Scrolling through Instagram and TikTok, mesmerized by the breathtaking landscapes of Bali, the vibrant nightlife of Vietnam, or the bustling street markets of Thailand, your inner wanderlust awakens. And thanks to the ease of technology, that escapade has now become just a click away!
Consumer behavior towards traveling has radically evolved, and tech is here to make it all happen! Meet Alex – a 23-year old tech-savvy voyager set on exploring the Orient. Her planning starts with Skyscanner to find the best deals on flights. Next, it’s time to book a cozy nest. After browsing a few hotels on Agoda.com she lands on a boutique hotel in Bali. Next stop – Klook – a treasure trove of experiences. From snorkeling in the crystal clear water of Blue Lagoon to hiking to the Mount Ijen volcanic crater – her thrillophilia is quenched with a tap!
This is just one of many instances! From digital booking platforms that simplify trip planning to AI-powered chatbots that provide 24/7 assistance and immersive experiences through AR and VR technologies, SEA is at the forefront of the traveltech revolution. A study by Statista highlights that by 2025, online travel and tourism in Southeast Asia will amount to approximately $44 billion USD, up from $17 billion USD in 2022.
How Technology is Revolutionalizing SEA Travel Experience
I. Convenient Booking Platforms
Gone are the days of stacks of brochures, numerous calls to travel agents, and considerable guesswork as digital booking platforms came into play. Alongside major global companies like Agoda, Booking.com, and Expedia that have become household names, various local players like RedDoorz (headquarter: Singapore), Wego (headquarter: Singapore), Vntrip (headquarter: Vietnam) are gradually disrupting the market.
These new-age startups harness the power of advanced technologies. For instance, Travala (headquartered in Vietnam) provides a blockchain-based marketplace for travel bookings. The company leverages blockchain technology & smart contracts to offer a global marketplace for travel bookings, by directly connecting travel service providers & consumers.
II. Helpful Apps in Abundance
Regionally headquartered travel apps appropriately sense tourists’ pain points. For instance, ride booking apps like GrabTaxi (headquarter: Singapore), Gojek (headquarter: Indonesia), Tuk Tuk Hops (headquarter: Thailand) offer a quick and hassle-free travel experience.
Discovering local eateries and cuisines is a breeze with restaurant reservation platforms like Eatigo (headquarter: Thailand). Alongside popular translation apps like Google Translate, Duolingo, several apps like Papago and Waygo specialize in Asian language translation and thereby streamline communication for global travelers.
Evisa Asia (headquarter: Malaysia) enables users to apply for visas online without having to visit any embassy. Recently, it has integrated a ‘Discover the Region’ feature to help travel enthusiasts explore various places. Alongside local players, global brands like Atlys (based in the USA) also streamline the online visa application process. Further, apps like Traveloka (headquarter: Indonesia) allow travelers to book flight tickets and accommodation.
These apps make navigating bustling markets, communicating with locals, or uncovering hidden treasures enjoyable and hassle-free.
In 2022, AirAsia (headquarter: Malaysia) made a strategic partnership deal with Google Cloud to unlock digital growth and democratize digital convenience in Southeast Asia. It is a five-year collaboration that will use AirAsia’s Superapp (a travel and lifestyle platform) to offer a variety of services, including hotel and flight bookings, ride-hailing, financial and health services, eCommerce, on-demand education, and more. The app will benefit businesses, particularly micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs), and will make services accessible to everyone, including those in rural areas.
III. AI-Powered Chatbots and Virtual Assistants
AI-powered chatbots and virtual assistants are revolutionizing the business landscape in Southeast Asia. Offering personalized recommendations for local attractions, dining opinions, and activities; responding to flight or hotel reservation related queries; providing translation services – AI bots ensure convenience, personalization, and efficiency, making the visitors’ journey smoother and more enjoyable.
New-age hotels are taking the AI-game to the next level to enhance the visitor experience. For instance, AI-powered facial recognition technology is integrated into some hotels in Thailand, ensuring seamless and contactless check-in and check-out processes. Additionally, facial recognition technology can enhance national security –
a key aspect in travel and tourism. Malaysia Airports Holding Berhad officially began the implementation of facial recognition technology in KLIA and KLIA2 which aims to deliver a more seamless and secure boarding experience to travelers. With the new system, passengers can just scan their faces instead of using a boarding pass to go through the security area and the boarding gate.
IV. Exploring Immersive Experiences
In Southeast Asia, immersive technologies are gaining momentum, offering tourists a chance to interact with their destinations in novel ways.
SEA regions boast a rich cultural heritage, and AR & VR are breathing new life into historical sites and museums. These apps and headsets are transporting visitors back in time, allowing them to virtually explore ancient temples like Angkor Wat in Cambodia or the War Remnants Museum in Vietnam. Further, visitors can use AR apps to learn stories or view 3D animations overlaid on historical artifacts, signs, and landmarks. VR headsets can transport adventure lovers to the lush jungles of Borneo for a virtual ziplining adventure or to the depths of the ocean to swim with majestic sea creatures without getting wet.
V. Technology for EcoTourism
In an era of environmental awareness, many SEA countries have been actively following the Tech route to manage the tourism influx sustainably and contribute to the preservation of the region’s pristine landscapes for future generations.
Sustainable travel begins with eco-friendly transportation. Beam Mobility, Neuron Mobility etc., popularized electric scooters, bikes, and tuk-tuks in urban areas, reducing air pollution and carbon emissions Moreover, sustainable accommodations are on the rise. Many hotels and resorts now embrace eco-friendly practices, incorporating solar power, water-saving systems, and waste reduction programs. Notable examples include The Yard Hostel in Thailand, which employs recycled paper as insulation, and the Baby Elephant Boutique Hotel in Cambodia, where waste is repurposed into compost and animal feed, and staff undergo environmentally conscious training.
The Asian Development Bank recently launched a Southeast Asia Sustainable Tourism Hub to support green tourism by developing and financing innovative tourism projects, building destination management capacity, and promoting technologies that can bolster the industry.
To add to SEA’s sustainable tourism efforts, digital payment has seen many takers in certain areas. Of course connectivity is critical, but convenience, overcoming language barriers, and cash hassle have advocated the need for digital payment methods such as digital wallets and contactless payments among a large section of tourists.
Travel trends are ever-evolving and technology must adapt to meet shifting traveler preferences. Trends like “bleisure” travel (combining business and leisure trips), wellness tourism, ‘digital nomads’ / workations are experiencing a boom in SEA, presenting opportunities for tech solutions tailored to these niches. While Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore, etc. are emerging as prominent tech hubs; other SEA countries, especially rural regions, need more resources and support to offer a robust travel experience. Collaborations between tech companies, governments, and local communities can contribute to developing responsible and sustainable tourism practices.
Authored by Soumi Bhattacharya
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