28 Jan, 2016
Manila — The first ASEAN Tourism Forum in the era of ASEAN integration, held in Manila between 17-22 January 2016, was a clear opportunity to send a powerful, unified message positioning ASEAN as a single destination. Although that has been the policy objective since Visit ASEAN Year was declared in 1992 to mark the 25th anniversary of the regional grouping’s founding, today, 49 years later, the opportunity was lost big-time.
Having failed to build on the branding momentum generated by Visit ASEAN Year, the ASEAN marketing apparatus added to the confusion several years ago by endorsing another misguided recommendation to dual-brand ASEAN with the supposedly better-known description, “Southeast Asia”.
The resulting disarray was plain to see at the ATF 2016 in Manila where all the public branding displays, and a lot of the internal material, were plagued by clear inconsistencies in presence and presentation. While fundamental rules of marketing require omnipresent display of a unique, distinctive brand logo and tag-line, there was no commonality in the way ASEAN was being featured in press releases, media briefings, opening and closing ceremonies, brochures, websites, name-badges, etc.
Everyone was doing their own thing. Check out the muddle and the mish-mash in the visuals below.
Over the last few years, ASEAN national tourism organisations have wasted much time and taxpayers money agonising and arguing over this issue. Worse, they have completely lost sight of the most fundamental message of ASEAN integration — the creation of One Vision, One Identity, One Community. Only one national tourism organisation, Thailand, reminded the ATF 2016 media participants of that core mission statement.
The entire ASEAN system honours the acronym “ASEAN”. Tourism is the only sector which seems to think that’s not good enough, in spite of tourism being at the historic forefront of promoting the ASEAN brand with Visit ASEAN Year. The ASEAN NTOs and the ASEAN secretariat have no-one to blame except themselves for the failure to maintain the momentum over the last 24 years.
No matter what fancy nomenclature or convoluted description is used to justify it, a dual-branding is unsustainable. And there is no choice except to dump “Southeast Asia” (which, by the way, would geographically include both Papua New Guinea and Timor Leste, neither of which are members of ASEAN) and unite around a single ASEAN brand with its over-arching people-integration mission: One Vision, One Identity, One Community.
By comparison, Southeast Asia – Feel The Warmth may or may not attract visitors from some parts of the world but sends confusing mixed-signals to residents of ASEAN. This confusion was flagged by veteran Asia-Pacific travel industry journalist Murray Bailey in one of the ATF 2016 media conferences, a strong indicator of what’s to come.
Indeed, the ASEAN identity-building and integration campaign should have started five years ago, in the lead-up to the 2015 integration. By now, every public building, street corner, means of transport, convention centre, hotel, shopping mall, name-card, website, and more, in all ASEAN countries should have been saturated with an omnipresent ASEAN logo and its over-arching mission/vision statement, One Vision, One Identity, One Community, accompanied by a translation in all the ASEAN languages.
Travel & tourism was perfectly placed to take the lead in advancing that cause. It failed.
If the objective of that mission/vision statement had been achieved, there would have been no need for a consultant-contrived slogan to “feel the warmth” in ASEAN.
The year 2017 will mark the 50th anniversary of ASEAN. The world and indeed the travel & tourism industry is vastly different from that in 1992. ASEAN has grown from five countries to ten, making it an even more diverse destination. To capitalise on that unique selling proposition requires Unity in Diversity. That can only be done via one brand name, one tagline, one sense of purpose.
The absence of any of that is clear in the following pictures: