Asia: The Continent Shaping Business Travel

It’s no secret that the perception of business travel has been changing over the last few years, with many younger travelers more willing to take business trips than previous generations, along with the prioritization of personal wellness and free time to explore the destination. However, it is not just how people are traveling that is changing, it is where the actual business travel is happening.

Asia has become a force in the business travel sector, with China, India, and emerging economies in the southeastern part of the continent all playing a significant role in shaping the world’s business travel outlook.

Asian business travelers account for more than a third of all global corporate travel, and business travel in the region is growing at twice the rate of the rest of the world. Asian markets are also anticipating more growth, with a 2018 survey finding that business travel managers in India and China expected the biggest increase for their company’s travel spending in 2019.

This growth has made Asia a prime testing ground for a wide variety of solutions that make traveling for business both more pleasant and more efficient. Skift reports that investors are seeing a wealth of opportunities for local hospitality software vendors to make gains in the industry.

Understanding Needs and Preferences

These opportunities exist because of the numerous challenges business people from Asia tend to encounter during their travels, from limited language support to sub-par booking tools. What is worth noting is that business travelers from Asia are willing to try emerging travel solutions and tools that will make traveling easier, a habit that is partly shaped by their desire to try new things.

This willingness to try tech they are unfamiliar with, like mobile booking services, is born out of habits formed during leisure travel.  

Of course, not all trends that have stood out are applicable to the entire continent. There is also a considerable amount of diversity within the category of business travelers themselves, with McKinsey & Company uncovering four archetypes that exist across different countries in Asia. These include convenience-oriented travelers, travelers willing to pay for extra service, travelers that highly value loyalty points and rewards, and cost-conscious travelers. 

The service seeking archetype was the most common, covering 34% of respondents. This interest in distinct, luxurious travel experiences has made business travelers from Asia, and particularly China and Indonesia where service is most valued, a highly lucrative market.

Trends to Watch in China

The world’s largest market for travel is showing no signs of slowing down, with corporate travel spending projected to increase by 6.5% annually through 2022. 

Research shows that the rise in spending is not just because of the country’s economic growth. Chinese companies have put more emphasis on building strong relationships between the business and customer, with face-to-face meetings being prioritized.

While in-person meetings are generally preferred in most markets, businesses based in China have been most eager to visit clients face-to-face, and their travel habits have reflected this. The country is among the world’s leaders in both domestic and international travel, with spending steadily increasing since 2011. 

Among these travelers, there is a demand for better booking tools, and for various aspects of travel planning to go digital. 80% of Chinese business travelers would rather book their flights online, and 90% prefer to book hotels this way. These numbers are significantly higher than the averages for other international business leaders like Europe (61%).

One area where Chinese business travelers prefer personal service is checking in and out of the hotel. It is not exactly clear why travelers are more inclined to have these stages of the travel experience be handled by people as opposed to online applications, but the warm welcome and immediate opportunity for in-person service that hotel staff members often provide upon check-in is likely a big factor.

Trends to Watch in India

Despite cultural and economic differences, India has been home to some of the major trends that became famous in North America, including bleisure trips.

McKinsey’s archetype study found that India had the most “Stereotypical Suits,” travelers who prioritize convenience above other factors, and are typically over 35 years old. Think With Google also found that convenience-oriented travelers are very common in India, identifying a “Frequent flyers” cohort which is far more likely to book online and have a higher travel budget. 

Budget travelers are a larger cohort, with a slightly higher total travel spend, $20 billion compared to $17 billion, even though the average trip of a “frequent flyer” is more expensive. Budget business travelers are generally small business owners or mid-level executives. They are more likely to travel by train and stay in economy hotels due to budget constraints.

As far as destinations, the United States is the most common place to visit outside of the Asia-Pacific region, while Dehli, Mumbai and Bengaluru are the top 3 domestic destinations. No matter whether the trip is domestic or international, Indian business travelers are on the same page as much of the continent, craving more aspects of their travel to be digitized. In some ways, they are more open to technology than Chinese travelers, with 67% preferring to check into their hotel with their smartphone and get into their room with a digital key. 

Key Takeaways

In the continent’s other major markets of business travelers, familiar preferences exist. Indonesia generally views corporate travel as a perk, and are the most likely country to include a family member on a business trip. Japan exists on the opposite end of the spectrum, preferring not to mix work with personal time and strictly following company travel policies. 

For hoteliers and travel experience providers, the rising favorability of a digitally-focused travel experience is a trend that cannot be ignored. Interest in mobile engagement and digital options throughout the booking and travel processes have been on the rise across several countries, not just in Asia.

Just as important as the major similarities between Asian business travel markets are the differences that show the region cannot be treated as a single entity. Traveler archetypes help give industry professionals an idea of the spending habits and preferences in specific countries, but it is also important to be mindful of the diversity of travelers that exist within these nations.