Asean tourism ministers have admitted failure in their efforts to promote Asean as a single destination and develop the Asean tourism brand. As a result, they have embarked on a new campaign built on the fact that “Southeast Asia” has greater recognition in international source markets than “Asean”.
The campaign will target tourists in medium- and long-haul markets such as the UK, Australia, India, North America and Hong-Kong. It is part of a $4-million Asean Competitiveness Enhancement (ACE) project funded by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) from 2008-13.
In January 2009, the ACE project consultants signed an agreement with the Asean Tourism Association (AseanTA), which groups the region's private-sector travel industry associations, to develop a new, more effective marketing strategy that promotes Southeast Asia as a single destination.
The new campaign unveiled last week at the Asean Tourism Forum in Brunei elevates the name “Southeast Asia” to co-branded status with “Asean”.
It’s a sharp turnaround from the first Asean Tourism Agreement signed by heads of state in November 2002, which committed them to “promoting Asean as a brand in the international market”.
That agreement also committed the leaders to supporting the (now defunct) Visit Asean Campaign, with thematic tour packages and attractions to encourage visitors to focus on specific areas of interest.
The agreement was aimed at fostering co-operation among Asean national tourism organisations (NTOs) and the industry, particularly airlines, hotels and resorts, travel agencies and tour operators, in marketing and promoting transnational tour packages, including sub-regional growth areas.
However, a study of the impact of Visit Asean, done in May 2007 by Dr Noel Scott, a senior research fellow at the School of Tourism, University of Queensland, reported a “lack of progress at the outcome level”, a euphemistic way of saying it had gone nowhere.
Funded by AusAID, the Australian aid agency, the study pinpointed “a number of underlying issues” such as:
– Alack of sufficient and guaranteed funding to enable a branding campaign to take place.
– Alack of marketing strategy and plan based on consumer and trade research and endorsed by relevant government stakeholders and the industry.
The report was ignored by tourism ministers and the Asean secretariat, which subsequently called for the marketing strategy and brand campaign to be “revisited”. That led to another strategy in June 2009, this one funded by USAID, which said it was time for a change and that “Southeast Asia” would be more appropriate as a brand.
Over the last 12 months, the new approach has been debated intensively. In spite of reservations expressed by Thailand and Malaysia, the switch to the new brand image has won favor largely for purely marketing reasons.
It has also allowed the Asean tourism industry to sweep its own failures under the carpet.
In the most glaring example of this failure, the Asean Tourism Agreement had mandated the “expanding and strengthening [of] Asean co-operation in overseas markets and major international tourism and travel-trade fairs”.
The Noel Scott study noted that setting up a common Asean area in major international travel trade shows was “one of the easiest” ideas to implement.
“A common Asean area in international travel fairs is a specific location/contiguous space where all participating Asean NTOs would co-locate their destination booths. The benefits of such co-location are that it promotes the Asean member countries as a cohesive unit among the trade buyers and sellers.”