Following the launch of Google Street View Angkor, the Google team has been very busy with their future plans for Cambodia. We caught up with Rebecca Michael, the woman behind the marketing for Google’s consumer facing products across Southeast Asia; and learnt more about the roots, dreams, and reality of the recent project that tempted over 80 international media outlets to be present for.
(This interview has been edited for clarity.)
Hello Rebecca! Can you tell us a little about your role in Google?
I am the consumer marketing representative for the Southeast Asian sub-region. My role focuses on Google consumers, and I aim to help everyday people get more out of the web by using the appropriate tools.
How did you find yourself working within the Southeast Asia (SEA) region?
It has been six years since I started. I began with two years in London, and then I was just generally interested in moving to Asia to get some experience outside the Western business and culture. I joined Google in Toyko for two years after. I wanted to get more experience in emerging markets, and SEA was the place because it’s a really exciting region with a lot of diversity. I am now based in Singapore.
We are interested in the Asian market when it comes to digital things. What are your views on the different countries in SEA? Which are the ones that are really going to emerge on a digital platform?
SEA is really diverse in terms of its Internet penetration. You have the more developed markets like Singapore, and then you have different types like Malaysia and Philippines, and Thailand and Indonesia, which are like 30% penetration. Finally, you have countries like Cambodia. I think that different countries are interesting for different reasons. Indonesia is interesting because of its size, and the potential number for that country might hit around a hundred million people going online in the next three years. That is super interesting from a volume perspective.
I particularly find markets like Cambodia or Bangladesh interesting because they have only a few percent of Internet penetration, and as more of them come online, they always seem to be completely fresh and reinventing what the Internet stands for. They have a trend of going online first with the mobile platform because they have never learnt how to operate a desktop interface with a desktop device. That is what really catches my attention: diversity in terms of Internet maturity and the habits that come along with that.
There is a reoccurring situation where people in the emerging markets don’t really know what’s the Internet, but they know what are Google and Facebook. What are your opinions on a social name embodying the entire web system?
I think it’s really important that as Internet users come online for the first time, they understand what the web has to offer for them as a whole. It is great if individual platforms act as the bait for them to come online first, but then eventually it is important for them to explore the Internet and really get the most out of the experience to benefit them.
When you talk about the excitement over emerging markets, is that a personal opinion, or the opinion of the Google team in general?
I am pretty confident that these are the opinions of Google. We are super excited about emerging markets and how Internet users come online to find the web.
Was it your first time in Angkor yesterday? What do you think about it?
No, I have been there a few times, but it is… It’s amazing! It’s definitely magical.
How do you feel about this amazing place now featured in Google Street View?
I think it is fantastic that people around the world can now have a taste of Angkor. I don’t think it’s going to ever replace, and in fact, it’s not suppose to replace actually visiting Angkor itself in person. It can help inspire a trip or help plan a trip.
It is interesting to think about how technologies like Google Street View are changing people’s experiences of destination and monuments. It wasn’t so long ago that a tourist brochure or a coffee table book was the only way a country could promote itself as a destination or a culture. Now in just a few clicks, we are up close and exploring elephant carvings.
We, for one, are super impressed. There is an online debate right now about how this feature might actually replace people’s desire to go to Angkor itself. What do you think about it?
It is a good conversation to have, but think about it this way: Do you remember the Lord of the Rings? When people watched LOTR and they saw how beautiful New Zealand was, NZ’s tourism skyrocketed. In fact, it was called Tolkien tourism. When you see a beautiful place through online mediums like photography or videography, you don’t think, “Oh I don’t need to go there anymore.” You think, “Oh I want to go there.” Intuitively we know that it will generate more interest for the place.
It is also great for people if they never get to go to Angkor because of their circumstances. Another thing is that when you are actually at Angkor, there is so much to take in. In good weather, you can walk around and then go back home after to continue online. We were talking to some tourists yesterday about the feature, and they agreed that it would be quite interesting to show their friends to enhance their stories back home.
Thank you, Rebecca!