Blog by Sansern Ngaorungsi, Chairman of the ASEAN Tourism Marketing & Communications Working Group, and Deputy Governor for International Marketing (Asia and South Pacific), Tourism Authority of Thailand.
When ASEAN Economic Community starts at the end of 2015, ASEAN will have taken a giant step to becoming the most popular destination in Asia Pacific. While diversity will attract an increasing number of visitors for the foreseeable future, what activities will visitors do within ASEAN? Which hotel will they stay at, or ignore? Much of that will depend on smart digital marketing – smart two-way engagement with travellers who are increasingly savvy in using reviews – and chasing down a last minute deal online.
For Southeast Asia to get its market share and not lose out to competing regions, it needs to embrace a constant policy of enhancing its digital marketing to travellers and the travel industry.
Apathy is fatal. Every 60 seconds, about 168 million of emails are sent, 695,000 status updates are posted on Facebook, 370,000 calls are made on Skype. Thousands of reviews of hotels, tours, restaurants are placed online on TripAdvisor, Hotels.com, Booking.com and Expedia.com. Travellers now crowd source multiple reviews of a destination online before booking. ASEAN needs to be not just up to speed with digital marketing, but ahead of it.
We need to understand that technology is here to simplify the life of travellers and empower them to make the right travel decisions. Technology gives us the opportunity to facilitate visa applications, to send visas by e-mail or on a mobile device. Done right, technology and e-marketing will help stimulate tourism to and within ASEAN and make Southeast Asia more popular than competing regions.
ASEAN’s marketing strategy should include internet portals, interfaces to other sites, B2B digital communication, mobile devices, video production and distribution and sophisticated customer relations management platforms. Mobile is vital. NTOs will likely remain the primary marketing bodies, but there is plenty of scope for ASEAN to create better awareness of destination Southeast Asia through smart online marketing. Each NTO can help ASEAN fulfil that brief.
Some encouraging steps are being taken. In January 2013, ASEAN is scheduled to launch an ASEAN Tourism website in English (www.aseantourism.travel) and one in Chinese (www.dongnanya.travel). ASEAN is also developing tourism promotion pages for SinaWeibo.com, the largest social media platform in China. The SinaWeibo pages are being developed with support from the ASEAN China Centre. ASEAN’s SinaWeibo content will be available early 2013. ASEAN has launched its first Facebook app in December 2012. The aim is to encourage travellers to ASEAN destinations to share their travel experiences on mobile devices as they happen.
The Facebook app includes maps and profiles for all ten countries in ASEAN. It lists things to see and do. The Travel Guide lists attractions, restaurants, shopping venues, hotels and even hospitals.
But we must remember we are still a people industry. Travellers may use screens and devices to research, book and review a destination. But once at a destination, it is the quality of the person-to-person interaction, the quality of the service that defines a successful holiday. Clever digital e-marketing must go hand in hand with a policy of human resource development across ASEAN.
Such a policy will help keep Southeast Asia as the most desirable holiday destination in the world.