You can use Google Trends to look at all sorts of keyword search trends. Since Google is the most popular search engine the results point to long term trends and can be quite revealing as well.
Here we look at comparative keyword searches for resort and tourism destinations in Asia over a 9-year time span starting from 2004. Comparative trends are indexed to 100. While the results are intuitive you need to be aware that these trends are at best indicative. They are far from being conclusive as there will be error margins due to reasons, other than tourism, that these keywords are used. Also keep in mind that these are searches in romanized-alphabets. According to Google non-Latin text is not translated and not accounted for in the data.
Thailand coastal resort destinations
Not surprisingly Phuket is the most popular keyword search followed by Pattaya and Koh Samui while Hua Hin and Krabi are almost equivalent. The outlying statistical bump in December 2004 for Phuket is due to the tsunami.
Click on this link to see the live Google Trends data for Thailand.
Indonesia coastal resort destinations
Keyword searches for Bali out ranks all the other Indonesian destinations put together! Let’s also not forget that Bali is adding another 10,000 rooms to the existing 60,000 rooms by 2014! Keep track of how the new rooms will impact the search trend.
Inspite of it’s success Bali’s popularity as a destination has led to long term environmental and planning issues. To spread the tourism wealth more equitably the Indonesian government has initiated plans to develop tourism in the islands east of Bali into the Nusa Tenggara / Lombok region.
Other destinations for development include:
- Lake Toba in North Sumatra
- Pangandaran in West Java
- Borobudur –Prambanan areas in Central Java
- Yogya-Sleman in Yogyakarta,
- Bromo- Tengger – Semeru area in East Java
- Lombok and the Rinjani volcano
- Flores in East Nusatenggara
- Wakatobi in South East Sulawesi
- Toraja in South Sulawesi
- Derawan islands in East Kalimantan
- Pulau Weh in Aceh
- Togean islands in Central Sulawesi
- Thousand Islands and Old Batavia, both in Jakarta
- Bali’s southern and northern coasts, as well as around Mount Batur.
Looks like there will be a lot of catching up with Bali!
Click here to see the live Google Trends data on Indonesia.
Malaysia coastal resort destinations
Look at the upward trend for Penang. It’s economy is powered by both tourism and industry and not representative as a true coastal tourism destination. Its been included here to scale against other Malaysian locations only.
Notice that keyword searches for the Tioman + Redang combination always dips at year end. If you’ve not guessed it by now – its due to the Northeast monsoon – when the wet weather and rough seas don’t appeal to vacationers. Langkawi is on the west coast of Peninsula Malaysia and not affected by the Northeast monsoon. In fact there appears to be a minor counter-cycling trend to Tioman+Redang which can be due to an intermittent Southwest monsoon.
Also, watch the trend for Desaru over the next few years. Plans are in place to re-develop Desaru as an upscale tourism destination.
Click here to see the live data for Malaysia.
Philippines coastal resort destinations
Boracay looks by far the most popular search terms for the Philippines coastal tourism destination. Together with Palawan, Bohol and Camotes the general trend is upward. There’s an annual cycle for Boracay which can be attributed to the monsoon season as well.
Click here to see the live data for Philippines.
Vietnam coastal resort destinations
Look at the unmistakable growth in keyword searches for Vietnamese coastal destinations since 2008. Compare this to Thailand, Indonesia or Malaysia which are almost flat!
Could this rapid growth also be the cause of the bust in Vietnamese real estate industry? One casualty is VinaCapital which is disposing some very prime hotel assets in Vietnam.
See also guest posts on Vietnamese tourism and resort development contributed by Mark Gwyther and Rudolf Hever.
Click here to see the live data for Vietnam.
Cambodia coastal resort destinations
There’s been a gradual up trend for Sihanoukville and Koh Rong. Angkor Wat clearly is more popular than the two coastal locations and is meant as a comparative scale for Cambodia in this case. The interest in Koh Rong can be partly attributed to a new resort developments taking place on the island.
Click here to see the live data for Cambodia.
ASEAN coastal resort destinations
Comparing top searches of coastal destinations of each ASEAN country we find that Bali is by far the heavy weight for keyword searches. And its still slowly trending up as well. Phuket is flat with no growth but still outpaces Nha Trang, Boracay and Langkawi. Notice how Nha Trang has started to gain ground over both Boracay and Langkawi since 2010.
Click here to see live date for ASEAN.
Comparing Bali and Phuket with Hawaii
The combined search for Bali+Phuket is below Hawaii’s but slowly catching up. Notice how the keyword search for Hawaii has been dropping since 2004. Does anyone have an idea why this downtrend?
Click here to see the live date for the above chart.
Do keyword search trends correlate with broad tourism statistics?
If we look at 2011 tourism statistics, Phuket recorded a little over 4 million international and domestic arrivals and had a capacity of 44,000 rooms. Bali had a little more than 6 million domestic and international arrivals and 60,000 rooms. Hawaii had 7.2 million total visitor arrivals and a hotel capacity of 78,000 rooms.The total visitor arrival of Bali+Phuket combined is around 10 million with a combined 104,000 rooms.
For 2011 Bali had approximately 50% more rooms and arrivals than Phuket. The trend charts reflect the greater search volume for Bali but at the same time the data is disproportionate. Bali looks to have about 3 times more searches than Phuket.
If we compare Bali+Phuket against Hawaii, the former recorded 40% more arrivals and had 33% more rooms than Hawaii yet the combined keyword search for Bali+Phuket does not trend above Hawaii. As mentioned in the opening paragraph, one possible reason is that non-Latin text searches are not translated and not reflected in the Google Trends data.
Another reason maybe Google’s limited access in China where Chinese search engines are dominant. In China Google has just 2% of the search traffic. Considering that the Chinese are now the second largest international inbound market for Bali the discrepancy is not surprising. A case in point is the Google trend for ‘Hainan’. Hainan is the top island destination in China where almost 100% of tourist arrivals are native Chinese. Yet, with the Chinese island’s 67,000 rooms, when compared against Bali or Hawaii the search for this term is clearly negligible!
Is Google Trends useful?
As a broad trend indicator I think Google Trends is a very useful tool to determine where a destination is headed as well as its competitive popularity. But the Google data should not be analyzed in isolation.
Google Trends may be even more useful for destination marketing purposes as it identifies where the search traffic originates ie by country, region or city. Explore the live data links related to the above charts and you’ll see why. But keep in mind the regional data is normalized.