South-east Asia may once be perceived as a less sexy backyard for travel but perceptions are now changing, with agents pointing to signs of intra-region holidays becoming a growing trend as unique offerings and experiences become more readily available.
In Thailand, Express Holiday Center has begun to sell South-east Asian destinations like Vietnam, after observing a spike in interest in regional travel among Thai travellers, said tour sales officer Prasert Ittipanuvat.
“Today, Thai travellers like to explore South-east Asia more than Europe. (Seasoned) Thai travellers have been to Europe and faraway places. They’re finding great heritage in the region, with a lot to see and discover,” he said. Combined with the ecotourism and soft adventure trend, this has enhanced the appeal of South-east Asian destinations such as Halong Bay.
“The outbound market is on an uptrend – we’re seeing about 10 per cent annual increase in outbound leisure business. There’s been a dramatic change in Thais’ desire and ability to travel.”
In the Philippines, Edmond Mayormita, president of Davao-based Travel Advantage, has seen demand for South-east Asian cities grow steadily over the years.
He said: “It’s more expensive to travel within the country than overseas. This year, we will have a second batch of tax increase, which will affect domestic flights, (coming) on top of Philippine Airlines’ fuel surcharge. It’s far cheaper to go to, say, Singapore than to Manila, or elsewhere domestically.”
This was also the experience of Katarina Indrawati, EMFA Tours & Travel in Indonesia, who saw a surge in outbound bookings for the region since the LCC revolution.
On the other hand, the Philippines’ Executive Resources may be seeing a slow increase in booking volumes for South-east Asia, but its focus is still on packages beyond the region, said manager Ayon Sanchez.
“Majority of our packages – about 75 per cent – are not in South-east Asia. (This is because) for South-east Asia packages, we see a lot of clients doing it on their own.”
The ease at which travellers can plan and book their own regional holidays is prompting agents like Sanchez to create more unique experiences in South-east Asia that clients are “not aware of” to fan their interest, Sanchez said.
“Today, our clients are moving away from cookie-cutter tours, towards something more authentic, whether in food or activities,” he noted.
Shorthaul travel still shines for agents in South-east Asia’s emerging economies like Myanmar. For example, Yangon-based Asian Tour in 2015 began pivoting from an inbound to an outbound-focused company.
“The desire to travel is definitely going up in Myanmar, but not the spending power. For now, we are selling mostly neighbouring countries like Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam,” explained managing director Kyaw Pyay Oo.