Meet our panel:
- Richard Andrew, Managing Director, SEA & AU, Eternity X
- Nik Yazmin Azman, Chief Commercial Officer, Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council (MHTC)
- Ann Chong, Managing Director, Malaysia, LEWIS
How can I convince my stakeholders that there are other ways for us to continue generating revenue?
Yazmin: I understand the challenge because MHTC plays this amphibious role where we’re trying to get our hospitals to do things they’re not necessarily keen to do. It’s almost like the role of a parent – kids, eat your vegetables or you’re not going to grow tall and healthy. They want sweets and it’s all about the short-term wins and the short-term kicks.
If you are a business being hit by the pandemic and you are forced to diversify, your shareholders or the people who are in the position to dictate what you do will have to give you that runway to be able to evolve. The onus is on us, as opposed to the management of an organisation to show why these changes have to happen.
I think you can look at it as a challenge, but if you play your cards right and you pitch it right, this is actually an opportunity for you to actually spread your wings a little bit wider.
Richard: Whoever asked this question, we are living and breathing this. EternityX specialises in travel. I joined in January this year, had two very successful weeks of meetings with brands, agencies and clients. Then Covid-19 hit and nobody wants to talk to you. We understood that there was a need to change because of the over-reliance on this specific vertical we were focusing on.
As a collective unit, everyone from junior staff right all the way up to our board, we sat and brainstormed to look at how we can diversify. How can we take immediate action that’s going to have a positive impact in the next six to 12 months.
So we, as a business unit, sat down and said okay, we have a great set of technology, we have a great consumer base that we can target against, what is going to be the most applicable verticals that we can apply our services to? So, we pivoted into educational services, we pivoted into property investment, we pivoted into how we could target high net worth individuals in China.
So for me, whilst it was very uncertain as for any business is uncertain, it’s actually unlocked a whole different side of our business that will continue to grow that will continue to focus on.
Setting a clear plan and a clear expectation is important, get those test cases through the new services and tactics and really celebrate those small wins because they’re the ones that will convince you to set you up for a future path.
Ann: Spinning the same wheel is not going to help you go anywhere. We’ve helped some of our clients weather through this storm. In PR and communications, we were so reliant on events and right now, there’s no way for us to do event marketing because people can’t gather together in the masses.
We’ve seen the industry experiment with different elements to bring the event experience virtually. In some cases, they have been successful and in others, maybe not so successful. But having said that, there is an avenue for us to explore. We need to be open to these new channels and new experiences.
Where are Chinese travellers most likely to visit and what does that decision-making process look like for them?
Richard: So traditionally in China, Southeast Asia has very much been a focus. Thailand was the number one destination, followed by Japan. Further overseas travel – Europe and US. Now with the ever changing political and trade discussions going on, this will dynamically change.
The data has now shown that in Southeast Asia, primarily the top destinations are Thailand and Malaysia that are on the initial thought path. When we look at the type of individuals, we can profile different audience segments. So from a travel perspective, you have the luxury traveller, you have the interest traveller – be it beach or city breaks, you’ve got the couples and family type of travellers.
Traditionally, the Chinese consumer would go on trips in travel groups. This is no longer the norm. What we’re seeing now is this much more independent traveller coming about. Obviously, family travel and beach holidays is not going to be as much of a demand moving forward but what we’ve seen is that each trip represents a very long planning process but not necessarily in duration. There’s a lot of consideration that goes into it.
Based on our partner, Baidu, the average time of the consumer decision making journey is about 24, roughly 25 days. This will represent 36 different independent search criteria around a specific trip you’re looking at.
It’s really about the classic messages – right place, right time messages will resonate most strongly with the audiences. So if you took the traditional kind of marketing funnel of awareness, consideration, purchase and advocacy, you can really break down a consumer journey into these four distinct phases.
We break it down to dreaming – this is where they’re being influenced by social travel channels and video advertising, friends and family recommendations, KOLs. It’s about how you can spark that level of interest and enthusiasm to get you considered as a brand.
The next stage is planning and consideration. This is where they are evaluating and where search comes in. This is where the OTA sites and apps and recommendations really play a part in pushing you through to that booking stage.
The big thing that everyone always forgets is that you’ve spent all this effort getting somebody from the dreaming, planning to the booking stage but you also need to cater for their experience. Today it’s all about the Instagram moment – how can I share this with my friends and family. How can you turn those three phases that you’ve spent a considerable amount of time, energy and money into creating real brand advocates for you. Even more so in this day and age building loyalty and trust is really important.
It’s interesting to see that with Chinese travellers, there’s still a place for social media, word of mouth marketing and influencer marketing. How is this going to change the way travel brands work with influencers or shape the messages for travel campaigns?
Ann: It is important for us to not stop that communication mouthpiece. If there is one thing immediate that brands can do to resonate with their audience and gain consumer trust, is through influencers provide updates in terms of what safety procedures and measures and being taken. Going back to the IATA survey, people actually don’t mind having to undergo an extra procedure or health check if it gives them a level of assurance that when they travel, they’re safe.
