Aspirational Asian travellers are driving change across the global tourism industry. As the 2017 conference season draws to a close, Check-in Asia’s Gary Bowerman assesses 10 trending topics in Asia’s shifting travel landscape. 

1) Entice the Dragon. China’s tourism juggernaut is transforming the travel sector from top to bottom. And not just because of its 145 million outbound travellers and 4.8 billion domestic trips this year. Chinese travel/tech leaders, such as Ctrip, Alipay, HNA, Meituan-Dianping, WeChat and Mobike, are globalising at a rapid clip, and partnering with hotel brands, retailers and banks to create data-driven services. Meanwhile, tourism providers worldwide are reframing their approach to meet the diversifying demands of Chinese vacationers. A Check-in Asia area of specialty for over a decade, evolution continues to be the new normal in the world’s most dynamic travel market.

2) Emerging India. The planet’s second-fastest-growing outbound market is steered by similar socio-economic drivers as China, but garners less global face-time. That’s changing. Around 22 million Indians will travel overseas in 2017 spending approximately USD19 billion, while the domestic market will experience 1.6 billion trips. The UNWTO has predicted Indian outbound travellers will total 50 million in 2020, contributing USD28 billion in expenditure. The average propensity to spend of Indian holidaymakers is impressive, domestic travel is booming, the LCC sector is expanding and thriving outbound niches range from destination weddings to extended family travel and MICE.

3) Driving Domestic Demand. Aside from China and India, which together account for more than 6 billion annual domestic trips, travelling within national borders is gaining popularity Asia-wide. In South East Asian nations like Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia, homegrown tourists take advantage of competitive LCC sectors for long weekend and public holiday escapes. South Korea, where domestic trips increased from 35-38 million between 2011 and 2015, has designated special holidays to encourage citizens to spend more time (and money) exploring their nation, while Airbnb has signed a partnership with All Nippon Airways and Peach Aviation to promote domestic travel in Japan.

4) Diversity of Destinations. Surging demand for overseas travel combined with shifting demographics make China, India and South East Asia honeypots for destination marketers. Hence, ITB Asia 2017 (the region’s largest travel trade show, which has also introduced a China-focused event in Shanghai) attracted tour operators and DMCs from newly on-radar nations, such as Albania, Bangladesh, Uzbekistan and Mongolia. Highly visible visitor bureau presences from Norway, Russia, Thailand and Indonesia sat alongside smaller stagings by Tunisia, Guam and Solomon Islands. Shifting trade engagement strategies (and ITB Asia being timed close to World Travel Market in London) likely underpinned the absence of tourism boards from the UK, France and Australia.

5) All Access Africa. Improved air access, diversifying tourism services and global hotel chains prioritising expansion across the continent are enabling African destination marketers to be more proactive in Asian markets. African tourism providers are now ramping up their efforts to tap Asian travellers’ growing appetite for locations beyond the ordinary. At ITB Asia, engaging presentations showcasing the desert pyramids of Sudan, wildlife migrations in Kenya and Tanzania, the ‘Smoke that Thunders’ of Zimbabwe’s Victoria Falls and helicopter tours over Cape Point in South Africa drew large crowds of travel buyers and media.

6) Make Room for the MMTs. An aspirational new generation of Muslim travellers is starting to influence the marketing mindsets of tourism providers, plus retail brands, banks, media and fashion houses. Some 36% of the 121 million Muslim travellers in 2016 were aged under 38, and spending by Muslim millennials is predicted to top USD100 billion by 2025. The Muslim Millennial Travel Report 2017 – launched during the second Halal in Travel Asia Summit in Singapore – analyses how faith-based needs and services are combined with a desire for new discoveries, and assesses the challenges and opportunities for destinations and tourism and hospitality providers.

7) Tech-Generated for Seamless Authenticity. Global tourism is reaching a Real vs Augmented inflection point, with smartphone-saturated Asian markets driving the convergence. Travel presenters seamlessly exhort “authentic, holistic and personalised experiences” before deigning “data-driven, mobile-centric, AI technologies” as the gold standard. Adventurous travellers may crave exploration, but “feeding the behaviour of online consumers” is deemed pivotal to “the creation of desire.” Travel at its best is routine-dodging escapism, but the forensic dissection of trip data married with ‘contextual signals’ from online activity to augment new tourism services is viewed as a tricky yet essential challenge as demand moves towards virtuality and beyond.

8) The New Nature of Niches. If you deposited a dollar every time a travel CEO in Asia dropped the phrase “independent travellers,” you could buy Bitcoin. Asian tourists who plot their own flexible itineraries are in demand. Ride-sharing and home-staying are ubiquitous, specially designed cruise ships are embedding celebrity guests to appeal to younger cruisers, and sporting adventures, from arctic skiing in Greenland to football tours in Spain, are on-radar. Meanwhile, multigenerational travel requires engaging different age groups travelling together. And everyone from hotel designers to museum curators is fashioning photogenic backdrops for snap-&-share tourists to update their Instagram and WeChat accounts.

9) Advantageous Alliances. It’s impossible to avoid the penchant for partnering between hotel, airline and tourism marketers and retail, financial and data services companies. In the quest for responsive customer interaction in aggressive Asian markets, aligning with brands that complement a travel-based offering is an increasingly trusted tactic. Moreover, strategic brand partnerships can expand consumer reach and erode the commercial advantage of competitors. Expect a swathe of new, more expansive alliances in 2018.

10) O.V.E.R.T.O.U.R.I.S.M. There have never been more tourists in history, and the ‘O’ word is starting to cast a dark shadow. From January to August 2017, the world welcomed 901 million inbound arrivals, up 56 million year on year, and 25% were in Asia Pacific. Globally, tourism expenditure grew fastest from China (19%) and South Korea (12%). Dispersing visitors across a broader landscape is becoming essential. “Growth is not the enemy; numbers are not the enemy,” Taleb Rifai, Secretary-General of the UNWTO, has said. “We need to diversify visitors’ activities, reduce seasonality and raise awareness of less busy destinations.” Community protests and diverting cruise ships from Dubrovnik and Venice are just the beginning; the overtourism issue will move further into the mainstream in 2018.

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With bases in Hong Kong, Shanghai and Kuala Lumpur, Check-in Asia creates bespoke reports, articles, conference presentations, publications and thought-leadership content covering travel, hospitality and lifestyle trends across Asia.

We have produced reports on the tourism economies of China, Pakistan, Japan, Malaysia and Myanmar, plus outbound travel from South East Asia. Check-in Asia also provides tailored marketing and content services for leading hotel brands and travel companies in Asia and worldwide.

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