Issue #105 - Free Travel Giveaways Highlight the Covid Overhang in Asia Pacific!
Tourism marketers are turning to freebies and giveaways to entice tourists.
Welcome to issue 105 of Asia Travel Re:Set.
Three years ago yesterday, the WHO declared Covid-19 a pandemic.
On that day, we produced episode #9 of The South East Asia Travel Show, called Dreaming of a Travel Recovery.
Hannah Pearson and I summarised the (pre-lockdown) situation (110,092 cases in 101 countries). We assessed IATA’s 2020 loss forecast for airlines and the revised visitor arrivals predictions across South East Asia. We also discussed an 8-point wish list for rethinking tourism after the impending pandemic downturn.
It’s well worth a listen (Click HERE) to reflect on the start of a traumatic period that has changed the travel industry forever.
So let’s follow that train of thought…
Thanks for checking-in.
- “IN THE NEWS”
- Free Travel Giveaways Highlight the Covid Overhang in Asia Pacific!
Tourism marketers are turning to freebies and giveaways to entice tourists
- The Travel Fun is Back in the Philippines
Talking about a tourism recovery with Feliz Axalan of Tradewings
“IN THE NEWS”
“Once China’s outbound recovery starts to gain momentum, we will gain a clearer picture of how ready airport infrastructure and staffing are across the region.” Many thanks to Caroline Boey at TTG Asia for including my comments in this article addressing the return of Chinese tourists. Read HERE.
Free Travel Giveaways Highlight the Covid Overhang in Asia Pacific!
This is a period of both action and reflection in Asia Pacific.
The travel and tourism sectors are frantically promoting now the region is fully open. While 2022 saw staggered re-openings in South East Asia and North East Asia, with China joining the party in January, 2023 will be the first year since 2019 that regional tourism operates across the calendar. This week, the battle between destinations played out in the cavernous halls of the ITB Berlin travel trade show.
With everyone watching everyone else, some tourism marketers are turning to freebies and giveaways to make headlines, drive a social buzz and entice tourists. There’s an awful lot of stuff purportedly being given away.
Hong Kong’s 500,000 free flight giveaway has been heavily trailed, although - as noted in Issue #97 - the Hong Kong Airport Authority purchased the tickets more than 2 years. Last week, while searching for a Cathay Pacific press release on its website, I was placed in a queue (see above image). Free flights will do that to a server, I guess.
Last month, Taiwan’s Tourism Bureau announced it would “distribute” NT$5,000 each to 500,000 international visitors. The complimentary cash “will be stored in an electronic ticketing card, which can be used to pay for food, accommodation and other travel expenses.” In addition, Taipei will offer 10,000 free sightseeing bus tours to “independent travellers who stay in contracted hotels for at least two nights,” plus cruise passengers and transiting European travellers.
This week, Vietnam’s low-cost carrier Vietjet sent out a press release, Vietjet launches new promotion offering free domestic flights in Vietnam for Australian travellers, promising:
“Passengers who fly on Vietjet from Sydney and/or Melbourne to Ho Chi Minh City will be eligible for free connecting flights to other destinations within Vietnam, such as Hanoi, Da Nang, Nha Trang, Phu Quoc, and many others.”
Meanwhile, an article this week by Travel Weekly Asia about a new Singapore tourism programme was headlined Freebies galore as Singapore unveils SingapoRewards programme. It noted:
“To achieve its ambitious goal of 12 to 14 million visitors in 2023… the SingapoRewards programme offers short-term visitors a choice of about 40 complimentary curated experiences across various categories, such as novelty and fun; food and dining; wellness; and sustainability.”
Various views about freebie tourism marketing exist. On the one hand, tourism is highly competitive in 2023 with all nations open and demand patterns rebuilding. Conversely, giving away flights, tours and experiences diverges from the “high-quality” tourism rhetoric espoused frequently by Tourism Ministers and NTOs.
“If they are doing it, shouldn’t we?'“
Do giveaways ultimately devalue product and create false expectations? Is this a race to the bottom?
Of course, freebie marketing has long existed. It is widely used on a time-limited basis in the FMCG world. (Taipei’s bus tour promotion, for example, is book-ended from mid-March to 30 June, and LCCs - like AirAsia - use “free ticket” promises as a front-end driver of online traffic for flash sales promotions.)
But, there is a big difference between giving away free cans of soft drink, pockets of fries and sachets of washing powder - which are regular-buy items - than travel tickets that might be a person’s only such purchase for the entire year.
So why is all this happening? Three primary reasons:
Fierce destination competition to attract tourists
An “if they are doing it, shouldn’t we?” marketing mindset
Genuine uncertainty that 2023 visitor and spending targets can be achieved.
