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Social media’s rise puts emerging markets at the forefront of tourism

During the past few years, we have seen a massive shift in user behaviour within the tourism industry, primarily driven by increased usage of smartphones and social media apps.

The percentage of savvy travellers booking their own trips, researching local food joints and nearby hotels has sky-rocketed, with more than 55 per cent of travellers across regions like Australia, Europe and East Asia, preferring to research and book overseas holidays themselves via the internet.

However, the challenge tourism now faces is how best to reach and capture new search demand for travel, particularly in an environment where people are concerned about privacy. Recent Facebook data indicates that in the past few months, Facebook’s presence in established markets has declined, with four in 10 Americans taking a break from the platform from September last year, after major privacy breaches occurred. Concurrently, Hootsuite and We Are Social’s quarterly findings in 2019 found that in regions like Europe and the Americas, there has been little to no growth in audience reach on social media, adding to concerns that advanced economies have reached their upper growth bounds in internet and social media usage.

By contrast, India and the Philippines have experienced the largest audience growth (+3-4 per cent) indicating more and more people are opening social media accounts in emerging markets.

It’s a trend being seen elsewhere; as more people are purchasing smartphones, they too have access to popular social media apps like Facebook and Twitter. Internet penetration in developing nations has almost exceeded that of mass markets like Europe and the US in the past year alone. Currently, 61 per cent of South East Asia’s population is on social media compared with 62 per cent of the US. There is a large, generally untapped audience across social media in these regions and these users are as eager and present as their mass-market counterparts.

This growth in technology poses a massive opportunity for tourism, with many travel marketers now turning their attention to developing nations. On a recent trip to Nepal in March, I caught up with a friend who has dedicated the past year to working with the Nepalese government to expand their tourism reach within emerging markets. Changing social conditions has seen more and more citizens gaining access to smart devices, which is why government bodies like hers are turning to digital channels to bring local business to the world.

This discussion also opened my eyes to the way that people in emerging markets communicate. As dinner turned into an in-depth discussion on the Nepalese culture, we talked about the notion that many people don’t actually have (or at-least, they can’t recall) an email address in these communities. Often, you’ll find people in these regions are more inclined to give out their Facebook username and ask for contact to be made via social media. This has urged a great shift in how public notices and communications are distributed in these areas.

This social media behaviour does not only reflect the consumption habits of individuals, but it also filters through to the way that local businesses advertise and communicate with potential customers as well. Whilst in Nepal, one issue I was particularly curious about was how local businesses advertise and where they see most of their traffic and business come from. We discussed how many businesses in these areas and Nepal specifically, actually use Facebook business pages rather than websites. We also acknowledged the current need for digital agencies to work with emerging governments to help capture tourist search traffic.

An interesting concept for marketers is that a significant portion of the revenue local businesses earn is attributed to local searches for activities “near me” from tourists, rather than international searches from tourists planning and researching their holiday. The same way that many citizens in emerging areas would be more likely to recall their Facebook login than their email address, many local businesses rely on review sites to spread their virtual word-of-mouth and rather than a business website and have Facebook business pages where they can communicate with active visitors daily.

As a digital agency, our team at Switched On are already working with our clients, with this opportunity in emerging markets front of mind. Recent work with our client WOTSO Workspace to identify and capture this rising social media growth in emerging markets has seen major results. Whilst trying to improve lead generation for their particular workspace locations, we noticed inefficiency in the performance of their Malaysia location on search. Whilst Google search volume was low, we saw that there was a strong reach in Malaysia on Facebook. As a result, we shifted the majority of Malaysia’s budget to Facebook. Now, Malaysia is one of our most efficient locations and is the strongest driver of leads on Facebook, outperforming Australian locations in Sydney and Queensland.

Ultimately, as marketers and businesses alike, we cannot ignore the rising social media presence in our emerging counterpart regions. There is a great potential not only to reach new, untapped audiences, but to help local businesses.

Briana Garcia

Briana Garcia handles Paid Media at Switched On. With experience across both paid search and social, Briana’s responsibilities include managing performance marketing for clients across a wide range of industries, platforms and channels. Briana has dedicated the last year to researching key trends in audience behaviours and how these patterns evolve across channels and geographies. In her day to day, she lives and breathes the right message, right person and right time mantra, constantly evolving her knowledge and passion for digital marketing.
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