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Will a new brand finally impose ASEAN to the world?

Luc Citrinot, Etn Senior Managing Editor Asia (in Brunei)  Jan 29, 2010

“ASEAN Pass? Do you mean ‘Asian Pass’?”… That was a few years back the reply I received from a few travel agents in both Bangkok and Jakarta. Despite behind around for almost half a century, ASEAN is still not instantly recognized among Asians. What about then foreign travelers to promote the Association of South East Asian Nations? “We are only a Secretariat fostering cooperation among our member countries”, justifies Tran Dong Phuong, Head of the Infrastructure Division within ASEAN Secretary. Asked about what is indeed the budget of ASEAN Secretary to promote tourism, M. Phuong seems to have absolutely no clue about the money available, providing vague answers: “We get various sources of funding and it is very difficult to assess it”, he justifies.

The result is that ASEAN image as such is blurred in people’s mind. Failure to leverage more on ASEAN is recognized by Oscar Palabyab, Philippines Undersecretary of State for Tourism and at the head of the marketing task force for ASEAN Tourism. “As we will launch a new five-year marketing plan for tourism next year, it was a perfect time to assess the impact of previous ASEAN campaigns and then review our entire strategy”, he says. According to Palabyab, sources of financing were also scarce to have very effective strategies…

Enter then ‘Southeast Asia, feel the warmth’, ASEANTA backed new tourism brand for the region. For R.J. Gurley, director of ASEAN Competitiveness Enhancement (ACE) program supported by the US Agency for International Development (USAID), Southeast Asia is however a fantastic well-known brand. “Guide books or the private travel sector have been using Southeast Asia as a destination for at least 35 years. We are now leveraging this valuable brand into a new theme campaign supported by ASEAN”, he explains. Over 400 logos were selected to finally come to the new one, neutral enough to be sure that all ASEAN members can endorse it. “It was rather complicated to find a common element for the ten countries. But a sun in the shape of a flower incarnated at best the warmth of Asia from a climate point of view but also from its people. Friendliness was in fact one of the most used term to describe each country in the region,” recalls Gurney.

Two companies, WEGO (Singapore) and SOTA (Malaysia) have been selected to shape a new website The website is seen as the most important tool for promotion. “Our resources are limited and they will be best maximized through online marketing”, tells Gurney. The set up of the web costs some US$ 500,000 for a total budget for tourism of US$ 3.75 million. National NTOs do not contribute for the time being but could join the initiative if it proves successful.

The website will not only contain information on the ten ASEAN countries but also integrate a booking engine and a travel planner. “We then associate a pure promotional initiative to a commercial one”, explains Felix de la Cruz Chairman of ASEAN Tourism Association. WEGO is in Southeast Asia the largest booking engine with a million customers, looking for the cheapest available hotel and flight rates. SOTA will bring its expertise to connect to the Portal travel business with potential customers. For Rohizam Md Yusoff, SOTA CEO, the company will then help travel operators not online to compete globally.

Beside the portal engine, Southeast hopes to also provide articles, photos of the region and practical information. Identified markets are likely to be ‘Adventurous culture seekers’, a mature market with purchasing power, Inexperienced travelers looking for a new experience and Young Independent Travelers. Long haul market such as Australia, India and Europe are the most likely to respond favorably to ASEANTA initiative. “To better target markets such s Japan or China, we will probably need to translate our website into Chinese and Japanese. We should introduce other languages than English in a year time,” adds Gurney. Commenting on the relative failure of previous initiatives such as ‘Visit Year ASEAN’, ACE is confident to generate this time a positive outcome. “We do not expect a dramatic change of impact on ASEAN arrivals but we work for the long term,” says Martin Symes, CEO of WEGO. “Before, to call on Google ‘Visit Year ASEAN’, people had to type ASEAN in the search engine, an abbreviation that most of them ignore. Just by typing Southeast Asia, they will now be able to access directly to our website. This is a major change!” indicates Gurney.

Will a new brand finally impose ASEAN to the world?

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