A Travel Transformation in Emerging Markets

I recently penned a blog on opportunities within leisure and entertainment in emerging markets, including the travel industry. With improved infrastructure and more access to reasonably priced flights, more travelers have been able to explore exotic locations they had previously only read about or seen on television. And, it is not just those in developed markets that are seeing the sights—many people living in emerging markets have more discretionary income available to enjoy leisure travel, too.

Traveling to and within emerging markets is now far easier and faster today than ever—in some places, gleaming airports and train stations even rival or surpass those of developed markets. When I first started doing research more than 40 years ago, air travel simply didn’t exist in many developing countries. There were few airports and far fewer airlines. Airplanes were also less efficient and could not travel the distances they achieve now.

Infrastructure on the ground was similarly lacking, with poor roads and limited or no trains. One research trip I took to Indonesia back then offers an example of how difficult it was to get from place to place. My aim was to study soap manufacturing there, which required me to cover the entire country from the north of Sumatra down to the southern tip of Bali. There were few direct flights and travel involved small planes, buses, taxis, water ferries, motorcycles and even bicycles! My journey was often very exhausting before I even started my work.

I started in Medan and traveled to Palembang and other parts of Indonesia to visit the soap factories, often on bumpy dirt roads. There were not many hotels in the modern sense, so I stayed at traditional Indonesian inns (called losmen) which were small facilities, often an extension of someone’s home.

Upon arriving in Bali, I discovered my passport was still at the losmen in Surabaya. In those days, it was customary for the losmen or hotel staff to take a guest’s passport and keep it until departure. In this case, they had forgotten to give it back to me. In my rush to get to my next destination, I forgot to ask them for it when I checked out.

Losing my passport could have been a major disaster, but fortunately, the great kindness and hospitality of the Indonesians ensured its safe and swift return to me. The police in Bali were nice enough to help me call the losmen in Surabaya, and they sent my passport to Bali on the next bus. I had to delay my travels one day to wait for it to arrive, but I was so thankful to have it back, as I would not have been able to proceed without it.

Today, growing numbers of visitors from around the world are able to enjoy Indonesia’s many attractions and travel more easily around the country than I did back in the day. The government has prioritized tourism, and it seems to be paying off—Indonesia jumped to 50th in 2015 from 70th in 2013 in the World Economic Forum’s Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report.1 While more investment in infrastructure is needed in Indonesia, air travel has widely expanded. I can now visit several Indonesian companies in one day and use my own mobile phone to call for assistance or make arrangements in most parts of the country.