Gaya Travel Magazine talks to Google Malaysia’s Head of Ecommerce, Travel and Financial Services Marc Woo and Malaysia Airlines’ Chief Commercial Officer Arved Von Zur Muehlen about the rising interest among Malaysian travellers towards China and the country’s contribution towards tourism arrivals into Malaysia. Both dashing gentlemen reveal that more Malaysians are interested in visiting China, while more mainland Chinese travellers are heading to Malaysia.
Insights on travel intent
According to Marc, Google Malaysia develops insights procured from search queries; the people who googled keywords and queries such as ‘travelling to China from Malaysia’ are captured as those who express their intent. From this, Google Malaysia then distils consumers’ sentiments and demands into curated information for business use. In other words, the company is able to pin down on what drives leisure travellers by purely looking at their point of interest when they do their search online. Based on Search numbers, the top three main mainland Chinese destinations or attractions that Malaysians normally search on are the Great Wall of China, Harbin Ice City in northern China, and Disneyland Shanghai.
“Search can give you a signal of what people are keen on doing and what are the rising topics. When we look at the different combinations of ‘travel or flights or tickets to China from Malaysia’, including different combinations of flights and travel to various cities in China, the study shows a rising trend towards Malaysian travellers’ interest towards China as a travel destination. Malaysia Airlines is also expanding that supply to cater to the rising demand from Malaysia,” Marc reveals.
The overall search by the Malaysian audience for flights to China on average grows 46% year-on-year, with destinations like Guangzhou (65%), Shenzhen (67%), and Chengdu (73%) on the lead. The rising Search queries are indicative of which destinations in China that are becoming more popular to people who reside in Malaysia.
“Since China has made improvements in making travelling experience into the country better for international travellers, this has inspired more Malaysians to visit the destination, especially on the back of the increasing bilateral trade ties between Malaysia and China,” says Marc.
Another insight is that search on halal travel is also becoming more popular, averaging 80% year-on-year growth. “We notice that search on halal restaurants and mosques in China is increasing. For example, Guangzhou is one of the cities that has growing halal-related searches, registering 113% year-on-year growth. From this, we can see that halal travel is the next frontier to watch out for given its potential,” Marc forecasts.
Malaysia attracts more Chinese travellers
Arved claims that Chinese travellers are also interested to come to Malaysia due to the relative proximity, favourable exchange rate, various offerings like nature, shopping, seafood and beaches, including the fact that Chinese is spoken in the country. As such, Malaysia Airlines is well booked by Chinese travellers heading to Malaysia. Chinese travellers have strong interest not only towards Kuala Lumpur but also Kota Kinabalu and Penang. The airline is also patronised by many mainland Chinese heading to Australia by transferring via Kuala Lumpur.
Malaysia Airlines sees that growth lies in China. “China is Malaysia Airlines’ key growth market because at the moment not many mainland Chinese citizens have passports to travel internationally, so all the travelling you see right now only represents five to six percent of the Chinese population who have passports. This number is expected to grow to 10 to 12 percent, thus the number of outbound tourists from China is expected to double in the next few years. Malaysia Airlines focuses strongly on China due to its huge potential since many are coming into Malaysia,” Arved confesses.
Besides, Malaysia Airlines also realises that the number of Malaysians going to China is increasing. The airline is already flying to new destinations in mainland China such as Chengdu and Haikou from Kuala Lumpur. It will also be flying to Nanjing, Wuhan and Fuzhou, then Chengdu and Chongqing. The airline even upgrades its Shanghai sector to double daily and now looking into the possibility of flying from Penang to Shenzhen and Kota Kinabalu to Tianjin.
Google Malaysia and Malaysia Airlines have been working for six years now, whereby both parties have learned a great deal about each other’s businesses, including sharing insights and intelligence to drive ticket sales. For example, Google Malaysia analyses insights and intelligence on Malaysian consumer search behaviour for Malaysia Airlines to use when planning out marketing campaigns, routes and schedules. Malaysia Airlines also shares information with Google Malaysia so that the latter can effectively assist the airline in optimising and strategising its digital marketing campaign for the best returns.
Malaysia Airlines finds the information shared by Google Malaysia extremely useful – it is neutral data on how customers searched on Google to find out what would be their interest because the airline wants to expand its offerings and customer base. “It may not necessarily want to fly to Harbin just because it is one of the most searched by Malaysians, but the information received is crucial in providing Malaysia Airlines new perspectives on how the market develops and where to fly next,” Arved expounds.
Selling More Tickets
Google Search analysis can also drive sales through their website. “In Malaysia Airlines’ case, when people search for flights to Chengdu, Malaysia Airlines can capture that intent, bring that intent or potential consumer into the airline’s website, and sell them the proposition that that they have the best flight to Chengdu from Kuala Lumpur. Search therefore is being used as a tool to bring in new users or repeat users in a way beneficial in terms of cost efficiency to Malaysia Airlines,” says Marc.
The data that consumers look out for online is the price, which Malaysia Airlines collaborates with Google in ensuring its accuracy and standardisation. Accurate pricing is crucial in driving consumers to fly on Malaysia Airlines. “Pricing in advertising is powerful, so when Malaysia Airlines advertises its prices to consumers, it can offer more relevant and accurate pricing based on data received from Google. So when a consumer searches on flights, say to Chengdu, and sees Malaysia Airlines advertised price based on that search, the consumer can be rest assured that the advertised price on Google search is the same as on Malaysia Airlines website, indicating that the airline has the right product for the consumer. Imagine if the price is not the same – that is when trust gets tarnished,” Marc clarifies.
Being at the forefront of the digital technology to serve customers better, Malaysia Airlines constantly finds ways to enhance its back end technological capabilities to ensure that fast and accurate information is shared with customers so that they can continue choosing the airline as one of their preferred carriers.
To that end, Malaysia Airlines works with Google Malaysia because the latter constantly develops new standards for online businesses to adopt. “One of those standards is this thing called progressive web app, which helps businesses’ mobile websites behave like a mobile app. Think about what apps can do and what mobile web can’t do – it loads faster and has push notification, which are all fast becoming standard. By making the mobile websites become more of an app, this will enhance consumers’ experience when using it. Malaysia Airlines recognises this and works with Google to bring this to life. Google sees the adoption of progressive web app to further grow since the hardware and software are already there,” Marc professes.
Talent is crucial
Both Malaysia Airlines and Google Malaysia arrange for their talents to learn each other’s business through digital technology because these days, digital talents who grow up in digital world and understand it better are highly sought after. The airline likes to explore new things with Google, which proves successful in helping to drive the business further.
Malaysia Airlines just completed in building up its digital competence centre, employing designers and specialists to boost the airline’s mobile apps and web page. In June 2017, the airline launched a new reservation system.
“In September 2017, Malaysia Airlines will launch a new customer interface with new look, feel and functionalities on the airline’s web page. Once that is stable, we will continue to innovate all the time to keep up with customer demands and market requirements. By then, we hope that our customers would be able to buy, rebook, manage, refund, choose seats, choose meals, et cetera, all through their smartphones and mobile devices,” foresees Arved.
Malaysia Airlines see that customers search a great deal on destination through mobile phones, while at the moment ticket purchases are done more from desktops. In five years’ time, as the screen size reaches the optimum level, it is expected that more ticket bookings will be done on mobile devices, especially smartphones. It intends to be ready when that moment finally arrives.
From the looks of it, the airline’s decision to collaborate with Google Malaysia definitely pays off both technologically and commercially, which is bound to keep the public excited. Travel enthusiasts should keep their eyes on both organisations for more interesting travel and technological offerings, which may come sooner than you think.