The last few years have witnessed mammoth shifts in the landscape of technology within the travel industry. But nowhere has this been more apparent than in Asia, where the combined effects of the fierce growth in the numbers of people travelling within the region and globally, alongside the early adoption mentality towards new technologies has helped the region emerge as somewhat of a trail-blazer when it comes to innovation in travel. So much so, that leading travel companies’ decision makers, products developers and marketeers are increasingly building their strategies with Asia front of mind.
Skyscanner for Business has a dedicated team to support the innovative Asian market and the team have recently partnered with several promising start-up apps in the region, such as Singapore based Travel Door, Korean brands Tour Tips and StubbyPlanner, as well as Chinese app- maker Sungy Mobile.
So, what are the key areas where the Asian region has led the market in the travel space?
The Surge in Mobile
Mobile technology has been adopted full-heartedly in Asia, with many believing that the region leads the world in the adoption of smartphone and tablets. In countries like Hong Kong and Singapore, for example, as many as 87% of the population own smartphones, which accounts for a higher proportion than anywhere else in the world.
This has had a direct impact on the travel domain, perhaps more so than any other field. Around 38% of travellers in Asia are now said to be searching and booking their travel via mobile. It’s estimated that by 2018, the Asia Pacific region is expected to be the leading continent driving global growth of mobile travel booking online, with sales set to reach US$180bn.
Progression in technology adoption has been so fast in Asia that analysts have described a ‘leapfrog’ affect in travel booking, in which the progression in technology has occurred so swiftly that travellers have gone in quick succession from offline, straight to mobile, almost side-stepping the online desktop search and booking phase which was so prevalent in Europe and North America in the first decade or so after the turn of the millennium.
Conversational and Voice Search
Another key area in which the Asian region has been at the forefront of adoption is voice search, and this is perhaps a symptom of the region’s prevalence of mobile technology over and above desktop. Voice search is far more natural to connect with on a mobile style small device than on a device which requires typing, such as desktop.
Voice search, particularly in travel and leisure, has been increasingly popular in Asia, perhaps due to the fact that in several Asian languages it’s more challenging for people to type using a compact keyboard when they are using languages with a lot of characters or diacritical markers.
Asian companies, such as Chinese app developer Mobvoi have been at the forefront of offering voice travel search technology to their users. Mobvoi makes a service called Chumen Wenwen that was originally built to integrate with WeChat, China’s most popular messaging app. The service focuses on travel and lifestyle queries from users, including recommendations for bars, restaurants, weather and transportation – allowing WeChat to respond with a message containing the answers to users’ voice queries.
Tech Wearables – such as watches and glasses - have been big news of late – especially when it comes to travel; by 2016, it’s predicted that there will be around 180 million wearable units sold worldwide, and once again, Asia is leading the field. This has a direct impact on travel booking through wearable mediums, and there has already been a sharp increase in the number of travel brands offering wearable services. China, India and the Association of South East Asian Nations have been identified as key state drivers of growth in this area.
From technology that lets travellers unlock their hotel rooms to boarding passes for flights that are displayed on the wrist, to push notifications for travel delays, wearables are becoming an integral part of tech conscious travellers’ journeys.
Skyscanner has stayed ahead of the curve on all of these emerging trends; taking a pioneering approach to new technologies and innovation is key to the metasearch site’s strategy, and one which is making it increasingly successful in Asia.
Last year, Skyscanner published its Future of Travel report, which alluded to many of the technologies that the industry would be likely to witness over the coming years and that have been especially popular in Asia.
In terms of smartphones and tablets, Skyscanner has taken a distinctly ‘mobile first’ approach. Being mobile first is about understanding what customers want from your product on each device. Skyscanner has found that its users, and most especially it’s users from Asia-Pacific, are increasingly likely to book their travel on a tablet and mobile, so they have ensured that their apps and mobile web experience are as good and easy to use as their desktop website. Last year, the travel site saw a 77% growth in usage of their products on mobile devices, and in Asia mobile represents 59% of the site’s traffic.
Skyscanner has also ensured it has stayed at the forefront of the voice search trend with the integration of its Flight search API into Amazon’s cloud-based voice service, Alexa. The integration, soon to be available to the public, will allow users to ask Alexa to search Skyscanner for flight travel options, through Amazon Echo – the hands free device that connects to Alexa to provide information, answer questions, play music, read the news, and more. Skyscanner is the first travel search engine to integrate into Alexa; you can watch it in action here.
The travel search site has embedded itself in the wearables trend too, with the launch of ‘Find Your Way’ earlier this year – an extension to its hotels app for Apple Watch customers and its first wearable app product globally
What is increasingly becoming clear is that travel brands that fail to have Asia and its technologically advanced outlook front and centre of their strategy are likely to lose in the long-term. The region has proved time and time again that its consumers are keen to adopt the very latest in technology, and that is unlikely to change any time soon.