Tourism is (forget the ‘high-quality’ distraction) a numbers game. Recovery in Asia Pacific is, and will continue to be in 2023, uneven. Some destinations will prosper compared to 2022, others may improve upon last year’s results but remain under-par, and others will likely perform well below governmental expectations.
Whether you believe free tourism marketing will uplift overall performance is a topic of conjecture.
“The guide’s very auspicious number of subsections run from Adventure Tourism to Zheng He. The info is necessary because China will probably soon regain its crown as the biggest travel source market in the world,” Mark Footer, Travel Editor, South China Morning Post.
Click to download your copy of The Chinese Outbound Tourism Handbook 2023: 88 Practical Ways to Prepare for the New Wave of Chinese Visitors in:
English French German Spanish Italian
The Covid-19 Overhang
Which brings us to a pivotal point of context: the overhang in Asia Pacific of the Covid-19 pandemic. Specifically, the damage that protective governmental policies caused to their own travel and tourism economies. Repairing the damage is taking time.
This week, Singapore’s government published a White Paper on Singapore’s Response to Covid-19. It showed visitor arrivals collapsed from 19.1 million in 2019 to 300,000 in 2021. The White Paper highlights 8 aspects the City State managed well (vaccines, protecting the healthcare system, securing jobs) and 6 areas for improvement (border controls, contact tracing and ‘transition to endemic’). This paragraph is revealing:
“On the one hand, while we learn about a likely dangerous infectious disease, we must move quickly to impose suitable border measures in response to an initial outbreak. On the other hand, we should be objective and responsive in deciding when the virus or variant is already in our community, that the main danger is no longer from abroad, and border restrictions can and should be eased.”
And one of the 5 “Lessons From Covid-19 For Preparing for the Next Pandemic” is pertinent region-wide:
“In dealing with a complex crisis, we should establish upfront which dimension to prioritise. We need to adapt more quickly to changing situations, and not allow the perfect to become the enemy of the good.”
It’s well worth a read. Click HERE.
In February, Japan passed new legislation to ensure its health systems are prepared for future pandemics. The Japan Times notes “the government came under fire for its slow initial response” to Covid-19. The law “would allow the prime minister to exercise the right… to deal with the outbreak of an infectious disease that could have a huge impact on both the economy and society.” This week, the health ministry “updated a set of Covid-19 prevention tips” as Japan prepares to downgrade Covid-19 from Class 2 to Class 5 and scrap “new lifestyle” guidance issued in May 2020.
Different issues in Malaysia, where the new era is confronting some tricky aspects of the pandemic era. This week, social media scribes and the local press were scathing about an ongoing lack of investment at Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA). An article in The Star (KLIA in need of a major facelift) featured this comment by Tan Kok Liang, President of the Malaysian Association of Tour and Travel Agents:
“Common complaints from tourists were of the long immigration lines, the state of the toilets and amenities, transportation between the KLIA main terminal building and the satellite building, as well as the waiting areas.”
[NB: Many F&B and retail outlets at KLIA that closed during the pandemic are still shuttered almost one year after Malaysia lifted it travel quarantine restrictions].
Meanwhile, the nation was rocked this week by 6 charges of corruption and money laundering brought at the High Court against former Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin. His televised press conferences were a feature of the lockdowns in 2020 and 2021. The charges, which relate to his government’s pandemic business assistance scheme, were captured by this Malay Mail headline: “Taking RM232m in bribes and laundering RM195m: The list of charges against Muhyiddin.”
Asia Pacific’s Covid overhang has a long tail. To be continued.
The Travel Fun is Back in the Philippines, with Feliz Axalan
Surfing. Boutique Airbnbs. Cycling Trips. Villa Staycations. Big Cruise Ambitions.
“The fun is back in the Philippines… even more so!” Almost a year since it reopened, I measure the inbound, outbound and domestic travel recovery in South East Asia’s second-largest nation with Manila-based Feliz Axalan, General Manager of Tradewings Tours & Travel.
We discuss the hot destinations for outbound travellers (spoiler alert: Japan yes, South Korea no), visa issues and FIT vs Group Tour shifts. Feliz reveals the surfing and cycle trip hotspots for domestic travellers. Plus, we talk upgraded airports, boutique Airbnbs and the archipelago nation’s cruise travel ambitions.
Listen to The Travel Fun is Back in the Philippines, with Feliz Axalan, here:
🎧 Website 🎧 Spotify 🎧 Apple Podcasts
Or search for The South East Asia Travel Show on any podcast platform.
And, that’s a wrap for Issue 105.
The Asia Travel Re:Set newsletter will return on 26 March.
Until then, find me on LinkedIn and The South East Asia Travel Show - which this week will discuss the state of play for aviation and airlines, with Shukor Yusof of Endau Analytics.