Global Interview Project | Benoit Badufle, Managing Director of Horus Development & Consulting

by Geoffrey Ravoire

Horus Development & Consulting specializes in Luxury Tourism Representation and is the representative office of the Monaco Government Tourist & Convention Authority in Asia, responsible for promoting the brand image and the tourist environment and offerings of the Principality, in Southeast Asia, Greater China and South Korea. Today I am pleased to report here my discussion with Benoit Badufle, Founder and Managing Director of Horus Development & Consulting.

Geoffrey Ravoire: Can you tell us which are currently the strongest markets in Asia-Pacific for tourism? The weakest? And maybe the ones where you see potential for growth?

Benoit Badufle: I started working in the whole Asia-Pacific region in Sales & Marketing capacities in 2000. Before that time, only Australia, Japan, Taiwan & Hong-Kong were significant outbound tourism markets. It was not until 2004–2005 that China, India and some countries of South East Asia started showing significant year-on-year growth with a more visible market share. Until 2008–2009 China alone benefited from this trend with European destinations putting all their eggs in China’s basket and indeed, China’s outbound market has been keeping its promises. In a 10-year period only, it has now become the world’s largest international tourism source market in terms of trips and spending, way ahead of the USA and Germany, ranking 2nd and 3rd respectively.

So today, incontrovertibly, China is at the same time a very strong outbound tourism market in Asia-Pacific and the one with the most potential for growth. Australia has probably already reached its maximum potential with its bigger traveling social strata being baby boomers. Japan reached it around 2005 and since then has been receding as an outbound market source. It is not likely to bounce back and its tourism industry is actually busy converting their operations to cater to the inbound travel surge, which Japan finally managed to generate. Both countries will however remain important outbound tourism market sources which tourism professionals should keep on nurturing somehow, someway.

Other than China, promising markets are India, Indonesia and Vietnam. They are already visible in Europe mostly through group travels or lavish weddings but their active demography, their growing economies and their stable governments are mainstays for the outbound travel sector’s continuous growth. It is likely that Indonesia will become the biggest outbound market source from South-East Asia to France as of 2017–2018. It ranked 4th in 2015!

Finally, smaller outbound tourism markets like the Philippines, Korea, Thailand, Malaysia, Taiwan and Singapore, all very different from each other, will also continue to grow at their own pace, often influenced by their respective political or social environments, good or not. They also merit a constant interest.

GR: If you had an unlimited budget, what would you do to promote a destination like Monaco in your key growing market?

BB: The tools which are at our disposal today to market a destination are way more numerous than they used to be when I started my career 20 years ago. We have seen a quick evolution in the methods of marketing since the digitalization of the economy. It is still a bit disconcerting as the old guys (the travel agencies, the tour operators, the printed media…) keep telling you that their channel is the best — especially for upscale tourism products — while the new guys (the social media, the Online Travel Agencies, the online media, the bloggers, etc.) are capitalizing very well on the trendy and cool effect offered by cutting edge technology.

So where do I put my marketing money???

One thing we can note is that in Asia, the demographics are different than they are in Europe: the affluent nomads (the ones who actually travel with comfortable budgets) are from the X & Y generations in Asia except for Japan and Australia/New Zealand where — like in Europe — they are mostly baby boomers.

And you do not communicate to Gen. Xs & Ys in the same manner than you communicate with baby boomers. On top of this concern, the Millennial generation throughout Asia (except for Japan and Australia/New Zealand) are the affluent of tomorrow. Like every brand in the world, any tourism brand, any destination, needs to try and leave their imprint as early as possible amongst this age group. This is how a brand builds loyalty. Today, all the big players in the tourism sector are learning to communicate with Millennials.

So in Asia, I would invest a lot of money to engage in different ways the X & Y generations but also the Millennials age groups through social media, travel stories, through features in Korean drama series which sell so well throughout Asia. I would also use affinitive marketing with brands that these age groups love and respect. Creating and nurturing a cool and hip effect, based on positive values and brand history is what one must seek out.

I am however not discounting the old guys. They should be our partners for more mature clients who are still the core clientele of established luxury destinations and will remain such for some time. I believe in partnerships: affinitive marketing with hand-picked brand partners, targeted events, exciting and unique travel packages, etc.: the story telling exercise is more convincing and beneficial when it involves several characters. And so is the return on investment for all involved partners.

GR: Where do you see more demand and revenues: leisure or business? Individuals or group? Do you think your answer is specific to Monaco or do you see similar patterns in the competition?

BB: Both segments offer equal opportunities in their respective market share. On one hand, MICE-strong destinations tend to try and elevate the contribution of their inbound tourism market by developing products for pocket-full individual leisure travelers. On the other hand, destinations traditionally oriented on individual leisure tourism will attempt to develop a MICE-focused offering in order to fill their low season and attract world-famous congresses or conferences, thus improving their international visibility. That is what Monaco — once a mostly leisure tourism destination — has successfully accomplished in the last 15 years, building the ad-hoc infrastructure such as the multi-awarded Grimaldi Forum Convention Center and attracting world-class prestigious events, conferences, congresses and incentives, capitalizing on Monte-Carlo’s fame as the “playground for the rich and famous”. Thus, every attendee gets their “15mn of fame” effect.

