, to inform their travel experiences.

Chinese travellers in particular are moving to online purchasing. Indonesia is also moving towards digital travel planning and purchase and in the past five years, online travel sales have increased tenfold (from 1% of sales to 10%).

Young Indonesians in particular are going online in greater numbers, particularly through mobile devices.

According to comScore’s ‘2013 Southeast Asia Digital Future in Focus’ report, the number of internet users in Southeast Asia increased by 9% to 62 million, outpacing the global internet growth rate by more than 60%.

Specifically, Vietnam now has the largest online population in Southeast Asia with 16.1 million monthly internet users. This has led to a surge in online travel bookings in recent years.

At the recent Vietnam-Singapore Business Forum held in April, this year’s TravelRave and ATLS attendee Tran Trong Kien, chairman & CEO, Thien Minh Group, noted that while 60% of travel bookings still come through traditional travel agents, online travel bookings has increased from 7.5 to 15%. He predicted that the share of online travel bookings will increase to approximately 20 to 30% in the next five years.

Engaging the well-connected traveller

The biggest change in the way people are booking travel currently is the uptake in mobile-enabled services.

For many experts, there is little doubt that mobile will be the next platform for travel management.
The spontaneous nature of today’s travellers means that an increasing number of Asian travellers are leaving their bookings until the last minute, driving the importance of mobile booking channels within the travel and tourism industry.

Ninety per cent of respondents to a 2011 Forbes survey of more than 300 China-based senior executives indicate that digital and mobile marketing are a critical part of the mix for reaching Chinese consumers, especially the younger and affluent demographic.

The availability and ease of access to information online means that consumers are spoilt for choice
in terms of how they search, shop and buy travel. Platforms such as Google and YouTube also provide consumers with timely access to rich, multimedia content to plan their trips on their own.

Consumers can purchase travel via a wide variety of suppliers, intermediaries and platforms, with unprecedented flexibility to customize products according to their needs. For example, when it comes to travel research, rather than visiting official destination websites, Chinese citizens typically look for inspiration and information within the online social universe, connecting with fellow travellers and reading travel reviews.

Siew Hoon says customers will become “increasingly sophisticated and informed” and will know “very well how to search and shop online, and where to look for the best bargains”.

“They will increasingly wield more power in how they express themselves about their experiences,”
she adds.

Consumers today want inspiration, not perspiration. They want recommendations that are personal and relevant and they reward vendors who can provide them with this kind of customer-shaped experience.

Marilyn McHugh, vice president of global events, Questex Hospitality + Travel, organiser of the Hotel Technology Conference, asserts travellers are now “sourcing through multiple channels including OTAs, mobile, social media, review sites and hotel websites”.

“They no longer rely on hotel reservation managers and sales managers and are constantly looking to maximise the value of their stay,” she adds.

As today’s travellers seek to optimise their trips for greater returns, they naturally expect that the rapid improvement in technology and connectivity should improve their experience when they travel.

With technology ever-evolving, travel providers need to innovate with the times or risk becoming obsolete.

The importance of adaptability and innovation

With Asia, and China in particular, evolving so rapidly, the ability to adapt quickly to economic, social and other changes is essential for survival. Travel companies must develop cultures and capabilities which challenge traditional business models and allow them to stay ahead of trends.

Leaders must foster agility and rapid adaptation, whether through marketing, alliance formation, or other moves to stay relevant for consumers.

Recognising the importance of adapting to market needs, leading Indian travel site, MakeMyTrip established brick-and-mortar outlets and call centres to cater to the Indian consumers who tend to research online but purchase offline.

This service provides consumers with more information through human-to-human interactions before they commit to a decision. To leverage the rising opportunities in the Asia online market, travel providers have started forming alliances to increase their footprint in the region.

For example, two Chinese main tourism websites Ctrip.com International Ltd and Qunar.com Inc, cooperated recently to enlarge their market share. Ctrip.com, the largest online travel agency in China, became a vacation products supplier for Qunar.com, the Chinese leading travel search engine, whose largest shareholder is Baidu Inc.

Industry giants like Expedia and AirAsia are also forming joint ventures, such as AirAsia Expedia, to enable them to capitalise on the travel boom in the region. Likewise, Priceline has made its presence in Asia Pacific by acquiring online hotel booking group Agoda.

TravelRave: Unlocking invaluable opportunities and insight

This coming October, the subject of technology will be featured strongly at TravelRave 2013 events like Web in Travel (WIT) Conference and Hotel Technology Conference, as well as panel sessions such as those within the “Innovation in Aviation” section under Aviation Outlook Asia. In addition, the National Association of Travel Agents (NATAS) Travel Conference 2013 at ITB Asia will include a presentation on “Growing Sales Opportunities by Harnessing Technology” by Brett Henry of Abacus International Pte Ltd.

Leaders from the top online travel agents in the region, including Deep Kalra, Founder & Group CEO of MakeMyTrip.com and Fan Min, cofounder, vice-chairman & president of Ctrip.com will be attending TravelRave 2013 to share their insights on online travel trends.

WIT has also been focusing on Asian content each year aimed at enhancing attendees’ understanding of the technological travel trends emerging across the region and in specific markets such as China, ASEAN, India and Japan.

“We will look at how the mobile revolution is creating behaviours that are different in Asia versus the rest of the world, and therefore how global brands have to adapt their models to the region,” elaborates Siew Hoon.

These are just four of the events in an exciting line up of eight quality events under the TravelRave umbrella. Held from 21 to 25 October 2013, TravelRave will see an exciting line up of travel and tourism related events featuring a range of quality Asia-focused content and networking opportunities across related sectors from hospitality (Hotel Technology Conference), tourism investment (Asia Pacific Tourism Investment Destination Investment Conference), technology (Web In Travel) to aviation (Aviation Outlook Asia). Other highlights include the inaugural UIA Roundtable Asia, their first foray in Asia for international association representatives; and ITB Asia – an established B2B trade show and convention for the Asian travel market. Delegates can also look forward to a TravelRave mobile application to organise their schedule during TravelRave week.

Find out more

Get connected with the best travel minds ahead of TravelRave 2013, the most influential travel trade festival in Asia.

Follow us: @TravelRaveSG or visit www.travelrave.sg for the latest industry updates.

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