V&VPR discusses why Southeast Asia lies within the highest level of optimism for PR industry profitability than any other global economy–and how the travel and tourism sector presents huge opportunities for regional communications specialists.

Demand from Western Travellers

With Singapore as the cosmopolitan, future-proof regional gateway, and its connectivity to the rest of the world continuing to increase, Southeast Asia’s unconventional ‘off-grid’ destinations are stepping into the global spotlight more than ever before. The growth is influenced by increasing demand from Western travellers – according to a report by the Pacific Asia Travel Association, the largest growth of tourist receipts in Southeast Asia comes from the Americas, with a predicted rise of 12.1% by 2020. Singapore Airlines reinstated the world’s longest direct flight between NewYork and Singapore at the end of 2018, with plans for a direct Los Angeles flight in the pipeline. The ‘undertourism is the new overtourism’ paradox has resulted in increasing numbers of travellers wanting to tick off the not hot list to reach untouched destinations–and now is the time for travel and hotel brands to work with PRs attuned to the intricacies of the markets which were previously inaccessible corners.

Confidence from Global Travel Brands

The Waldorf Astoria opened its first hotel in the region in Bangkok in August 2018, the Six Senses opened two flagship properties in Singapore in 2018, and the One&Only will open its first resort in Southeast Asia in Malaysia in 2020. Most significantly in 2018, International Luxury TravelMarket (ILTM)debuted inSingapore, reaffirming the region as an independent hub for luxury travel–the first time the highly coveted show forayed outside of China as its sole Asian base. Focussing on Southeast Asia’s growth specifically, ILTM Singapore collectively brings together international and regional luxury travel suppliers to boost and build their businesses from this region. With so many brands fighting for their share of the limelight, investment in public relations continues to increase, with new infrastructure being implemented each year to support the growth of the industry. The Institute of Public RelationsSoutheast Asia Alliance,an independent,non-profit research foundation based in the United States dedicated to the science beneath the art of public relations, launched at the Singapore Management University in 2017; and in 2018, the PRCA (Public Relations and Communications Authority) was founded inSingapore, further cementing the groundwork for PR professionals in the region.

The Media Landscape in Integrating and Evolving

In contrast to the USA, Southeast Asia has always been ‘mobile-first’ and therefore leads a new wave of media consumption – ‘Asian media consumption leads us to form an understanding of the global future news consumer’ says Uptin Saiidi, a journalist at CNBC International. Whilst London and New York have been iconic media epicentres of the past decades, sustained economic growth and rising affluence in the Southeast Asia region means the media industry here is catching up at speed, with a flourishing scene of fresh journalism and international media publishers. Companies such as ACP, Edipresse and Fairfax Business Media are some of the top international magazine publishers who have established their presence in Singapore.TheMichelin Guide launched in Singapore in 2016, New York Times T Style magazine launched inSingapore in 2017,CNBC Thailand and CNBC Indonesia were established in 2018, andVogue Hong Kong launched in 2019 – with eyes on Singapore next. In 2018 the IMDA (Infocom Media Development Authority) developed grant initiatives for local media talents to form tie ups with global content creators, further elevating the opportunities for local press.

This, coupled with social media and the travel ‘influencer’ phenomena, is creating a saturated and sometimes overwhelming landscape of channels and increasing numbers of travel brands are turning to experienced PRs for strategic counsel. Part of the appeal of the region to the traveller is what makes it so complex to navigate; there are multiple cultures, religions, languages and demographics which are reflected in the different media types and require careful consideration–and therefore there is no single PR campaign that can be translated across the different Southeast Asian countries. PR approaches determined by America or Europe won’t necessarily work for Asia, so there needs to be someone familiar with the on-ground nuances of the region.

