Rebound in SE Asia travel presents big opportunities for local tourism

Intra-SEA travel may just be the next travel trend with avid travellers visiting countries close by, says Airbnb’s Blecharczyk

by ADRIAN PHUNG

According to Blecharczyk, almost 4 in 10 Malaysians indicated that they are excited to travel within the SEA region more frequently in the future

AS THE travel resurgence continues to take place thanks to the long-awaited reopening of the respective countries’ international borders, Airbnb Inc co-founder and chief strategy officer Nathan Blecharczyk revealed that the return and evolution of travel in South-East Asia (SEA) is presenting fresh opportunities for communities across the region.

Blecharczyk said according to the data from a YouGov survey commissioned by Airbnb between March 15 and March 22 this year, around 80% of Malaysians are optimistic about the travel rebound in SEA, with 91% of them believing that the resurgence will benefit local communities and the national economy.

“As such, I strongly feel that there is a need for more accommodation options and tourism offerings that encourage longer stays; a wider range of unique, value for money stays to attract travellers and differentiate their destinations; easy and affordable access to off-the-beaten-path places so those communities don’t miss out on tourist dollars; as well as more support for local tourism entrepreneurs,” he said during a media roundtable session on the “Travel Trends in South-East Asia” last month.

On that note, he mentioned that almost four in 10 Malaysians indicated that they are excited to travel within the SEA region more frequently in the future, after not being able to do so in the last couple of years.

“This is evident as the growth rate for group travel in the region more than tripled year-on-year (YoY) in 2022, and this comes as family travel increased 60% globally in 2022 compared to pre-pandemic as many of these travellers put a bigger focus on connecting and reconnecting with their loved ones.

“At the same time, we are also seeing a shifting of travel trends across the SEA region where solo travel grew by more than 2.6 times, and those travelling are also staying for a longer period which leads to a growth rate of 2.5 times YoY,” Blecharczyk said.

He added that this is an encouraging sign of ongoing recovery in the region, as travel continues to climb back to pre-pandemic levels in 2019.

“We’re incredibly excited about the travel resurgence currently taking place across SEA — a region that has always been a popular for travellers the world due to its tropical climate, delicious local cuisines, spectacular scenery and rich cultural heritage.

“Furthermore, it is also found that there will be stronger travel momentum among Airbnb guests to travel within the SEA region when there are major holidays or festivals happening in the country and this is shown through our internal data when guest searches for Songkran in Thailand increased more than 310%, the searches for the March-April summer travel season in the Philippines surged almost 400%, as well as an almost 500% and 600% increase respectively for Indonesia and Malaysia for Ramadhan,” Blecharczyk said.

Moving forward, he highlighted that intra-SEA travel may just be the next travel trend with avid travellers visiting countries close by.

“Notably, based on our data, Singaporeans flocked to Airbnb to book their getaways, with Singapore-Malaysia emerging as the top intra-SEA travel route on Airbnb, followed by Singapore-Thailand and Singapore-Indonesia.

“As to ensure the travel enthusiasm for SEA will remain, Airbnb is open to partnering local governments and communities to support the region’s travel renaissance in a way that allows local people to access the socio-economic benefits of travel.

“We’re also focused on relentlessly innovating to help disperse travel and encourage it to return in a way that’s responsible, creates human connection and is economically empowering for locals,” Blecharczyk said.

Thailand was the most visited country on Airbnb in SE Asia last year – BERNAMApic

Meanwhile, the Airbnb co-founder revealed that Thailand was the most visited country on Airbnb in SEA last year, with the top cities in the region being Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, Pattaya, Chiang Mai and Phuket.

“The No 1 country of origin for international Airbnb guests visiting SEA last year is the US, followed by Australia, the UK, Germany and South Korea,” Blecharczyk said.

Around 91% of Malaysians believe that the tourism resurgence will benefit local communities and the national economy – Pic by Muhd Amin Naharul

Separately, asked if some of the growth rate recorded last year is due to the pent-up travel or whether it is due to the revenge travel trend, Blecharczyk said this is not entirely true as most of the growth rate are above the average figure and it is happening across the board for all different types of travel, regardless whether for group or solo travel.

“Secondly, during the pandemic, there was a lot of domestic travel happening due to the closure of international borders as well as people were hesitant to travel abroad as they worried about the medical coverage and the different travel rules,” he added.


  • This article first appeared in The Malaysian Reserve weekly print edition