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New Asian customer put in spotlight at Web in Travel 2010

Wednesday, 14 July 2010
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The new Asian customer and the way she plans, books and buys travel will be in the spotlight at this year’s Web In Travel conference taking place in Singapore in October.

“There is a new customer emerging in Asia,” said Yeoh Siew Hoon, owner of the conference. “She is extremely value-conscious and tech-savvy in the way she seeks and accesses information on the web, comparing not only prices but also what other people are saying about a product or service.

“Game-changing gadgets such as the iPhone or the iPad, social networks such as Facebook and travel review sites such as TripAdvisor are just some of the factors that are influencing traveller behaviour across the region.

“We also have a very Internet-savvy and mobile-connected generation of customers emerging in Asia. In July, Asia became the largest producer of tweets on Twitter and some of Facebook’s biggest growth markets are found in the region.”

This, she said, explains why TripAdvisor, the biggest travel review site in the world, and Facebook are setting up regional headquarters in Singapore.

Social networking activity is on the rise in Asia, as tracked by comScore, the global company that gathers digital media intelligence, showing that 50.8 percent of the total online population in the Asia-Pacific region visited a social networking site in February 2010, reaching a total of 240.3 million visitors.

Brett Henry, Vice President Marketing, Abacus International, the travel technology company which processes most of the region’s air reservations, said, “The people going to social networks are no longer just the younger generation. Granted that in Asia, there is still a market for the 50s and above who are less Internet savvy and prefer to book offline. But if you project ahead, in a decade or less, the Internet and social media savvy Generation C will be ruling the world.”

In India, for instance, more than one-third of its total Internet population visit travel sites with comScore reporting that top online travel brands are seeing double and triple-digit growth as consumers take to the web in search of deals.

AirAsia’s Facebook fan page grew from zero members to more than 200,000 within a year and now stands at 339,009 members.

Said Kathleen Tan, regional head of commercial for the airline group which will fly its 100th million passenger by the fourth quarter of this year, “With an average of 6,500 fans and over 33,000 visits to our fan page weekly, we know that they are taking us seriously on the social media front.”

Said Yeoh, “Everyone recognises the huge travel demand there is in Asia, not only in the major population areas of China and India, but also across the whole of South-east and North Asia. People are travelling either for the first time, thanks to low cost airlines, or for the umpteenth time, and they are branching out to try new places. And they are being adventurous not only in where they travel to but how they plan and book their travels.”

In July as well, Google, which commanded 72 percent of the search market in the US in May 2010 (Experian Hitwise), paid US$700 million to acquire ITA Software, a company whose technology solution helps travellers search for air fares.

“This development which sees Google moving into the travel vertical can only benefit travellers as this will spur the industry to improve search and make it easier for us to look for the best air fares to anywhere,” said Yeoh.

It is against this backdrop that leading travel marketing and technology experts from around the world will gather at the Web In Travel conference to discuss and debate the latest customer trends emerging in Asia.

Represented on the speakers list are new brands such as TripAdvisor;, the publicly-listed Japanese meta travel search site;, the leading online hotel portal in South Korea; NileGuide, the US-based travel planning site; Holiday IQ, the India-based travel media site that’s expanding in South-east Asia; and Indonesia’s Mandala Airlines, which is launching international services to Singapore, Hong Kong and Macau soon.

Established online travel brands such as Wotif, ZUJI/Travelocity, Expedia and will also be represented, along with the leading players in search, revenue management, social media, branding, marketing and distribution.

“What we wanted to do this year was to widen our net to cover players who are making waves in Asia Pacific, international brands who are entering the region and emerging markets such as Indonesia and Korea,” said Yeoh.

Close to 60 speakers have been confirmed, with more likely to be added in the months to come. Among the speakers are “archangel” investor Morten Lund who has co-founded and invested in more than 50 high-tech startups including Skype and online stockbroker Zecco; Adrian Hamilton-Manns, CEO of Mandala Airlines in Indonesia; Cui Guang Fu, CEO, Elong, China; Gerry Samuels, CEO, Mobile Travel Technologies; Hrush Bhatt, founder and director of Cleartrip/Small World in India; Marc Charron, managing director of TripAdvisor APAC; and William Bao Bean, partner, Softbank China & India Holdings.

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