Success in Southeast Asia Travel? It’s All About Mutual Respect


During my 13-plus-years working in the luxury travel industry, I was continuously motivated to find partners and suppliers that valued a seemingly simple principal. It formed the bedrock of any relationship our tour company entered in to, and if present, generally ensured long-term success, happiness and profitability. So what’s the magic ingredient that achieved all this? Mutual Respect.

As a Canadian doing business in an adopted region (SE Asia), planting solid roots and developing meaningful relationships was paramount to company health, longevity and personal happiness. Cultivating such relationships on a community and business level was key to ensuring we were invited into homes, celebrations and welcomed back time and time again. Building mutual respect on multiple levels enabled this to happen.

There’s no shortage of tour industry companies in SE Asia: good ones, bad ones and a bunch that disappear as fast as they come on to the scene. But the really successful ones have their eye on the long game, rather than grabbing for short-term monetary gains. It’s simple: treat others as you want to be treated. While many in business will tell you getting the lowest price on every component is of prime importance, in the high-touch business that is tourism, relationships, highly respectful ones, are integral to success. Here are a few guidelines to live and operate by that will help build mutual respect:

  • Acknowledge one another’s right to happily run a business and turn a profit.
  • Always be cognizant of being a guest in new communities and areas.
  • Remain committed to not nickel-and-dime partners.
  • Remember successful relationships are based on trust.

These may seem obvious, but they’re exceptionally easy to miss in the quest for profit and market share. Sprinting to get a product to market at the highest possible profit margin can often impede good business acumen and ultimately limit your time in the market itself. While attaining low prices from partners is important to the bottom line, striving for exceptional service is the element that truly positions one above the competition. And you’ll only get this from people you respect, that respect you.

A practical example:

Motor scooters were an integral part of our tours in Thailand’s northernmost province, Chiang Rai. We didn’t want to own and maintain them and found the best rental shop in town. We knew they gave commissions to hotels that found renters, they knew we knew, but we never asked for the commission. Instead, we established that we expected the best bikes and service each and every time. Over ensuing years we continually received the newest bikes, they were sometimes picked up in the middle of the mountains when necessary and no request went unmet. We didn’t nickel-and-dime the owners and they always extended us the very best. This resulted in our guests, who were ultimately paying the bills, having a paramount experience. Everyone was happy.

It’s easy when traveling to bargain hard, lose sight of real financials and annoy everyone in your path. The same is especially true of doing business in an adopted region. Treating locals with dignity, investing in long-term relationships and developing mutual respect is crucial to success and ultimately driving customer satisfaction.

Check out Scott’s blog at


About Author

From running a highly innovative customised tour company in SE Asia, to writing stories and taking photos for regional publications, imagining and managing outreach programs and being a part of professional organisations, Scott is all about innovation in travel and bringing people together. Check out his blog at

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