Towards sustained prosperity for the ASEAN travel industry

Albert Villadolid

Head of South East Asia, Distribution Commercial, Amadeus IT Group

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Years in the making, the ASEAN Economic Community is finally on the homestretch. As 2016 gets started, opinion is divided as to how much has been achieved and how much more needs to be done. What remains unquestioned is the strength of Southeast Asia as a single, united entity.


Combined, ASEAN is the world’s seventh largest economy and one of its fastest-growing. In its own right that should make it an economic powerhouse, but to date, its ability to harness that potential has been limited by unequal paces of development, infrastructure gaps and regulatory hurdles.

Take tourism for example. The year-round warm climate and rich tapestry of tastes, sights and sounds make Southeast Asia a dream destination for any tourist – and a relatively inexpensive one at that.

But travelling across the region isn’t as easy as it can (and should) be. Substantial progress has been made in cutting down the red tape of visa regulations within the region, but the cacophony of different transport providers with their own systems, search and booking channels, ticketing processes and travel retail services remain pain points for many travellers.

Interconnecting all of these is the next big step.

There is good news: technologically, there is no obstacle in our path. Today it is viable to interline air with rail, metro, bus, tram, and more – in theory. However, for this to make the leap to reality requires collaboration from private and public sectors, which can be challenging. Policy-makers need to create opportunities and stimulate the market to make it attractive to develop multi-modal transport solutions.

In Europe, this is well under way. The Amadeus-led consortium ‘All Ways Travelling’ (AWT) was appointed by the European Commission (EC) to explore the feasibility for the emergence of a multi-modal information and booking system. We also announced a partnership agreement with UNWTOto develop a prototype to facilitate multi-modal travel.

Swim the blue seas of Boracay, indulge in the tastes of Bangkok, or climb the steps of Angkor Wat – why not all of the above? There is little doubt that there is greater value in promoting ASEAN as a regional destination instead of individual countries.

To do this requires community, collaboration and commitment. Some progress has been made by the ASEAN Tourism Forum and with initiatives like the GOASEAN travel channel, but in reality, “Malaysia, Truly Asia” still competes with “It’s more fun in the Philippines” and “Discover Thainess”. More needs to be done, and it’s clear that to achieve success, national tourism organisations, airlines and travel sellers must come together to play their part in developing and promoting intra-ASEAN travel offerings.

Done right, AEC will be a shot in the arm to boost travel into and within Southeast Asia, which bodes well for travel players in the region. On the other hand, free trade and a single market will also mean more competition for travel players in the region: travel operators in Singapore will now compete with those in Malaysia, Philippines and Thailand.

So how can travel players pivot themselves so they fully tap on the opportunities and mitigate the risks?

Firstly, by truly understanding and catering to the needs of travellers. Today we live in the Age of Traveller Power, where the traveller is more empowered and individualistic than ever before. Amadeus’ Future Traveller Tribes 2030 research shows that hyper-customisation will become the default expectation among travellers, who will be looking for greater insights, advice and guidance in their travel choices, rather than off-the-shelf solutions. The winners will be those who are able to package offers for customers based on an understanding of what drives their behaviour – and technology will be key.

From an operations perspective travel companies should also consider three things –the ABC steps:

  1. They should start by Auditing
    their environment – assess the changes and consider how they can upskill their workforce, through effective talent acquisition and retention strategies.

  2. Brand-building
    will be critical. More competition means more noise from a marketing perspective, so travel players will need to invest time and resource to build a brand that stands out in the crowd.

  3. Communicate to connect. Networking in a much bigger market is essential in order to prosper in an integrated economic community. In order to attract customers, suppliers, and even talent, travel firms must connect within the region and the global community. In a multi-market and diverse environment, multi-channel communication capability will be the new norm.

Ready or not, the AEC integration is coming. This should not be viewed as a hard deadline, but rather an ongoing process that requires consistent, concerted effort from the government and industry players. What is clear is that we are entering a new era when visions have to be calibrated and formed, innovations pursued, relationships nurtured and calculated risks taken.

At Amadeus, we’re proud to be in Southeast Asia, for Southeast Asia. Exciting times ahead!


Asia Pacific