Our new Global Chats provide a solution for tapping into MMGY Global’s worldwide expertise and perspectives, bringing together thought leaders across regions for insightful digital discussions.
These casual, conversational Google Chats gather agency experts from North America, the U.K., the EU and beyond, facilitating an engaging “around the virtual water cooler” discussion on topics central to the travel industry and our clients.
Today, a panel of experts are discussing the Asian International Traveler.
As Asian countries are beginning to relax travel restrictions and visa policies are opening up, we are witnessing a renewed era of accessible travel for outbound Asian travelers. MMGY Global recently released Portrait of Asian International Travelers™, a study that highlights the travel intent and behaviors of outbound travelers from four key Asian markets: China, Japan, South Korea and India. This study has provided invaluable insights into the motivations, preferences and travel habits of Asian travelers with intent to travel internationally in the next 24 months. We have assembled a panel of global thought leaders from within our company, each with unique expertise in strategy, research, and meetings and conventions. Together, we will delve into the findings of our study and explore the implications for the future of travel in Asia and beyond. In the following conversation we intend to uncover the trends and shifts in this dynamic landscape and discuss how our industry can adapt and thrive in this evolving environment.
Our experts are:
Cees Bosselaar, Managing Director of MMGY Travel Intelligence Europe
Caroline Slavin, Senior Brand Strategist, MMGY
Hamish Reid, Senior Associate Director, MICE, MMGY Hills Balfour
Thank you all for participating in today’s Global Chat. I’ll jump right in with our first question that may help set the tone for this conversation.
Why is it so critical to be talking about Asian international travelers right now?
Before the pandemic, there were three major outbound markets: the U.S., Europe and Asia, with China becoming the No. 1 outbound travel market in the world (in terms of departures). The pandemic stopped everything in its tracks.
And while the European and U.S. markets saw a speedy recovery in 2021 and 2022, the borders of China and other Asian countries remained closed since they were still struggling with COVID-19. By the end of 2022/early 2023, borders opened, and outbound travel started its rapid rebound.
It is expected to see vast growth in the next 12–24 months. So now is the time for destinations and suppliers to get into the action and benefit from the expected rebound of Asian markets.
I am not a betting man, but my money is on China becoming the largest outbound market in one or two years, despite the economic challenges that it currently faces.
Exactly, to be able to make a comparison with 2019 demand levels it is important that we have an accurate comparison. As Asia has been more delayed in getting back to outbound travel, we should see more accurate comparisons with pre-pandemic now that the market is open.
It is widely expected that the markets – despite China’s economic challenges – will come back roaring…
Cees and Hamish you hit the nail on the head! Travel has also changed so much since the pandemic. Behaviors, economic pressures, technologies like AI, and on and on! It’s critical to watch Asian international travel behaviors to understand how they will continue to travel in this post-pandemic world.
Agree! It is always easier to gain market share in a growing market than in a flat or stabilized market. So timing is of the essence right now to benefit from the growth of Asian markets.
Cees, what is it within the study that makes you feel so confident that the market is rebounding so heavily?
We had asked about the travel intent in the next 12 to 24 months and what travelers are planning to spend compared to pre-Covid. We noticed a robust intention to travel internationally and a slight increase in expected travel spend compared to pre-Covid. It is too early to say when travel demand will match or surpass pre-covid levels but the outlook for the next 12–24 months looks promising.
Understandably, destinations and travel brands will be eager to tap into this reemerging market. What are some best practices in marketing and communications when trying to reach potential Asian travelers in their home countries?
Love this question! Because the answer sounds obvious but so many brands don’t take it into account! Western brands in particular should make sure they’re localizing their plans for travel planning behaviors unique to individual countries.
For example, while Online Travel Agencies (OTAs) dominate information channels for Asian travelers, those OTAs might be unfamiliar to Western planners. Rakuten Travel, MakeMyTrip and Ctrip are all the most popular sources for travel information in Japan, India and China respectively. But these region-specific OTAs may not be on the radar of Western travel brands.
It’s also not just the platforms that different countries favour, the research shows some very interesting differences between what travellers actually want as well.
