Does multi-modal matter in Asia?

Published October 1, 2013

How important is multi-modal search in the Asian travel marketplace? That’s a question we’ve been hearing more often lately, as partners who are integrating Rome2rio into their European sites consider the implications for other markets.

To better understand the potential impact of multi-modal in the Asia market, we’ve taken the opportunity to analyse a cross-section of searches made during the month of August, 2013. Rome2rio’s B2C traffic is modest—we had just under a million unique visitors in August—but that’s enough traffic to spot a number of the problems people are consistently looking to solve when planning travel to and around Asia.

Rail vs. Air
These searches are common for travel in Japan, where the high-speed rail network is well established, and China, where the network is expanding at a typically breakneck speed. A good illustration is Beijing to Jinan, a provincial capital some 400 kilometers south of Beijing.


Rome2rio highlights the advantages of taking the train: even though the train ride (2:20 hrs) is longer than the flight (0:55hrs), that advantage falls away when overall travel time to and from the airport to downtown is taken into account. Door to door, the train journey is estimated at 2:31hrs, while the air option is estimated at 3:33hrs. If that’s not enough, the fare for the air journey is estimated at $238, while the train comes in at $31. That’s enough of a difference to get the interest of most travelers.

It’s Logical, But Is It Best?
Traveling to Macau from within Asia, it makes sense to fly into the international airport there. But from further afield that logical choice makes less sense. Travelers from San Francisco (and many other locations) might prefer to take advantage of the frequent non-stop flights into better-serviced Hong Kong instead; by walking down to the SkyPier terminal, right inside the airport, and jumping on the ferry for the 45 minute ride to Macau, they’ll have saved themselves around $290—over 20%—on their round trip fare.


Asia’s fast pace, characterised by an endless stream of new operators, destinations and transport options, richly rewards the traveler with the most information at their fingertips. A multi-modal journey plan, including a lesser-known or better placed airport and a final leg via rail, car or ferry will often deliver significant time and cost savings.

Save At All Costs
Whether it’s cash-strapped locals or budget-conscious foreign backpackers, Asia is a place of “even cheaper” travel options. Trains, buses and ferries all offer super-cheap travel, albeit at the cost of luxury and time, provided you can put your finger on the information. The further afield you go, the harder the information is to get.


Our analysis uncovered many searches between second and third tier origin-destination pairs. A typical example is Rach Gia (Vietnam) to Duong Dong; round trip flights between the two are priced at $150, which seems reasonable until you know that the ferry is $9 each way. For many travelers in Asia, a $130 saving on a $150 fare is worth knowing about.

The Arrival Dilemma
How often do travelers arriving at Narita Airport in Tokyo decide, on reflex, that they will take a cab to their city hotel? It seems like a reasonable thing to do, but this is a case where a small amount of knowledge will save a large amount of money. In this example of JFK to Tokyo, Rome2rio recommends a rail journey from the airport to downtown Tokyo priced at an estimated 1300 yen ($13). We also display the oft-chosen alternative: a taxi to downtown Tokyo estimated at $240. That’s ten times the cost of the train and an overall increase in the New York to Tokyo one-way cost from $663 to $900.


We call this problem the arrival dilemma: in the same way that Asian travelers arriving in London or New York are at a loss to figure out how to get to their downtown hotel, western travelers to Asia are often flummoxed on arrival in major Asian ports. Tokyo’s Narita is a particular problem, but Shanghai, Manila and others are just as confusing.

While these examples are specific to Asia, the problems illustrated are not. Our analysis, though, was surprising in that it showed how multi-modal travel within Asia already is, and how much value a multi-modal journey planner can deliver. As we build out our coverage, with particular emphasis on the bus networks which are vital in so many Asian countries, we imagine the Rome2rio platform will become a common integration for travel web sites servicing travelers to and within the Asian region.

Rod Cuthbert

Note: Frequent visitors to the Rome2rio web site may notice the new user interface shown in the examples above.
We hope to roll out this new UI in the next three to four weeks. Stay tuned.

Written by
Executive Chairman of Rome2rio
Rome2rio, based in Melbourne, Australia, is organising the world’s transport information. We offer a multi-modal, door-to-door travel search engine that returns itineraries for air, train, coach, ferry, mass transit and driving options to and from any location. Discover the possibilities at