Understanding Asian Travel Behaviours: How can companies adapt?

As a whole society, Asia is growing rapidly in the tourism industry. In the first quarter of 2019 Asian travel grew by 6% according to the World Tourism Organisation. It is estimated that in 2030 China will make up a quarter of all international travel. The number of Indonesians travelling abroad is rising each year. In 2017, 9.1 million Indonesians travelled abroad, and more than 3 million applied for a new passport, one hundred thousand more than in 2016. With the rise of the millennial Asian traveller, these numbers are growing each year. 

This increase in Asian travel means it’s important for companies to understand cultural and behavioural differences in order to capture, retain, and grow in this widely developing market and culture. 

With travel being the second-fastest-growing sector in the world, it is important for many companies to understand not all cultures travel the same or have the same expectations when travelling.  Tourism affects a huge amount of industries beyond the ones directly connected to travel such as airlines, airports and similar services. Restaurants, car rentals, activity centres, hotels and more all need to connect and adapt to their global customers.

Here are some things to know about Asian travel behaviours that can help travel and hospitality businesses understand the market better. We look into three aspects, as examples:

  1. Who do they travel with?

  2. Where do they go?

  3. How do they use social media for travel?


1. Who do they travel with?

Asia is a collectivist society where people often travel with friends and (extended) families. Spending quality time with the family is of great importance in this region, meaning group travelling is popular.

A few examples:  

In Southeast Asia there is an  important value of giving back, of respecting and taking care of ageing parents. Therefore, children will take their parent(s) on holiday to show them their love, and for everyone to spend time together whilst relaxing and seeing the world. Intergenerational travels means larger travelling groups.

At home, it is common for Southeast Asians to have helpers/maids to help look after children and the household. Whilst travelling, the helpers/maids don’t always travel with the families. This means sometimes a few or all children remain at home with the helpers/maids as parents can be nervous about looking after them by themselves. Alternatively, older generations may travel with families to help with childcare which means intergenerational travel, where 2-3 generations travel together, is common.  Siblings also travel together without their parents or with their extended families.  

Even though there is a strong cultural value to taking parents and family on holiday, in the past few years the rise of the millennial solo-traveller has seen younger Asians embark on travels on their own.  

So what does this mean?

To cater to the needs of this culture, hotels and other hospitality companies should feature childcare services in their marketing. With lots of parents travelling with children on their own, without their helpers/maids, knowing a hotel offers trusted, certified childcare services would make travelling less daunting, especially if travelling with an older relative for support is not possible. 

Hotels and other hospitality companies could promote their group room bookings along with quick and easy check-ins to make travelling with larger groups run smoother. A feature allowing people to split the cost between several people, or share information and research about the trip with each other, would allow better communication between large parties and overall allow people to feel less stressed about their travels. 

Airlines could also cater for larger groups by offering group seat allocations, allowing whole families to sit together. This would be calming for nervous parents travelling with children for the first time as they would know they would definitely have seats together. 

For intergenerational travelling, airlines should promote their services which could help elderly flyers. Promoting services such as help with heavy bags, long-distance walking and the awareness that they may be slower would be attractive to the Asian market. 

 To cater for solo-travellers, who may have never travelled on their own before, airlines could highlight their flight tracker services allowing families to track flights in real-time. Hotels could promote the safety of their rooms and the extra services they may provide to put solo-travellers at ease such as 24-hour reception, security and wake-up calls.

2. Where do they travel?

It’s common for Asian travellers to visit other Asian countries. In 2018 149.7m visitors from mainland China visited Hong Kong, an increase of 1,326% from the first year of the millennial. In Indonesia the most popular travel destination is Singapore. 

Japan is one of the top destinations visited by Southeast Asians. It is becoming increasingly popular to explore further than just the main cities and the typical tourist destinations. The increase in popularity for exploring other places also means they’re more likely to hire a car when in Japan for easier access to these places, especially when travelling in large groups.

There are many factors that make Japan attractive for Southeast Asian travellers including cultural experience and scenic attractions. Food is also a huge attraction in Japan, according to a recent survey by the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) Japan has seen strong growth in gastronomy tourism, tourism based on visiting food festivals, restaurants and special places to taste specific food. 