Over-tourism and Sustainable Destination Marketing

The growth of tourism coupled with user-generated Instagram content driving organic destination marketing can have a detrimental impact. Can Komodo handle the sudden surge in tourism? How can we prevent future repetition of instances such as the 2018 closure of Boracay–a fragile island whose economy was defeated by insufficient resources to cater to the mass of tourism? The single most important lesson from its iconic 6-month closure is for destinations to promote a message of sustainable tourism-travel brands are required to adopt smart communications strategies and PR plays a key role in this. Carefully controlled campaigns are necessary to help areas facing risk whilst re-diverting tourists to new destinations–such as the positioning of Sumatra as the ‘new Borneo’ and Lombok as the ‘new Bali’.

An influencer is defined as someone that inspires you to think in a way that you wouldn’t usually think, or act in a way that you wouldn’t usually act. As the social media space continues to grow, so does the potential for a brand to reach a wider audience through influencer marketing,endorsements and paid partnerships. Those with more followers have a higher visibility – and the more exposure the better, right?

Instagram users with over 50,000 followers are qualified as ‘macro influencers’ and we now have a market saturated with these, each attempting to capitalise on a supposed ability to inspire their audience by working with brands to filter into the news feeds of hundreds of thousands. What’s resulted is a space flooded by repetitive, generic user behaviour and a lack of consumer trust. It’s becoming increasingly apparent that no one is actually influenced to do anything aside from close off their networks, increase their privacy ettings and live satisfied within a domain of individuals who they legitimately know, respect and trust. We all heard of 2019’s #NoChella – a backlash motivated by fatigue of the content heavy, brand plugging,overpriced annual music festival. And of course, 2017’s Fyre Festival whose engagement with macro influencers had an equally macro impact on consumer confidence.

Igniting a fresh wave of social media engagement,the new aspiration and ultimate status symbol is to be part of close-knit circles and exclusive communities with exposure to products and services available to a privileged few.With this in mind, the ‘micro influencer’ sector continues to head to the forefront of digital marketing. Defined as having anything between 2,000 and 50,000 followers,what lacks in numbers is made up with knowledge–micro influencers work in their relative industry, are passionate about it, and add value to it. If Instagram were to collapse tomorrow, micro influencers wouldn’t be out of a job.

So here are 5 reasons why micro influencers represent the future of Social Media marketing:

Consistency.

From their personality and their page’s visual aesthetic to their expertise and opinion, micro influencers maintain a consistent set of core values, making them stronger and more reliable brand ambassadors. Their influence goes beyond the screen into their professional and personal lives, activity and interactions, providing steady and holistic opportunities to influence in all daily situations.

Loyalty

Micro influencers foster a community they care about and work with brands they’re passionate about. They won’t be no-shows at events or only engage with their communities when the camera is rolling–they take pride in supporting individual brands and building a solid long-term working relationship with them, with a shared vision to succeed.

Credibility

Micro influencers have a history of success and authority in their specific field–whether its fashion, art, design or nutrition-they’ll have a portfolio of evidence to prove their integrity and wealth of experience over the millennial and Gen-Z influencers who are still on the lower rungs of the career ladder. In the rise of fake sponsored content posted by aspiring influencers in a bid to fool brands they already have credibility, micro influencers stand out with a firm and existing reputation as thought leaders,and a larger ability to achieve organic success and higher engagement.

Relevancy

If your audience can genuinely relate to you, your impact as influencer is higher. Micro influencers have a more attainable and realistic looking lifestyle-they’re friendly and accessible, two characteristics which make them stand out against the masses of macro influencers posting unrealistic content. For brands, the number of followers is becoming increasingly insignificant-questions have long been raised as to what makes a number of followers credible, are they relevant to the brand, are they real, or even active at all? Ultimately, who actually buys something that’s been recommended to them by a stranger?

Affordability

$10,000 for a single post from a top-tier influencer is better invested in a campaign with 10 micro-influencers–reaching a more highly engaged, targeted audience. While the big brands seek the next global supermodel for endorsement,overexposure can be detrimental,and the smaller businesses have an opportunity to thrive. By working closely with micro-influencers who closely align with their target market, brands with a smaller budget have a unique opportunity to emerge against the masse.