WebBed insights on China and Korea travel

SINGAPORE, 11 November 2020: WebBeds, a global B2B accommodation provider, reveals the first in-depth insights into the travel landscape in China and South Korea, in the wake of the worldwide pandemic.

Based on extensive research including focus groups, expert insights, interviews with travel experts, and its own in-house data, WebBeds unveil the latest trends that are being felt by travel companies in these two important Asian markets.

China outlook

Uncertainty impacts domestic rebound in China, according to WebBeds. It found that the country relied on the rebound of its large domestic tourism sector, although uncertainty is still having a major effect.

DerbySoft co-founder & CEO Ted Zhang revealed that the booking window has shortened to just two to three days in advance, as customers lack information on when hotels and facilities will be fully operational. This assertion was supported by Tongcheng Elong vice president of brand marketing Zhiwei Bai, who noted that the share of online hotel bookings had significantly increased. But walk-ins have become almost impossible as travellers don’t know if a hotel is still operational.

According to Bai, domestic airfares were “surprisingly low” this year, which enabled many migrant workers to book flights. Many trains were suspended and demand for bus tickets grew fast. Guangzhilv Travel Agency executive vice president Wenzhi Zhao added that his business – like many others – has shifted to focus on domestic travel. “We are intensifying efforts to develop small group customised products with niche characteristics, especially products focused on ecotourism and wellness,” he said.

Jin Jiang Hotels executive vice president – China Region Gloria Wang, predicted that the domestic travel switch could continue for “three to five years… if international travel restrictions continue”. She also noted that “short-haul destinations around urban areas will become more popular, particularly in destinations with nature and fewer people.”

China’s Ministry of Culture & Tourism has forecast that domestic tourism will decline 43% to 3.43 billion trips this year, while domestic tourism revenue is expected to slump by 52% to CNY2.76 trillion (USD394 billion) in 2020¹.

South Korea

Spending power and independent travel drive holiday revival. The closure of international borders has had a significant impact on South Korea, which experienced an 80.2% plunge in international visitor arrivals in the first eight months of 2020. But while the country has a much smaller population than China, it still ranks as the ninth biggest outbound tourism market in the world³ – a fact that reflects South Korea’s affluence. This local spending power has the potential to fuel a domestic rebound.

WebBeds research found that, as in China, booking lead times in South Korea have been severely shortened, which has also reduced the popularity of early bird rates. Flexible booking conditions are now the top priority for customers when making a travel or hotel reservation. Interestingly, Interpark general manager overseas, Youngmi Jung, noted that travellers are now booking either ultra-short breaks or very long holidays, with a preference for self-contained stays.

The preference for secluded vacations since the onset of Covid-19 has also led to a rise in South Korean motorhome holidays. There are mixed opinions on the long-term sustainability of this sector, but Hotelpass managing director, Kyung Ok Kim, suggested that demand may continue in the post-pandemic era, as more people become accustomed to this style of independent travel. Korean consumers were also found to prefer contactless booking.

Finally, the usual travel seasons have been usurped by Covid-19 swings; according to Shinhwa World managing director, Wook Sung, demand now grows when customers feel confident that an outbreak is under control and declines when a new outbreak occurs.

“The global pandemic has transformed the travel industry, certainly in the short- to medium-term and potentially forever. Until now no-one has compiled a comprehensive report on what the repercussions have been – in practical terms – for companies,” said WebBeds’ Asia Pacific CEO, Daryl Lee.

“Early on in the pandemic, WebBeds identified the need to shift the focus to domestic tourism. This strategy has allowed us to offer considerable assistance to outbound travel agencies all across the Asia Pacific, which have been forced to adapt their businesses to the changing circumstances.”

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