So, utilize influences to showcase how your business is being run at this time and the appropriate steps being taken in response to the pandemic in the long term.
What is Malaysia’s response in influencing consumer behaviour when it comes to medical tourism?
Yazmin: There were a couple of surveys that were done in the past that looks at the preparedness levels when it comes to handling pandemics and countries in Europe and the US topped that list. We know now, that that’s not always the case and people are starting to reassess how and who they should trust.
I think the continuing message across tourism is that it’s not so much ‘we have a nice destination; we have pretty beaches’ but rather we are safe, and we will keep you safe. And as Richard and Ann has mentioned, people are willing to compromise as long as they stay safe. One of the things that Malaysia has done and has been given recognition for is that we’ve done really well in containing the spread of Covid-19. We learned from our experience with the NEPA virus and we were able to put in place measures that some people thought were quite extreme. This has built trust and allows us to move forward in terms of how to handle the reopening of tourism, whether it’s for business, leisure or medical tourists.
One of the things that’s a bit different for medical tourism is the SOPs or standard operating procedures. When I presented the SOPs to a few media houses in Indonesia, one of them pointed out that we were not making it easy for them to come in. We needed to be clear that it’s not about making it easy for patients to come in but rather, that they are safe and the people around then are safe. In fact, the first reopening is going to be expensive and not for everyone. But the measures are there to protect the patients that come in and the people of Malaysia. When they understand this investment is to keep them safe, they’re more open to following the SOPs.
Clear communication is very important. I think a lot of countries are still going back and forth as to how they’ll let people back in. A couple of medical tourism destinations now have unfortunately had to stop completely because they don’t know how to reopen.
It used to be the case where people don’t want to be overly informed, but now, people take a lot of comfort and assurance from being overly informed. And that’s our strategy – to build reassurance with the public.
How can technology help the travel industry in this new normal?
Richard: From a technology standpoint, technology is never going to stop evolving. The criteria for everybody at the moment is safety. Safety first, how do we ensure that we put the appropriate hygiene measures in place.
Hotel chains need to go from vanity cleanliness to really properly cleaning for health. There’s got to be this confidence through cleanliness and technology can help you with that – anything from improvements in air conditioning and air quality systems they make.
There are also different types of data that we can use to market to individuals. Using a data-driven marketing model is a much more cost effective, high reach, targeted approach that can lead to much better results.
I was reading a study about big data for better productivity. Everybody’s kind of familiar or might be familiar with the Internet of Things. That’s the enablement of different wireless sensors and different data points to capture what’s happening. So inside a hotel, you’re able to understand occupancy status, guests’ preferred temperature settings in their rooms. You also know when they’re in their room or out of their rooms. Live occupancy status housekeeping teams can plan their roots. This gets sanitisation schedules much better by having a much more insight and data-led approach.
There are also other things you can do to through technology that can enhance guest services. By having a lot more data and in-room censors, you can determine what are the popular times in the morning for guests to leave their rooms, when they might return at night and things like this. So, beyond the housekeeping schedule you can also do promotions on activities like happy hours or dining distance – distance based on the different time of day.
Ann: In addition to back end data or analytics, it’s even in the littlest practical things like contactless technologies. Put yourself in the shoes of consumer going to a mall and going to a bathroom and you come across an automated faucet or soap dispenser . You’ll think ‘oh that’s flashy’ but right now, if you walk into a public toilet and saw that, you’d be like ‘I’m so glad I don’t have to use my hands to touch the tap or pump the soap out.’
It used to be regarded as flashy gadgets, but now there is an actual real use for contactless technology and that’s something that everyone in and outside of the industry can truly appreciate.
Richard: To add on to that, I think one of the biggest advancements we will hopefully see is from improvement operationally in airports. It’s one of the most high-touch, high dwell time locations. There’s no reason now to be standing at a counter surrounded by 100 other people waiting to get through an immigration hall. There are technologies in place in some of the most advanced airports around the world that work effectively where you don’t need to see anybody until you step onto that plane right the way through from check-in to customs and duty free.
How can countries like Malaysia be more competitive in the health and adventure tourism space?
Yazmin: This year, we were supposed to have our Visit Malaysia 2020. One of the anchor themes was ecotourism and Malaysia does have a lot to offer. This is where we work closely with service providers, Tourism Malaysia and the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture, to really use this downtime to invest not only in marketing but seeing how we can value-add and strengthen the business for our ecotourism. Technology isn’t just about marketing anymore – it’s about showing how you can add value to what you have to offer.
We’re even looking at people doing virtual reality when they book, understanding what vendors have in store, creating more accessible options for people who may have mobility and health issues. For example, people who have had dialysis and have previously been unable to travel, how can we enable them through technology.
It really boils down to how individual businesses are supported by governments and policies, and how we use this downtime will determine how we exit this stage. Different countries and different businesses in different countries have been affected differently and therefore the effort that needs to be put in is different for them to come out stronger on the other side.