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How Tech and Social Media Make Kathleen Tan An Informed Journeywoman

Technology and social media are major enablers, she says

Deepak Ajwani
Published: Mar 5, 2014 06:26:53 AM IST
Updated: Mar 5, 2014 03:53:24 PM IST
How Tech and Social Media Make Kathleen Tan An Informed Journeywoman
Kathleen Tan, CEO AirAsia Expedia, Singapore

Having figured out smart travel strategies, Kathleen, a very busy business traveller, hardly breaks a sweat at the prospect of living out of a suitcase. Business has long ceased to be limited by geographic boundaries. But globalisation has its dreary, exhausting side—long days away from home, red-eye flights and messed up body clocks.

The human body isn’t equipped to handle some of the stresses and strains that travel puts it through: The lower pressure inside airplanes, cramped seats (and sitting for long periods) and quick adjustments to different temperatures, languages, cultures, cuisines, customs—oh, and did we mention messed up body clocks?

No, it isn’t easy being a global citizen.

Just how tough is it, and how does one cope with it? Forbes India asked Kathleen Tan who travels for work.

Arriving in top shape is critical for her. How does she get to her destinations razor-sharp and alert? She shares some helpful insights.
You could say that Kathleen Tan knows a thing or two about travel.

As the commercial head of AirAsia group, she has worked closely with the airline’s founder Tony Fernandes. Tan oversaw the inception and rise of AirAsia Bhd in Malaysia and six AirAsia-branded airlines in the Asia-Pacific region. She is remembered for stirring up the South-East Asian markets by offering a million deeply discounted tickets in 2005. The airline continues to build on this tradition. In early-2013 she moved on to AirAsia Expedia Travel, the joint venture between the Malaysian airline and Expedia, the world’s largest online travel company. She has spearheaded AirAsia’s social media strategy and development.

She is also a social media champion and oversees the Expedia brand, AirAsiaGo, and Backick online travel agency business in South-East Asia, India, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong.

This experience helps her plan her own travel well and, also, makes her a perfect candidate to decode the rigours of modern-day business travel for us.

Yet another frequent flyer: Having worked in the travel industry for close to 10 years, my job requires me to travel frequently. I spend about two weeks every month on the road.

Coping with jet lag: As I travel extensively for work, coping with the symptoms of jet lag has become a way of life. I start adjusting my body clock closer to my date of travel and to my destination’s time zone when on the plane. When I arrive, I make it a point to exercise, go for massages and, most importantly, stay hydrated at all times.

Travel essentials include keeping a spare: My mobile devices and tablets are important to me so the mobile power banks that keep my gadgets charged are my most essential items when I travel. An extra set of clothing or toiletries are in my travel bags in case the airline loses my luggage.

Delays, no problem: As long as I am able to stay connected, I don’t have a problem sitting through long delays. Social media has always been my passion and I love staying connected with my Weibo followers (over 270, 000) and friends from all over the world. I also enjoy watching movies on my tablet.

Keeping up the appearance: It’s easy to end up looking tired or messy from flying but it’s not impossible to manage. To arrive in good shape, the key is to look fresh. I make it a priority to take extra care of my skin when travelling and this means applying moisturiser every two to three hours, wearing a facial mask to keep my skin refreshed, applying lip balm and doing lots of stretching during long flights.  

The perks of FF: Time is essential so the key for me is getting in and out as quickly as possible which is where perks such as priority check-in, baggage handling and access to the different lounges are useful for frequent flyers like me.

Favourite city: I love the mix of the old and the new that Hong Kong brings. I am someone who thrives on buzz and energy and Hong Kong is a perfect place for it. It’s a destination that embodies two of life’s greatest pleasures, food and shopping, both of which I am passionate about!

Favourite airport: I love fashion so Hong Kong International Airport is a shopping heaven for me. It’s where I get to catch up on all my shopping and get lost in all the duty-free products.

Hotel picks: I enjoy trying out different hotels depending on my purpose of visit, so it’s tough to decide on a favourite one. I love hotels that cater to my needs. For business travel, I prefer staying at familiar business chain hotels. Resort hotels remain my top pick for a leisure holiday and I love to stay at boutique hotels with lots of fun and personality for city holidays.

An affair to forget: Last year, I was in the States to meet my colleagues from Expedia and had just gotten off a long flight from Singapore to Los Angeles. As I hadn’t completely adjusted to Seattle’s time zone, this resulted in me falling asleep at the wrong gate during a 5-hour layover in Seattle, missing my flight and then being placed on a waiting list only to be told my flight was full! What should have been a 24-hour trip from Singapore to Seattle turned into a 30-hour nightmare!

Gadgets that help: I’m constantly multitasking on the go, connecting with my friends and business partners from across the globe which is why my smartphones and tablets are like my personal assistants that help me stay connected to work. The digital and mobile age that we live in today has created an ‘always-on’ lifestyle. Also, I always make sure to fire up my Expedia Mobile app to get notifications of my gate changes, hotel check-in times, terminal maps and more.

The future is ‘always connected’: Mobile tech is changing the way we travel. Many travellers are embracing the smart technology trend and the rise of the always connected consumer is disrupting how travel is searched, planned and booked. Smartphones and tablets are not only fast becoming the way in which travellers plan and book trips; the smart traveller now knows how to search and make arrangements via mobile devices during their trips.

Low-cost carriers will continue to pave the way for affordable travel around the world. Travel has now become a commodity and with younger segments now able to afford it, it plays a bigger part in everyone’s life.

Lastly, we have seen social media taking the world by storm and I believe it has now become a way of life for most of us. Travellers are now turning to various social media platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest and more for inspiration within different categories of their travel planning.

(This story appears in the 07 March, 2014 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)

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