Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the travel industry in the Asian-Pacific (APAC) market was on the rise. It was estimated to be worth approximately $446 billion at the end of last year (1) and showed no signs of slowing down. Since COVID-19 swept across the world, tourism industries globally have recorded huge losses, from local economies dependent on annual tourist influxes to airline companies, which alone have lost a staggering $63 billion (1). While the APAC travel industry suffered too, it is beginning to show signs of recovery.
APAC Consumers Want to Travel Again
In certain APAC countries, consumers are beginning to express interest in domestic travel once again. These include Indonesia, India, the Philippines, and Vietnam, where over 25% of respondents to a Google survey between April-May 2020 indicated that they plan on travelling within their own country within the next quarter (1).
In Indonesia, for instance, consumer searches for hotels in Bali have recovered almost completely to the levels they were before the pandemic hit (3). This is largely due to the Indonesian government’s focus on boosting domestic tourism.
In a September 2020 survey, 50% of respondents said they were ‘eager or very eager’ to travel immediately (2). The longer consumers are unable to travel, the more pent-up and strong the demand for travel will be. It is important that advertisers and publishers are ready to meet that demand when travel becomes possible again.
APAC Consumer Expectations Around Travel have Changed
Google’s search engine has lately seen an uptick in key travel search terms such as ‘all-inclusive holidays’ and ‘hotels’ in countries like Vietnam and Taiwan (1). This once again suggests that APAC consumers are readying themselves for travel as soon as it is permitted by local and national governments. Interestingly, 87% of consumers in APAC countries expect to change the way they travel post-pandemic (1).
Consumers Want a ‘Safety first’ Approach
Google surveys showed that 65% of people over the age of 56 would feel more comfortable to travel again if travel companies put safety first (1). It is important to understand that what a ‘safe environment’ entails differs between markets. Some markets consider hotels safer while others consider holiday rental apartments, such as Airbnbs, safer (2).
Consumers Want Flexibility in a Fluctuating Global and Domestic Environment
Each market is in a different phase when it comes to restrictions and the ability to travel. Some countries are totally locked down, such as The Philippines, and some are in a transition phase where there is some possibility of travel (even if only domestically) such as Australia (2).
With the current state of travel and market-specific phases, there is little wonder that survey respondents also listed flexibility as a factor which would push them to book a travel holiday again (1). Promotional discounts were also listed, which is to be expected as well (given the lack of certainty around fluctuating travel restrictions in some countries and the increased probability of cancellation).
While promotional discounts may be something advertisers are used to working with, the flexibility is something they may have to adapt to. This includes adjusting policies to allow the waiving of cancellation fees or postponements without penalty fees. These consumer desires are understandable given the current climate of fluctuation surrounding travel permission during the pandemic.
How to prepare for APAC travel recovery
Keep up With Market-specific COVID-19 Updates and Tailor Content Accordingly
No one-size-fits-all message will work for APAC consumers wanting to travel. Publishers and advertisers need to consider the situation of each market (even breaking it down domestically) and customise their content and promotions appropriately. Marketing a ‘Travel now’ message to consumers under strict travel restrictions, or who are unable to travel at all, is potentially damaging to the relationship with them.
Keep on Top of the Latest Travel Trends and Provide as Much Information as Possible
Consumers are craving informative content online (2). Additionally, travel is one of the most well-researched sectors by consumers before they purchase, which means the more valuable information that is provided, the better (4). With the constantly fluctuating state of travel, advertisers and publishers who continually post updated, easily digestible content will do well, saving the user the inconvenience of trying to find the information themselves. Advertisers and publishers should include as much information as is accessible in an easy-to-read format, from clear pricing and cancellation policies, to images and consumer reviews.
Advertisers and publishers should also consider updating their existing travel content to be better optimised for search engines in the current APAC climate. For example, they should focus on relevant search terms like ‘Hotels with no cancellation fees’, or content titles like ‘Travelling during COVID-19’).
Clear Communication with Consumers is Important
Both publishers and advertisers should focus on ensuring they are clearly communicating with consumers. With all the fluctuation around travel permissions during the pandemic, there are mixed messages at the best of times. When publishers and advertisers decide to publish promotions or content, they should ensure that they are being crystal clear about how their travel promotion fits within the current restrictions, rather than adding to the confusion. They should also make sure they are available to support consumers when they have questions or concerns (for instance, about cancellation policies).
Maintaining Affiliate Relationships
It is important that travel advertisers maintain strong relationships with their publishers. This can include ensuring commissions are paid out in a timely manner (4) and keeping in touch regularly. When travel bubbles and opportunities open up as restrictions ease, advertisers will need to ensure their relationships with their publishers are as strong as possible. The travel industry was highly competitive before the pandemic, but will be even more so now given the circumstances. Advertisers who neglect their publishers risk having them feeling discouraged and deciding to promote competitors instead.
Be Flexible and Prepared
Both advertisers and publishers should be prepared for when travel restrictions ease to immediately make the most of the opportunity. Advertisers should alert their publishers as soon as they have an offer to promote and publishers should stay on top of travel trends and keep an eye on their inboxes. Missing an email can equate to missing out on promoting a limited advertiser offer. With all that pent-up travel demand, this is sure to also mean the loss of would-be commissions.
Publishers and advertisers should also be prepared to update, adjust and take down content according to the latest market-specific travel updates. Sharing content which is easy to change will make this a far simpler task. For example, advertisers should avoid sharing exclusive promotion codes with date-specific names (e.g. ‘November travel sale’!), but should instead keep the names more general.
Be Prepared for the APAC Travel Market for Now and the Near Future
With APAC countries showing signs of recovery in the travel industry, it is key that advertisers and publishers are prepared to meet the pent-up demand in a way that is appropriate for the current climate and shifting consumer needs.
Two of the most important changes to consider are:
- Travellers are prioritising safety
- More flexibility is needed
Given these changes, advertisers and publishers can prepare to meet APAC consumer travel needs in the following ways:
- Offering and promoting discounts and more flexibility
- A tailoring approach to each specific market, on national and regional levels
- Providing as much up-to-date, useful content as possible
- Clear communication and support for consumers
- Maintaining advertiser/publisher relationships
- Being prepared with content and promotions that are easy to adjust or postpone