26 Oct, 2015
Singapore – With just under two months before the integrated ASEAN Community takes effect, the ASEAN tourism sector has proved its utter failure to meet the over-arching goal of building a strong brand image and promoting the region as a single destination.
Although the ASEAN countries had the largest collective presence at the ITB Asia held here between October 21-23, not a single country pavilion displayed the ASEAN logo. It was the same at the region’s other major travel industry event, the PATA Travel Mart, held in Bengaluru, India last September.
The official symbol of any institution, corporation or organisation, a logo is designed to be immediately recognisable as the “brand”, with all the associated indicators of quality and service-delivery. For ASEAN, the logo underscores the ambitious slogan “One Vision, One Identity, One Community.”
The official ASEAN logo is pictured on the left. It was absent at both the ITB Asia and the PTM, the two dominant travel trade shows of Asia. (See pictures of the ASEAN pavilions at both trade shows below).
The lapse is even more bewildering because this is the last year of the 2011-15 ASEAN Tourism Marketing Plan. This plan, along with dozens of other communiqués, agreements and resolutions passed by ASEAN heads of state, tourism ministers and NTOs over the last two decades, was intended to strongly “promote ASEAN as a brand in the international market” and “bind ASEAN Member countries into a more solidly cohesive regional alliance.”
At the ITB Asia, Thailand had the largest contingent with 114 exhibitors (as listed in the official directory), Singapore 78, Indonesia 53, the Philippines 44, Malaysia 32 and Vietnam 22, with smaller representation by Cambodia, Myanmar and Laos. As a group, ASEAN countries comprised just under half of the total exhibitors.
If the ASEAN logo had been proudly emblazoned at all these pavilions, as well as individual exhibitor booths, it would have had a titanic brand-building impact at no cost to the ASEAN tax-payer.
In fact, a more detailed look will show that the ASEAN tourism fraternity rarely, if ever, exhibits the official ASEAN logo at any international travel trade shows. Nor do they ever exhibit together under a joint pavilion.
There is no excuse for this shortfall. Hundreds of thousands of tax-payer dollars are wasted in holding innumerable meetings and preparing voluminous reports on marketing ASEAN as a single destination. However, the ASEAN tourism industry, including the private sector ASEAN Tourism Association (ASEANTA), is so busy being “visionary” and “thinking strategically” that it loses sight of the basics and the need to enact simple solutions first.
The ASEAN logo was also missing at the Arabian Travel Market in Dubai last May. Noticing the shortfall, I raised the issue in a media conference at the ATM with Malaysian Tourism Minister Dato’ Seri Mohamed Nazri bin Abdul Aziz, in his capacity as representative of a country that holds the ASEAN chairmanship this year. (Click here to see my dispatch: Still no ASEAN brand logo at ATM Dubai country pavilions). He promised publicly that he would fix it. Months later, nothing has changed.
At the next ASEAN Tourism Forum in the Philippines in January 2016, a new ASEAN tourism marketing plan is to be launched, covering the period 2016-20. It will be accompanied by a performance evaluation report of the 2011-15 plan. No doubt that will offer a glowing picture about how successful ASEAN tourism has been in achieving all the goals.
These pictures below, however, indicate otherwise.
Who should be held responsible? In the true spirit of ASEAN solidarity, no-one will be.
In reality, it is the secretariat’s job to ensure follow-up and implementation of the ministerial decisions, communiques, agreements and plans.
But it is also the ASEAN way to build consensus, shirk all blame and sweep contentious issues under the carpet. Never mind that they are violating their own principles and agreements and wasting tax-payers money.
And if it gets too embarrassing, the final option is always on hand: Just blame the media for raising uncomfortable truths.
PICTURES TAKEN AT ITB ASIA 2015
PICTURES TAKEN AT THE PATA TRAVEL MART IN BENGALURU, September 2015