THE three markets that are most interested in travelling are also the ones most interested in travelling sustainably, according to Booking.com’s inaugural APAC Traveler Confidence Index, shared at the OTA’s recent industry roundtable event in Singapore.
Speaking at the event organised in tandem with World Environment Day, Laura Houldsworth, managing director, APAC, shared findings of the study which polled 11,000 travellers across 11 countries and territories and looked at comfort levels, motivators and concerns of consumers.
Indian travellers are leading the way for South-east Asia for confidence. “They are raring to go,” said Houldsworth. Incidentally, Jeannie Lim, assistant chief executive, policy, of Singapore Tourism Board, speaking at the same event, noted that India is also the number one incoming source of travellers to Singapore.
Following in confidence are Vietnam and China. The research indicates that Indian, Vietnamese and Chinese respondents were most willing to put up with and/or overlook key travel deterrents in order to travel – which included enduring disruptions and travel costs; as well as confidence with their home countries/territories in receiving inbound travellers. Conversely, a majority of Japanese respondents (75%) expressed uncertainty with border reopenings, as well as their country’s preparedness to safely receive international travellers (82%).
Rather surprisingly, Singapore ranked 6th on the Travel Confidence Index despite having some of the most eased border restrictions in comparison to many markets across the region. Key factors that impacted Singapore’s standing in the index included general aversion towards any disruptions to their travel (65%) alongside that of sharing personal information for public health and safety (57%) and personalisation (45%) – a key element in most countries’ COVID-19 management strategies.
When it came to looking at how far Singaporeans would travel, 69% of respondents stated that they planned to take trips (of up to 8 hours) to popular holiday destinations closer to home, such as Thailand and Indonesia.
Houldsworth said that “travellers want to travel in a way that lives with their values. This is no longer the select few who want to travel sustainably, but the majority. Our travellers are now saying they want to do something about it.”
Booking.com launched its “Travel Sustainable” badge in 2021 and has developed a handbook which provides guidance and training for accommodation partners. “It is a desire for us to lead the industry and collaborate to set standards and work together toward the climate standards identified in the Paris agreement,” said Houldsworth.
Singapore is stepping up its sustainability initiatives. Said STB’s Lim, “Our target is for 60% of the hotel rooms in Singapore to have an internationally recognised sustainability accreditation by 2025. The more information that’s available to consumers, the easier it is for them to travel sustainably.
“We are also looking at ways to make sustainable travel fun and developing experiences around the Singapore water story, the Singapore garden city story and others like that. Our mission is to be an urban destination with a small footprint.”
Stephen Tracy, chief operating officer, Milieu Insight, also noted that overall traveller confidence is high with the desire to travel higher with the pandemic. That desire is being translated into action with the removal of government restrictions. “There’s a six-week wait to get a passport in Singapore, a good sign,” he said. “As restrictions are starting to loosen, our data shows more interest in domestic travel, especially in Thailand, Indonesia and India.”
Hermione Joye, sector lead, travel, APAC for Google said, “The ‘revenge traveller’ is very spontaneous, digital-minded, and spending longer time in destination and they’re very immersive. They tend to be nature-based first, then moving back into cities. They have a high interest for luxury travel and they are sharing their experiences with their friends throughout.
“They’re reminding everyone how fun it is to travel and they’re spreading the word. Businesses have a higher level of trust with flexible work and enabling teams to work – even from different countries.”
However, with customers intent on “revenge travel”, how much attention will they pay to sustainability, realistically speaking?
Said Joye, “The endemic traveller realises that their travel experience is a luxury and they want to ensure that it’s sustainable for generations to come. They’re travelling more thoughtfully about their experience and are traveling more short-haul. If they do that 60-70 days out, they’ll also get more bang for their buck.”
Tracy is more cautious, saying it was a question of consumers having the right information. “You see the word ‘sustainabililty’ thrown around a lot and sometimes it doesn’t have the degree of information that the traveller needs to make decisions. If it isn’t intertwined with the impact of decision, it’s disingenuous or meaningless.”
Commenting on whether high air fares could put a dent on travel demand in the coming months, Joye said, “First movers are happy to pay an extra price, but lots of revenge travellers are choosing a less obvious destination that is more affordable. Until we can get to pre-COVID levels with supply on the airline side, we’ll see higher rates.”
Tracy added, “Sustainable consciousness has been going up year after year. Sometimes there’s a gap between consciousness and action. We are at a unique time right now – prices are up, there’s been a relaxation of restrictions, and now we have school holidays. Perhaps in the next month or two there may be prioritisation of cost over sustainability, but I do think that decisions based on sustainability are here to stay.”
Featured image: The panellists from left, moderator Charlotte Mei, Laura Houldsworth, Managing Director of Asia Pacific for Booking.com; Hermione Joye, Sector Lead, Travel, APAC, Google; Stephen Tracy, Chief Operating Officer, Milieu Insight; and Jeannie Lim, Assistant Chief Executive, Policy Planning Group, Singapore Tourism Board.