Hong Kong, Macau and Thailand are also popular destinations, with the number of Asian tourists travelling to European cities, especially Venice and Barcelona, growing each year. They often travel to places in Europe that Europeans don’t go as much, such as the city of Trier in Germany's Moselle region, birthplace of Karl Marx. They stay further away from the main tourist attractions, finding their own adventures off the beaten path.  The rise of social media and sharing travels means lots of people want to go somewhere new and exciting, somewhere their friends haven’t. 

In 2018 over one million Indonesians travelled to Saudi Arabia, as undertaking the umrah, an Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca that can be done any time of the year, is becoming more popular. Indonesia is the home to the12.6% of the world's Muslims, the largest percentage in any other country. 

Many Chinese travellers travel abroad in the major Chinese holiday periods of early May and October, and around the lunar new year, which are typically unpopular months for Europeans and North Americans to travel. Asians also tend to travel quickly in European countries, stays as short as 2-3 nights in cities such as London, Rome and Paris are not uncommon. 

So what does this mean?

Because of the high Muslim percentage in Asia, especially Indonesia, airlines could highlight their Halal food options for Muslim travellers. 

Car high companies should promote their easy pick-up and drop-off services for car hire, especially as there may be more than one car hired per group because of large travel parties. Special deals for more than one car hired in a group could be an option, however, this should not be promoted as low cost, but instead how beneficial is it to group travel and enhancing family time. 

With quick trips to cities being popular, attractions (museums, galleries) could promote pre-paid tickets to guarantee entry on a certain day, or offer queue jumping tickets to ensure people can make the most of their short time in the city. Being able to plan their time in the city prior to arrival would limit time wasted in deciding what to do and when.  Alternately, because there is a growing desire to stay away from tourist attractions, tour companies could start offering trips to unusual places outside of cities, carefully promoting them as non-tourist attractions.   

For OTA and airline companies, knowing when the popular times for Asians to travel means they can target them at the correct times, instead of presuming they follow the same holiday months as Europeans and North Americans.  This would mean there’s the potential for customers all year around. 


3. How do they use social media for travel? The rise of social media

Being a culture that strongly values family and friends, word of mouth is the most common way recommendations are passed around and is much more important in Asia than any other continent. 

Social media, such as Facebook, means that ‘word of mouth’ no longer has to be physically verbal. Recommendations are easier to pass around now than ever before. In Malaysia and Indonesia, Facebook is the most prominent and popular social media platform for connecting with friends and family. Because of this, it is important for companies to have a social media presence, especially Facebook, for potential customers to connect with.  

With the rise of Instagram, younger generations travel to capture experiences they can show off on social media to their friends, family and beyond. There is a growing opinion in Asia, as well as Europe and North America, that if photos weren’t taken, it might as well not have happened. Photos posted on Instagram can also be used to show class, wealth and family values. 

In an assessment looking at Twitter, tweets from Singaporeans showed interest in being able to take wines home as gifts and souvenirs. Chinese tweets showed an interest in wildlife and Indonesians were most interested in adventure activities.

So what does this mean?

Companies should have a strong social media presence when targeting Asia, especially Facebook, so that recommendations can not only come from the mouths of friends and families but also other people. It also makes it easier for research on trips and activities to be sent online to families who don’t live together.

Attractions should offer social media-friendly photo opportunities. Research conducted by the Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre shows that Asians are attracted most by the clean environments, blue skies, beaches, food and scenery, all of which are popular to post on Instagram thanks to the rise of travel influencers. Airlines, travel companies and more can use these images to promote their services, within the relevance of their company and what they offer, to gain the attention of Asian travellers. 

Targeting Asia as a whole is a broad spectrum, so having insights into different countries preferred activities allows companies to tailor their marketing to specific audiences such as adventure holidays for Indonesians.

The summary: What does this mean overall?

Having these insights into a culture is fascinating, but they can only work if a company showcases the relevant insights successfully to its target audience and market.  

In the short-term companies should identify what elements matter most to Asian travellers in their sector so that that can emphasise them in their marketing materials. These elements will be different for each company.  In the long-term, companies should aspire to be innovative. 

Every company will have to approach their business, services and marketing differently based on their section in the industry. A car rental wouldn’t always highlight and promote the same offers and services as a hotel, even though they are targeting the same culture.

Overall, having knowledge and insights into a culture and its context is vital, but unless implemented correctly, it will not benefit a company to its full potential.