Good point, Hamish.
I was due one!
I would love to know more. What mistakes do Western travel brands commonly make when trying to attract and engage Asian travelers?
I suppose it is treating the region as one rather than the unique countries they are. A homogeneous approach isn’t the best approach.
I agree … I would like to add that Western travel brands know all too well the differences in attracting a New Yorker versus a Texan to visit a destination, or for that matter a German versus an Italian traveler. Often, however, mainly due to unfamiliarity or lack of data and insights, they see Asian countries as a single market. But the differences among these markets are vast in terms of WHEN they travel, WHY they travel, HOW they get inspired, HOW they book, HOW they pay, etc.
100%! I think it’s a much better strategy to get specific about who you actually want to target and do it well than to try and treat the entire region generically.
“How they pay” is a really interesting point. We see very different terms and conditions for business group travel from some countries in Asia than we do out of European countries. Suppliers have to be nimble to adjust.
How can data and research inform strategies for marketing to distinct Asian traveler segments from different countries?
For starters, MMGY Global believes that data, research and insights should be the foundation for strategy for all travel suppliers and destinations, no matter where in the world. When it comes to Asia, which is still relatively unknown compared to Europe and the U.S., it is even more crucial to understand the differences among these markets and how and when you should target your message. Without doing your homework, without solid data and research, you are likely to misalign your resources in terms of timing, segmentation and messaging.
Without a backbone of data and research, marketers risk making generalizations that are likely to underperform and could even potentially be culturally insensitive. This is especially important for Western marketers who are targeting Asian international travelers, as they are much less likely to be naturally plugged in to travel motivators, behaviors and trends.
Think about seasonality. Without taking a look at Asian international traveler seasonality data, a Western marketer may make assumptions about when to place ads in-market. But the data shows us there are incredibly large differences in when different Asian travelers prefer to travel internationally. Without consulting that data, a marketer may have their media planned entirely out-of-season. Or worse, they might have the absolute wrong message in-market during a regional holiday and have a PR disaster on their hands. Data and research are critical!
Hamish, you are our resident MICE expert. What factors do Asian business travelers consider when selecting destinations and venues for meetings and events?
Key factors for Asian business travelers include accessibility, relevance and cost. It’s a balancing act and there isn’t one overriding reason. Sometimes it is down to the content of the event rather than the destination. But facilities play a key part – they need to be at the right price and in the right place.
From a travel trade perspective and when marketers are aiming to attract business travelers to their destination, there is the opportunity to work closely with operators who understand all the nuances and cultures we have discussed. Those with the in-market expertise will be able to open doors and give honest advice to allow destinations and other suppliers to tap into the market more quickly.
As we think about meetings and events, I do think it’ll be interesting to keep an eye on bleisure behavior from Asian travelers. Our most recent data suggests that the vast majority of Asian international travelers prefer to visit multiple destinations on one leisure trip. Bleisure is a great way to do that! As business travel from Asia continues to ramp up, will we see bleisure trends like we did for U.S. audiences post-pandemic?
And if cost – which the research shows has a strong influence – is a concern to the individual then having part of the trip cost offset by the company is a useful benefit.
On that note, I found it interesting that 65% of Asian business travelers that extend their business trips “occasionally” have family or friends join them, and 27% say they “frequently” do.
That’s super interesting, Cees! I don’t think I’ve seen that stat. Definitely one to watch.
Certainly destinations that show appeal as a leisure destination do often appeal as business event destinations – though they do have to get through corporate compliance and be relevant. But the ability to extend a trip, certainly as more companies have become flexible on where people work, has meant that we’ve seen a shift here.
That said, within Asia there are different business cultures in different countries so again we need to respect that the desire will be different between each country.
I love the bleisure angle. It makes destinations more accessible to the market, right? Hamish, you mentioned PRICE! That seems to be an important factor in all decisions and you are right, sharing the cost with a business expense may make Western destinations more accessible. Cees, I am wondering if you have seen any correlation between price and where Asian international travelers are considering travel.
