Distinction in travel journalism
Is independent travel journalism important to you?
Click here to keep it independent

27 Jan, 2017

Visit ASEAN or Southeast Asia? Branding mess on full display at ATF 2017

Singapore – Hundreds of man-hours and thousands of dollars in taxpayers money have been expended over many years by ASEAN tourism officials in pursuit of a united brand image that will fulfill the dream of promoting ASEAN as a single destination. But, as was more than evident at the 36th ASEAN Tourism Forum between 16-20 January, ASEAN tourism platforms display neither the consistency nor clarity about what nomenclature and which logo should be used where and how.

The ASEAN tourism sector often complains that ASEAN does not have a strong brand image as a single destination. The images below will make it clear why that is the case.

This editor has been reporting on this ongoing branding mess for many years. Thanks to lack of supervisory oversight by tourism ministers, ASEAN secretariat and national tourism organisations which are never held accountable, a complacent private sector, and a pliant travel media which only wants to keep the advertising gushers flowing, no-one bothers to challenge what is going on.

By raising these pertinent issues, which involve taxpayers money, I am proud to raise the bar by offering quality journalism that other travel trade media can only talk about.

First, what the logos mean….

The first set of images below explain what each of the ASEAN logos stand for.

This is the official ASEAN emblem on the ASEAN website, with a full explanation of what it signifies. As very few in the travel & tourism industry would know what the emblem stands for, there would be precious little commitment to upholding the ASEAN principles. Most people in ASEAN probably wouldn’t even be able to name all ten member countries. Also, note  the upper right corner where the acronym is clearly spelled out: Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

This is what will come up in a Google search for “ASEAN logo”. Note the clear reference to the over-arching ASEAN mission statement: One Vision, One Identity, One Community. This goes to the heart of what ASEAN is trying to achieve. The goal is clear, even though the path is fraught with uncertainties and challenges.

This logo was crafted by a group of USAID-led and -funded marketing and branding consultants who claimed that “ASEAN” had no global brand image and suggested that ASEAN tourism authorities should co-brand it with a “Southeast Asia” tagline.

This is the logo of the special campaign designated for 2017 marking the 50th anniversary of ASEAN. It says “ASEAN”, not “Southeast Asia.”

This is the front-page of ASEAN’s 50th anniversary tourism campaign website: visitasean@50.com. It includes all three logos (see upper left).

This is the front page of aseantourism.travel, which claims to be the “official website” of the ASEAN travel industry. It includes the Southeast Asia logo and the ASEAN mother-ship logo but no VisitASEAN@50 campaign logo.

Meanwhile, on the trade show floor of the ASEAN Tourism Forum 2017…

The ASEAN Tourism Forum is the region’s apex travel trade show. It offers the most perfect opportunity to underscore a single brand image and market the region as a single destination. Did that happen at the Singapore ATF? Judge for yourself…

The Singapore pavilion featured a panel display with all three logos, neither of them very prominent.


The Philippines pavilion had the two ASEAN@50 and Southeast Asia tourism logos, but not the overarching ASEAN logo.


Thailand just put up a poster panel on the side, the logos barely visible.


Cambodia embedded the two ASEAN@50 and Southeast Asia tourism logos in the backdrop, but they were barely visible. No ASEAN logo.


Indonesia pasted a sticker display of the two ASEAN@50 and Southeast Asia tourism logos below the audiovisual.


The Malaysian pavilion gave the logos a little more prominence. The two ASEAN@50 and Southeast Asia tourism logos were included. No ASEAN logo.


Myanmar had only the ASEAN@50 logo.


Vietnam added the sticker panel just above the audiovisual. It was barely visible.


Brunei included the two ASEAN@50 and Southeast Asia tourism logos, but trimmed the “Southeast Asia” logo to delete the reference to ASEAN.


The private sector ASEAN Tourism Association had none of the logos, only its own emblem with the flags of each ASEAN member country.


This huge display was hanging from the ceiling of the exhibition centre, but the ASEAN@50 was the most prominent. The “Southeast Asia” logo was relegated to a lower rung. The tagline referred to “Southeast Asia”. Immediately below, the logo says “Southeast Asia – Feel the Warmth” but the website is called www.visitASEAN50.com. Of the four messages in this panel, two refer to ASEAN and two to Southeast Asia.


The panel backdrop for the media briefings, which actually would have had the most significant TV impact, had none of the logos. Only the ASEAN Tourism Forum logo.


On 26 July 2016, the Special Tourism Competitiveness Committee held its second meeting in Bangkok. It finalised all the details for consistent usage of the Visit ASEAN@50 logo. It made no mention of including the “Southeast Asia – Feel the Warmth” tagline or logo. How that crept in is worthy of further investigation.

ASEAN tourism authorities always have an explanation ready. The most common is that one is the ASEAN mother-ship logo, one is the ASEAN umbrella tourism logo and the third one is just specific to the ASEAN@50 campaign.

But it should be clear from the images above that too many logos are spoiling the broth, and not in sync with the objective of promoting a single brand image-cum-destination. As individual countries and states are also conducting their own campaigns such as “Visit Laos Year” and “Visit Perak Year”, the line-up of logos gets even more cluttered. 

ASEAN meetings are always marked by a “traditional spirit of cordiality and solidarity”, and the word “accountability” is unheard of, especially not to the general public. So, this will just continue all through this year, and beyond.

One day, someone higher up may muster the courage to order a review. I wouldn’t hold my breath, however.