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DESTINATION MARKETING Amazing What?

Author: Bill Barnett. Category: Tourism. Posted: 12th Mar 2013

Is Thailand still amazing? We are republishing an insight piece on the subject by James Stuart of The Brand Company which appeared in the Bangkok Post. It's a great read.

Hong Kong is a startling place to live. It has the most number of restaurants and Rolls Royce's per capita in the world. Its name in English means 'Fragrant Harbour', which is a bit generous. It has the world's longest outdoor escalator. Three quarters of its land mass is countryside and it consists of 235 islands. It's constantly on the move, is a rich mix of Chinese, colonial and cosmopolitan and intersperses traditional street-side wet markets with some of the world's tallest buildings. I stopped off in the city on my way to live in New Zealand 21 years ago and never left. It captivated me. Love it or loath it, Hong Kong is a living brand.

When I first got here I remember a TV commercial summarised by the phrase 'Wonders Never Cease'. I thought then how appropriate it was for this city. Hong Kong doesn't do things by halves and that line seems perennially apt. Yet, since then we've had a bucket load of other daft phrases to try and express what the Hong Kong brand is all about. Let me see now....'Live It, Love It', 'We Are Hong Kong, City of Life', 'Hong Kong Will Take Your Breath Away', 'There's No Place Like Hong Kong' and of course we've been encumbered with 'Asia's World City' for a while now. I'd like to propose another: 'Hong Kong: City of More Daft Slogans Than Any Other Territory or City on The Planet'.

This got me thinking about how other cities and countries go about representing their brands. Probably top of the list in Asia in terms of longevity is Malaysia's 'Truly Asia'. India's 'Incredible India'and Thailand's 'Amazing Thailand'havealso being doing the rounds for a while. Then you've got some quirky ones in the mix: Bangladesh's 'Come to Bangladesh Before The Tourists' has a certain self-deprecating, but equally 'why-are-there-no-tourists?' charm. I know Wales isn't exactly in Asia, but I loved their 'Wales: The Big Country' theme. I mean you can drive round the whole country in a day. 'Wales: Quite Small Actually' would be more honest. I quite liked the courage of the Australiansin spreading the 'Where The Bloody Hell Are You?' gospel around the globe, but then the spoilsport British banned it and the Antipodean bureaucrats replaced it with something more bland than the original tag-line had been challenging: 'There's Nothing Like Australia'. Clearly 'safety first' had become the new policy, but would it have been asking too much to provide some meaningful insights into why there is 'nothing like' the Lucky Country?

So, one may ask, what makes a great piece of marketing for a country brand? Is it the tag-line? Is it the consistency of the theme over time? Is it the visuals? Is it the promotions? Hong Kong came up with the mind-numbingly creative'Hong Kong Shopping Festival'. Why do we need a festival for shopping? I thought Hong Kong was always a shopper's paradise (although I wouldn't know as shopping gets me about as excited as filling in my tax forms and putting on a damp wetsuit). Anyway, I digress.

No, none of the above is why a country's brand marketing is successful. The key to success is the degree to which the claims made through the billions of dollars' worth of annual destinationmarketing are relevant, understandable and true.If visitors feel that a destination was less 'Promised Land' and more 'Perjuries and Lies' then their experience will not only have been an unexpected and unhappy one, they will also feel deceived, making it doubly likely they won't return.

This brings me to New Zealand and The Philippines, respectively conveying their national brands as'100% Pure Zealand' and 'It's More Fun in the Philippines'. Both are simple, distinctive and compelling ideas. But, what transforms the ideas from cute advertising lines into compelling business ideas is that they both have their messages planted in truths. Despite the fact that humans have made a mess of much of our fair planet, New Zealand is about as pure as it gets (well, at least when it comes to placesinhabited by us). I mean, New Zealand even banned American nuclear-powered naval vessels in 1986, causing an international furore. And their ice cream is pretty pure too.As for the 'It's More Fun...'theme from our Pinoy cousins to the east, I can think of few more appropriate descriptors of that nation. Yes, it could be swapped for 'It's More Frustrating in The Philippines' or 'It Takes Too Long To Get Anywhere In The Philippines', but hey, we all have our own issues. For me, whether on business or travelling the islands on vacation the Filipinos are positive, happy, playful and immensely hospitable. And this playful sense of hospitality is a distinct characteristic of their culture: of their brand. One particularly important element of the whole 'fun' marketing thing is that Filipinos think of themselves in this way and so the marketing is like a clarion call for Filipinos to be proud of and celebrate their natural joie de vivre. You only need to go to YouTube to see how many Philippine businesses, groups and individuals have rallied around this campaign by creating their owncontent to support it.

So, for all those countries figuring out what to say about themselves to increase numbers of inbound travelers, remember to take a long hard look at the reality of what your nation or city has to offer before you craft your tag-lines and catchy advertising jingles. But be careful you don't get too honest with this reality thing as you'll end up in something of a muddle, like Honduras, officially the world's most dangerous country, which proudly proclaims "It's All Here in Honduras".Of that there seems little doubt.

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