Global travel budgets (and those of Malaysians) on the rise in 2014 but travellers are demanding more value out of it.

MALAYSIANS are raring to travel even more this year! They are amongst the nationalities most likely to increase their travel budget this year according to a recent survey. On average, Malaysians plan to increase their annual travel spend by 17% from US$2,056 (RM6,710) in 2013 to US$2,414 (RM7,878) in 2014, though this still falls behind the average global travel budget.

Overall, travellers are planning to spend more on their holidays in 2014 with the average annual traveller spend rising from US$5,955 (RM19,434) in 2013 to US$6,136 (RM20,025) for this year, an increase of three percent.

These were some of the findings of TripAdvisor’s, (the world’s largest travel site), today of the third instalment of TripBarometer, the world’s largest accommodation and traveller survey. This biannual study, conducted on behalf of TripAdvisor by independent research firm Ipsos, highlights country, regional and global travel trends, according to more than 61,000 travellers and hoteliers around the world, with 547 respondents from Malaysia.

TripAdvisor's TripBarometer 2014 travel by region. – Photo from TripAdvisor

Additionally, the proportion of travellers planning to travel more has increased across almost all markets. This year, 90% of global travellers are planning to travel domestically (up from 87% in 2013) and 77% plan to travel internationally, up 12% compared to 2013 (65%). In Malaysia, 91% of travellers are planning to travel domestically (up from 89 % last year) while 78% are planning to travel abroad, up by 12% compared to 2013 (66%).

Budgets increasing but travellers still on the hunt for a bargain

South African travellers are planning the biggest increase in their travel budgets this year, up 30% from 2013, followed by Indonesians, Australians and Malaysians. Despite relatively low optimism in the economy (only 11% of respondents and 15% of Malaysians are spending more on travel because they feel more confident about the economy), travellers are not willing to give up their holidays, with many opting to hunt for bargains and make sacrifices in other areas of their lives in order to protect their travel spend.

The tendency to do more research in order to find the best bargain is strong amongst travellers. The majority of travellers (Global: 54%; Malaysia: 75%) say their choice of holiday is often determined by the availability of a good deal or special offer. In fact, TripBarometer respondents both globally and in Malaysia say that ‘price’ (95%) and ‘special offers’ (Global: 44%; Malaysia: 63%) are important decision-making factors when booking their accommodation, with ‘special offers’ having a greater influence on the booking decisions of Malaysians than the average global traveller.

Hotelier perception vs Traveller Reality (TripAdvisor's TripBarometer 2014) –  Photo from TripAdvisor

The study reveals that currency fluctuations are more likely to affect travel plans of Malaysian travellers, with 76% indicating that it would impact their holiday plans, compared to 44% globally. Despite this, those affected are still planning to travel; of those travellers that say currency fluctuation will impact them, 53%of global respondents and 54% of Malaysian respondents will research more to find the best price.

However, global hoteliers place higher importance on online reviews than price in terms of influencing travellers’ booking decisions. Similarly, hoteliers in Asia perceive online reviews (61%) to have the biggest impact when travellers book accommodation, followed by price (55%) and recommendations from friends and family (39%). The results suggest that although hoteliers know price is an important factor, they believe that the room rate combined with a good online reputation will ultimately influence travellers’ booking decisions.

Looking ahead at the next 12 to 24 months, Europe tops the list of places global travellers plan to visit (46%), followed by Asia (39%) and North America (32%). Australia and Italy top the list of destinations travellers would choose to visit if money were no object.

Japan (37%) is the ‘dream’ destination for Malaysians to visit in the next 12 to 24 months, followed by Britain (34%) and France (32%).

What travellers want vs what hoteliers supply (TripAdvisor's TripBarometer 2014) –  Photo from TripAdvisor

The increase in travel budgets and travel plans is mirrored in business confidence with 70% of global hoteliers saying they are optimistic about their profitability in the next year (up from 67% in 2013). In comparison to the global average, Asian hoteliers seem slightly less positive, with 63% claiming they are optimistic about their profitability in the next year (down from 86% in 2013). Over half (55%) of Asian hoteliers are also planning to increase room rates with 47% saying this is due to increased overheads.

Online and offline co-exist for travel planning, but user-generated content reigns

Most global travellers (65%) start planning their trip at least three to four months before they intend to go, with just under a third (32%) expecting to book one month ahead of their trip. In contrast, the majority of global hoteliers (65%) estimate that most of their bookings take place within four weeks of the guest’s date of arrival, with the length of time increasing slightly for resorts.

Travellers from Asia are the most likely to book their accommodation relatively last minute, with 23% booking up to two weeks before their trip which is higher than the global average of 16%. Malaysians are more likely to pre-plan their holiday, with almost three quarters (72%) booking their accommodation at least one month ahead of their trip.

When it comes to travel planning, online dominates, with 98% of travellers globally using online resources – 74% of global respondents cite ‘TripAdvisor’ as the most commonly used online source for inspiration when researching and planning holidays, followed by ‘content generated by travellers on travel websites’ (53%). Yet online and offline co-exist. Travellers globally report that they like to use both online and offline resources to plan their trips, with 87% also using offline means, including word of mouth (55%) and travel guide books (45%).

Mobile booking on the up in Asia, but global uptake still slow

Globally, travellers are attached to their mobiles, with a majority saying they use their smartphones on holiday (Global: 91%; Malaysia: 94%). One in three travellers use their smartphone to find things to do (Global: 37%; Malaysia: 40%), and just over a quarter are searching for hotels (Global: 27%; Malaysia: 32%). Despite the increasing number of travellers using their mobile to plan and research, the trend has not yet crossed over to the booking stage.

Three in five travellers booked their last trip online (Global: 66%; Malaysia: 64%), while a quarter of them booked offline (Global: 24%; Malaysia: 25%). For those who booked their last holiday online, three out of ten state ‘better price’ as the reason for choosing this booking method (Global: 31%; Malaysia: 33%).

Whilst online bookings are commonplace, mobile bookings are emerging slowly. Just four percent of travellers globally booked the accommodation for their last trip via mobile; however, China is leading the pack with 10% of Chinese booking via mobile, followed closely by Thailand (9%), and Malaysia (7%) and Indonesia (7%). This behaviour implies a ‘leapfrogging’ from offline to mobile channels in Asian markets.

Three in four (76%) of global hoteliers and eight in ten (82%) Asian hoteliers already have a mobile offering for travellers in place, and of those who don’t, 50% of global hoteliers and 60% of Asian hoteliers plan to introduce a mobile offering in 2014. Almost half (47%) of Asian hoteliers currently allow guests to book rooms via their website on a mobile device, and 31% have a mobile friendly website. While it seems as though the hospitality industry is prepared for a shift towards mobile booking for travellers, there is still a disconnect.