Amidst the huge amount of data from the outbreak-impacted Asian business landscape are nuggets of opportunity awaiting harvest.

Across the world, many countries are already seeing the impact of the coronavirus outbreak. Within Southeast Asia, economists have downgraded business and economy outlooks, and businesses are implementing pay freezes or even more drastic measures.

Sectors such as MICE (Meetings, incentives, conferencing, exhibitions), travel, hospitality, attractions and retail are naturally the most impacted, but spillover effects are anticipated.

Claus Andresen, Head of General Business (GB) and Emerging Markets Growth, Asia Pacific Japan (APJ), SAP, said: “The start of 2020 has been punctuated by a series of major global challenges that have cast a shadow over Asia’s economy. The combination of the ongoing US-China trade tensions and the rapidly developing COVID-19 health situation is disrupting supply chains, cashflows and the forward planning capabilities for many small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in the region.”

Yet, is it all doom and gloom for the region? As the most polished speculators and investors will remind us, in every adversity there will be new opportunities for the clear-minded and prepared visionaries.

In this case, data insights firm ADA has analyzed extensive data to draw out how consumer behavior has changed, and how business can make the most out of the crisis.

Some of the insights gleaned from 375 million datasets include:

  • Data of retail footfall in malls across Southeast Asia shows differing trends in Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia, and thus requiring different strategies to engage with consumers. Marketers in Singapore may want to adopt cost-saving messages while prioritizing targeted paid digital marketing campaigns.
  • Marketers should take advantage of the decline in tourism in Thailand and Indonesia by focusing on brand building to be better positioned in the mind of consumers once the good times pick up again. It certainly worked for Virgin Atlantic during the 2009 economic downturn.
  • Cross-border travel data suggests that while less people are travelling out of Singapore and Malaysia, the numbers remain relatively stable for Thailand. People from Singapore and Malaysia are also still travelling to Thailand.
  • The virus has a sparked an explosion of information on social media—over 12,000 videos on social media in relation to the outbreak, and interestingly, countries such as Philippines and Malaysia have the highest number of videos circulating even though they do not have high numbers of reported cases.
  • Dating apps had the biggest spike in Singapore (which suffered clearly in dining out and shopping/retail trends), with a 10% or greater increase in users.
  • Quarantine measures and travel bans have reportedly caused the tourism market in Southeast Asia to plummet, and Bloomberg anticipates that the effects will continue well into 2021.
  • In true “Malaysia Boleh” spirit, Malaysians braved the outbreak as they continued to travel back from Singapore during Chinese New Year, and they bounced back quickly to business as usual with over 23.67% identified as Malaysians working in Singapore by ADA data scientists.

When derived from sufficiently large and neutral data sets, such insights can point to pockets of stability and even growth for business to seek refuge in. Organizations are rushing to develop or update their business sustainability plans and remote-working infrastructure, and this benefits relevant solutions providers as well as certain business consultancies.

Governments are rallying to release unprecedented emergency budgets to bolster short-term business survival prospects, and miscellaneous measures offered by altruistic organizations can also give a lift up for fledging business too weak and distracted to even see any bright sides to the imminent pandemic.

As Michelle Obama said: “You should never view your challenges as a disadvantage. Instead, it’s important for you to understand that your experience facing and overcoming adversity is actually one of your biggest advantages.”

Said Claus: “While SMEs will be hit hard at this critical juncture, their nimble footprint will give them the agility to recover faster and emerge more resilient. A good example of this is how SMEs in the region moved swiftly to put in place telecommuting measures as the COVID-19 crisis unfolded.”

With SMEs turning to digital solutions to forecast the impacts to their businesses and using that data to help guide them towards the appropriate measures to minimize losses, Claus observed: “2020 is turning out to be watershed moment for SMEs in the region. The challenges that they have been facing has accelerated their digital transformations. By embracing digital technologies and embedding them across the entire business, SMEs will be able to innovate with speed and agility, aligning themselves with the ever-changing business environment.”