But in fact, the line between leisure and business travel is blurred nowadays. “Bleisure” is the new way of traveling for many a visitor, especially for those coming from the other side of the world: one tends to optimize one’s time and to seize every opportunity to learn, network, discover and enjoy. That is true for any travel destination. We extend a trip for a “me” time, after attending a convention or we take advantage of that holiday trip to finally meet this entrepreneur whose article in LinkedIn had left an impression and who lives in the same city we are visiting…

GR: What trends are you currently noticing within the luxury travel industry and how is Monaco responding to them?

BB: This shift from consumption and acquisition of luxury goods, which is about accessing a real or fantasized personal status, to the quest for experience or spiritual enrichment, which is about personal development and about giving back. Thus, a luxury destination will fare better in the future if it has a pedigree, a history, a positive legacy to boast for.

Some luxury destinations are mere luxury products. I call them “pop-up luxury destinations”. Once you have been there once, it feels like you have acquired it as you would a luxury watch or a Birkin bag. And soon, you will want to try another one.

But other luxury destinations (Monaco is one of the few) you will want to go back as they offer you an experience right across the board. You arrive as a visitor and more often than not, you leave as a friend, having acquired a new network, having been exposed to new ideas while profiting from the incredible concentration of talent available there, from Michelin awarded restaurants to unique bespoke events gathering the A-listers of the world. In that sense, Monaco only needs to nurture, develop and constantly renew the heritage on which it has successfully built itself, in particular since the inception of Monte-Carlo in the 1860’s.

Monaco has always been a place of innovation, a multinational & open country promoting new ideas, new art expressions, a laboratory for new technologies…, thus attracting the best international talents who in return contribute to its economic and social environment. And the legacy goes way back: since 1297, its Princes have always managed to safeguard Monaco’s independence and to promote its difference although it was always surrounded by big powers which could have easily obliterated it. The current Sovereign Prince Albert II of Monaco is faithful to this tradition and his personal commitment through his Foundation to promote nowadays’ crucial environmental causes worldwide, is yet another subject of international pride and visibility for the country/destination.

Luxury is also about that. Once you have reached the higher point on the Maslow pyramid, you aspire to beauty, quality, harmony and excellence for you and your family. This is the ultimate luxury.

GR: What are some of the challenges of promoting Monaco to elite travelers in Asia-Pacific?

BB: Thankfully, after many years doing just that in various capacities, it is less and less of a challenge! Once the elite travellers have exhausted the pop-up luxury destinations, they will always put Monaco on their world map. However, time availability, distance and the (inaccurate) perception that Monaco is somehow unattainable, a certain shyness towards the elite destinations of Europe which sound like closed member-only clubs, can be deterrents. But only for that one time. As the next time, all the elements fall nicely into place and it is time for this long-wanted sojourn in Monaco.

And the more the Asia elite stay in Monaco the more the word spreads, converting always more elite travellers and more recently, more investors from Asia who see Monaco not only as a place to travel to but also as a place to live in, at least for a part of the year.

Meanwhile, the whole country, its government services and its entire tourism sector have been working to reinforce the attractiveness of Monaco towards Asian visitors, guests and residents. Services and products have been developed to cater to them. For example, the cutting-edge check-up unit of the Monaco Princess Grace Hospital has Chinese speaking personnel. Most hotels in Monaco are ‘Welcome Chinese’ certified by the China Tourism Academy (CTA), board of the China National Tourism Administration, etc.

GR: According to you, what is your sector looking for in young graduates?

BB: Kindness is key. Obviously, fluency in several foreign languages is important as it reflects the daily reality of international tourism, but attitude is the most important. Whoever has visited Japan for a few weeks came back blown away by the politeness, the proactivity, the genuine modesty, the willingness to do well, to work well and to give the utmost at any moment… demonstrated by all in the service industry right across the board. I learned that in Japan. But along the last 20 years I have also learned that diplomas, certificates and all things which may make a curriculum vitae look amazing are nothing if the person does not absolutely love what he/she does.

Without generalizing we can still say that Asians’ social skills and expectations tend to derive from a Buddhist and/or a Confucianist tradition which promotes the community as opposed to the individual and which values selflessness and reserve as opposed to entitlement and self-assertion. So when an Asian person recognizes similar qualities and values in a foreign interlocutor, most of the job is done. The rest is left to the expected competences acquired in the frame of academic studies and to the procedures which the hospitality industry is more than well equipped with.

This interview is part of the Global Interview Project led by UNITIATE and UIU to build knowledge for the Travel & Leisure community of young professionals.

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