Arthur Kiong, CEO, Far East Hospitality
The number of Asian travellers will grow as the region adds an estimated 2.5 billion people to its middle class by 2030. By 2020, approximately 40 per cent of global outbound tourism spend will come from Asia. Arthur Kiong, CEO of Far East Hospitality (FEH) speaks to us on the implications of Asia’s rapid transformation and the need for businesses to differentiate themselves in order to attract today’s increasingly discerning Asian travellers.
With over three decades of experience in the hospitality industry, what are the key changes that have taken place in the travel and tourism industry?
Thirty years ago, it was common for Western travellers to be the focus of many tourism and hospitality businesses in Asia. The priority for tourism businesses then was to create travel products and experiences that catered to Western travellers and their preferences – this would explain the style in which hotels were designed - full Western- style breakfasts and wait staff with napkins draped over the arm that many established hotels had.
Today, a new generation of Asian consumers are quickly catching up, armed with larger disposable incomes along with bigger appetites for travel and authentic experiences.
You mentioned that a new generation of affluent Asian travellers now prefer differentiated and authentic experiences over conventional options. Could you share how this has changed FEH’s business approach?
Travellers today are no longer blindly choosing run-of-the-mill itineraries. They want to be a part of local festivals and cultures unique to each destination. And they want to do so in comfort. Tourism businesses today thus need to adopt a targeted, customised and market-specific approach to better engage consumers so as to offer relevant and authentic experiences that they value.
In my opinion, it is a country’s unique heritage that appeals to savvy travellers. For instance, hotels can provide exclusive services like round-the-clock European-styled butler services but this may not necessarily translate to a meaningful or memorable travel experience especially for Asian travellers. Realistically speaking, how many of us in Asia grew up with such formalities and habits at home? While we should offer our guests exceptional service, it is the authentic local flavours, cultures and experiences of a destination that will attract today’s travellers.
We need to be proactive and shift our marketing mix to complement our unique selling point. Even within Asia, each market is different. We cannot all be selling Asian hospitality.
At FEH, what we deliver is Singapore-inspired hospitality. What this means is that we offer our guests a little piece of Singapore’s heritage every time they stay with us. For instance, our Village brand leverages our location at several cultural precincts such as Little India and Kampong Glam to give guests the added advantage of eating, playing and living the Singaporean way. We are also opening Village Hotel Katong later this year so that our guests can, literally, have a taste of the Peranakan flavours in the surrounding area. Ultimately, we are a home-grown brand and we want to share our heritage with the rest of the world.
Last year, FEH participated in TravelRave as one of the exhibitors in ITB Asia. In your opinion, what is the value of a platform like TravelRave for the travel and tourism industry?
Although the travel and tourism industry in Asia is competitive, we appreciate the breadth of opportunities offered at platforms such as TravelRave. Last year, FEH exhibited at ITB Asia and will return this year with a larger booth to showcase a variety of new products and services. With many of the attendees coming from related sectors in the travel and tourism industry, we look forward to the opportunities to create new and stronger connections with potential business partners this year.
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Sources: 1. The Abacus International Report 2. Consumer Insights: Profiling the Asian Middle and Affluent Traveller, a report by Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and Singapore Tourism Board (STB), Asia Travel Leaders Summit 2012