Interview with Don Birch - Top 5 travel trends in Asia
By Ritesh Gupta Figures released recently by the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) show that the numbers of international visitors to the Asia Pacific region grew by 2.2 percent year-on-year in October 2009, improving the overall position for the year (10 months) to just four percent down when compared with the same period in 2008.
Published: 01 Feb 2010
By Ritesh Gupta
Figures released recently by the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) show that the numbers of international visitors to the Asia Pacific region grew by 2.2 percent year-on-year in October 2009, improving the overall position for the year (10 months) to just four percent down when compared with the same period in 2008.
October marks the third straight month of above the line gains for international visitor arrivals to the Asia Pacific region. The growth rate of 2.2 percent achieved in October is by far the best year-on-year improvement in a very depressed year.
From an expert’s perspective, Don Birch, managing partner, China Opportunities Partners Ltd, says Asia has survived the big recession better than most and is as always recovering the fastest.
Birch, who is scheduled to attend the Travel Distribution Summit Asia 2010 (to be held in Singapore, April 28-29), spoke about the Top 5 Asia travel trends in 2010. Excerpts:
EyeforTravel: What according to you are going to be the Top 5 Asia travel trends in 2010?
Don Birch: My five picks are as follows -
Social Media, ignore it at your peril! Travel is an emotional buy and Social Media is the accelerating vehicle for consumers’ emotional out-pourings. As the functionality of ‘making a comment’ about something continues to get easier and easier and more mobile, expect the aggregated effect of Social Media ~ the ‘wisdom of crowds’ to be a major driver in traveller preference and perception of product value. If your travel product has a low Social Media perception, then this will drive down price and make it much harder to sell. Improved instant on-line language translation will ensure that the travel experience becomes universal.
Mobile. With the arrival of iPhone and iPhone lookalikes in Asia, the mobile device will develop a growing role in the traveller’s journey. Initially supporting supplementary and information services, the Mobile device will increasingly become acceptable for bookings and payments, especially for low value items and domestic journeys. It already has a majority share of such transactions in Japan and South Korea. The biggest obstacle today is international roaming charges, which make Mobile use overseas prohibitive in the short term except for business use.
Moderation. While Asia has survived the big recession better than most and is (as always) recovering the fastest, the Asian consumer is still cautious and the business traveller still recovering from the economic shocks of 2008. As a result, expect Moderation in travel behaviour. Less in-the-front-of-the plane journeys and more circumspection in product choice and certainly less ostentation, except perhaps the Chinese mainland traveller! This means more of a focus on value (or perceived value) and more time spent researching price options using the Internet ~ Social Media rules!
Meta Search will have a bumper year. Through a combination of improved technologies, better presentation and more price competition between the travel suppliers, Meta Search will do well. Travellers are increasingly better informed and they will use Meta Search to valid their value choices.
Smart Meetings. While there is no substitute for meeting the customer or colleague face to face, both the price and the functionality of remote meetings have improved significantly in the past few years. High end services provide uncanny ‘same room’ presence and numerous low cost Internet services make it easy and simple to conference call across the world, interfacing voice, video, interactive presentations and text. While it is true that Asians above all prefer physical presence, the facilitation of Smart Meetings will mean that at least some of the journeys will be in cyber-space rather than in the back of a plane.
EyeforTravel: How do you expect the balance of power in distribution to shift or shape up this year in the Asia Pacific region?
Don Birch: All over the world, the unchanging home truth of the travel business is that the product inventory evaporates at mid-night or as the plane pushes back from the gate. Couple this with the historical experience of boom and slump capacity cycles, then in recessions or slower periods of growth the distributors will have the upper hand. As economically we expect things to be a little slow for the next year or two and with the (lagged) surge in capacity, especially in hotels soon coming on line, we can expect the distributor to do well. Indeed, the Distributors’ role of managing complexity will be enhanced as consumers struggle to distinguish between the myriad of available and constantly changing offers.
Those Distributors who embrace technology (to enhance functionality and reduce cost) and focus upon creating value will do especially well. Indeed there is a market segment story here, where the better the understanding and the focus on any given market segment, the better the value is understood and delivered and so the better the price or margin.
EyeforTravel: What are you most looking forward to at TDS Asia? Who are you most looking forward to meeting at the event?
Don Birch: The great thing about Travel Distribution Asia is that it draws in such a wide range of knowledge and experience. It attracts some of the leading players in their respective fields and provides a real insight into what is in their thoughts and what could be coming next. From experience, I am usually blown away by the quality of the content presented each day and my one regret is that it is impossible to put to action all those ‘neat’ ideas that I scribbled down during the course of the sessions.
EyeforTravel: How do you assess the situation from a traveller’s perspective – who continues to get attracted to various means of travel planning and booking options?
Don Birch: On the one hand is getting easier ~ easier to get the information, much more transparency, easier to book and easier to pay. But on the other hand, things have become impossible. The array of choice and options is bewildering and often overpowering ~ a little knowledge is dangerous! There is also the law of unintended consequences. For example, in England many travellers who recently made their own travel arrangements, often using automated self packaging tools, found that they were uninsured when one of their travel providers went bankrupt, whereas with a conventionally purchased tour they would have been compensated.
All this means that the traveller must be as alert as ever, albeit that the issues have changed. The need to select trusted and recommended travel intermediaries and suppliers does not change and so while the shift to the automated booking path in all its modern forms will continue, those travel entities that create and build upon consumer trust will continue to do well.
Don Birch is scheduled to be part of the Travel Distribution Summit Asia 2010 (to be held in Singapore, April 28-29).In all, there will be more than 50 expert speakers during the two-day event.
For more information, click here: Travel Distribution Summit Asia 2010 (to be held in Singapore, April 28-29)
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