For 72% of Asian travelers, cost of airfare and accommodation is a top consideration when planning a trip so price will definitely have an impact on destination selection. But, we also found the top five regions that Asians are interested in traveling to are Europe (93%), the South Pacific (90%), the United States 87%), Canada (86%) and Southeast Asia (82%).
Or where they stay in that destination. Some travellers, after all, will see the airfare cost as a necessary evil to get to a place they want to visit. But then [they] might stay at a more budget-friendly hotel.
Portrait of Asian International Travelers™ covers four key markets, China, Japan, South Korea and India. We have discussed the need to consider the nuances and differences in attitudes across the four markets. What were some of the most compelling differences in terms of their travel intent across the markets that you found within the study?
Many destinations lean on their local traditions in their marketing to lure travellers, but the research shows that only 46% of South Koreans list learning about local traditions, ethnic minorities or indigenous cultures as a motivator for travel, whereas that figure was 87% among Indian travellers.
That would point to the need to drastically alter strategies for some destinations. Caroline, how would a destination whose marketing strategy is about local culture, shift their strategy to reach South Korean travelers who are not looking for cultural immersion opportunities?
This is a great example of why it’s so important to dig into the data! While South Korean international travelers might not be as interested in learning about local traditions as their Indian counterparts, it looks like they’re both equally interested in experiencing a destination through authentic food! 68% of Indian international travelers and 66% of South Korean international travelers say that restaurant/food experiences are of interest to them on their travels.
A destination can use those motivators to understand the right angle for culinary tourism messaging. While Indian travelers might be more receptive to a message about exploring the indigenous culture of a destination through food, South Korean travelers will likely resonate with a destination that highlights local favorites or new dining experiences.
As an aside, culinary travel has been one of the biggest travel trends in the U.S., so it’s really interesting to see the different ways that has manifested in Asia.
And to come back to the importance of costs and how the markets differ: While the average of all Asian international travellers who view the cost of airfare and accommodation as a top consideration is 72%, the numbers break down much differently – 79% of South Koreans yet only 60% of Chinese travelers.
For the Chinese Traveler, who only 60% say affordable airfare is the top priority when considering international travel, what is the other major consideration when planning international travel?
For Chinese travelers, their top three motivators are (1) understanding and experiencing different cultures, (2) Trying new cuisines, particularly local or regional specialties and (3) spending quality time with family or friends in different environments.
It is also interesting to see the different attitudes on sustainability.
I agree with Hamish, the differences are astonishing.
How do the markets differ in terms of their attitudes towards sustainability?
You can see the difference in attitude between Japanese and Indian travellers when it comes to using providers that promote sustainability and in their willingness to pay more. You can also see changes across demographics. The research asked if a travel service provider’s focus on sustainability and environmental considerations impacts their travel decision-making process and the results are quite eye opening.
Percent of travelers that find a travel provider’s focus on sustainability impactful in their decision-making: Japan 35%, India 75%, South Korea 39% China 67%
Those are SUCH stark differences and a good example of the huge differences within the region!
It also has to do with how mature the education is about the subject. Again it points to the different cultures of each country.
This conversation has been really insightful. Thank you for your time today. As we have established, destinations, particularly in Europe and the U.S., need to be considering how they are reaching these markets because they are reemerging as incredibly valuable markets. What predictions or outlooks can you share on the future of Asian outbound travel in the next 3–5 years?
I think we’re going to see a continued rise in Asian international travelers using outside resources to book multi-stop trips. Group travel, cruises and travel advisors are all seeing steady growth from Asian markets and I don’t see that slowing down any time soon!
I see continued growth, continued differences for each market, and solid opportunities for destinations and suppliers as long as they understand the markets and target the right messages to the right audiences.
I’m based in London where historically we have had a strong Middle Eastern tourism market. There is a different understanding (within hotels for example) of the needs of different markets, be it Kuwait, Dubai, Qatar and others. Each is unique and I think we shall start to see a similar understanding of the Asian travel market and more bespoke marketing solutions. Some are already there, but others will quickly catch up with the right approach.
Thank you everyone for your time today and for your insights into the Asian International Traveler. If any reader is interested in learning more, Portrait of Asian International Travelers™ is available for purchase and full of many additional insights.