How to brand a destination to attract investors, the right businesses, talent and tourists

The destination branding rewards are high in terms of investment, jobs, development, tourism, exports, domestic and even international influence. But building destination brands is harder today than ever before. There are over 1,000 national and regional economic development agencies in South East Asia alone and the ongoing global economic crisis, political interference and a fragmented, tactical approach to a strategic initiative all help complicate the process.

It’s also hard because most destinations attempt to build their brands on a platform of familiar marketing and advertising campaigns that include one-size-fits-all positioning strategies driven by advertising in mass media, that do little more than add to the advertising clutter increasingly ignored by consumers. And more often than not, those campaigns are led by tourism.

Tourism maybe about to become the number one industry in the world, but did Indonesia’s 2008 tourism campaign and the tagline “Celebrating 100 years of nation’s (That is not a typo) awakening.” influence South Korea’s Hankook Tire when it was looking for a location for a US$1.2 billion tyre plant? Of course it didn’t.

Hankook Tire sought a good location close to transport hubs, a secure source of quality rubber, abundant and cheap labour and probably the opportunity of an early crack at Southeast Asia’s biggest economy.

Indonesia is on something of a roll at the moment and is expecting as much as US$10 billion of investment from South Korea alone over the next four years. And it’s not just Korean firms that are looking hard at the country.

The steel company Arcelor Mittal is currently considering a US$5 billion investment and China Investment Corp is rumoured to be considering an investment of as much as US$25 billion. A number of other deals are also in the works but although details a sketchy, one thing is for sure, none of them will be swayed by positioning statements or slick advertising campaigns featuring white sandy beaches, azure skies and crystal clear seas.

These companies will make their destination decisions, and this is particularly true of Indonesia but also applies to other Asian destinations, on political stability, a clearly defined long term plan to invest in railways, roads, power plants and distribution networks, ports, transportation and more as well as concerted attempts to tackle bureaucratic red tape, graft, and unfriendly labour laws.

Indonesia understands this and regional competitors would be wrong to ignore this sleeping giant. President Susilo recently instructed the relevant federal and state or regional authorities to speed up spending, particularly on infrastructure. Assurances from the central bank that it would not impose outright capital controls will do a lot more to convince potential investors than any expensive tagline or one-size-fits-all positioning statement.

Don’t get me wrong, tourism has an major role to play in the development of many destinations but an international one-size-fits-all positioning statement that attempts to speak to potential investors, tourists, talent and others from diverse parts of the world with one message is not the way forward.

So what can regions, states or cities do to build destination brands that will attract investors, businesses, talent and tourists?

Once the infrastructure is in place or the blueprint outlining the infrastructural development with timelines, responsibilities and milestones is determined, destinations must carry out research to identify channels, communities and influencers within those channels and communities and develop content that resonates with those influencers and those communities.

Prospects from different industries from different parts of the world have different requirements for value. Sarawak corridor of renewable energy (SCORE) on Borneo is targetting ten core industries. Those industries are as diverse as Aluminum, Aquaculture, Fishing, Glass, Timber and Tourism. Such diverse industries with their different requirements for value, will seek information from and be influenced by completely different environments.

Identifying those requirements is mission critical, without it destinations are guessing and the success of a destination brand should not rely on guesswork. So destinations must talk to prospects and customers from each segment. Find out what value they seek and determine if the destination can deliver that value.

To avoid wasting valuable resources on advertising and marketing that is lost in the clutter, it is important to determine what online communities they inhabit and who or what influences them. Also identify why investors chose the destination. And talk to lost customers and find out why they chose another destination over yours.

At the same time, internal brand research must identify what are the core brand values of the destination and how will they be communicated internally so that the whole organization is on brand and understands the role they play in the successful implementation of the brand. And it is critical that the core brand values are developed with customers in mind and not from the destinations point of view.

The analysis and data from this key research will form the foundations of the destination brand strategy. And only once the brand strategy is developed can the implementation begin. The implementation must not neglect citizens and their communities who will be impacted by the changes to their environments.

There will be positive and negative implications for communities and these must where possible be predicted and dealt with accordingly. If they cannot be predicted, they must be dealt with in a consistent, transparent and confident manner. It is important for destinations to understand from the outset that without citizen and other stakeholder buy in, the destination will not succeed.

Increasingly fragmented media, the Internet and an increase in leisure time activities make it harder to reach consumers via traditional media. Destinations must look past the traditional broadcast approach to generate interest in the destination.

One destination in South East Asia purchased a double page spread in the International Herald Tribune to market the destination. The feature was really well written, with top quality images and provided a comprehensive overview of the destination. But the feature made the common mistake of trying to tell everyone about everything.

This approach hopes that the advertisement or feature will be seen by the right people at the right time and that they will invest the time required to read through the substantial feature in the hope that there will be something relevant to them. The problem is that there are lots of competitors doing the same thing and moreover, how many senior executives are willing to invest time reading such articles?

This particular feature also made the mistake of not including any tracking tool to identify the number of responses. Any marketing efforts must include tools to measure their effectiveness because if you don’t track the effectiveness of your marketing efforts, how do you know which ones are working and which are not?

Communications must also take into account changes in consumer behaviour and look past the traditional media channels with an emphasis on the Internet and Social Media. And this will require a comprehensive change in the thinking of CEOs and others tasked with developing a destination brand as it requires ongoing engagement with consumers rather than a traditional broadcast approach.

To be successful, destination brands must now adapt to these emerging business and customer imperatives. Imperatives that include a special emphasis on the right research and the right data collection and analysis, effective customer, channel and employee communications, operational excellence, accountability, service and the ongoing ability to meet customer requirements.

The potential rewards are huge but the stakes too are high and with competition coming from all angles, destinations will only get one shot at building a successful destination brand.


The Maldives is ‘rebranding’. Why?

I read here that the Maldives is starting a major rebranding initiative. The republic of the Maldives is an island nation in the Indian Ocean and consists of about 26 atolls with about 1,200 islands spread over approximately 90,000 square kilometers. Of those islands, about 200 are inhabited.

Its area and population of 300,000 make it one of the smallest Asian countries. It is also the lowest country in the world and at 2.3 metres above sea level, it is also the country with the lowest highest point.

Fortunately for the Maldives, it has some of the most stunning beaches on the planet and an ideal climate, all year round sunshine and beautiful calm seas have helped make the republic a popular destination.

You may recall the horrific images of death and destruction caused by the Tsunami in 2004. Despite the harrowing scenes and negative publicity after the Tsunami in 2004, the country has seen a steady increase in arrivals and 2009 saw arrivals surpass the pre Tsunami total of 500,000 visitors in 2003. Indeed, arrivals for 2009 were an all time high of almost 700,000. The main countries of origin for tourists to the Maldives are the UK, Italy, China, France, Germany, and Japan.

And there has been little negative reaction to the recent public relations disaster when an European couple were humiliated by hotel staff who were asked to bless their marriage. Probably because an apology to the couple was almost immediate and other fallout was handled confidently and quickly by authorities.

With limited natural resources, tourism and fishing have become the two key industries although the country does have a thriving cottage industry consisting of activities such as handicrafts and lacquer work.

Currently tourists spend most of their time in private bungalows in self-contained tourist resort islands designed specifically for tourism. Only one resort can be constructed on an island and the maximum built-up area of any resort island is limited to 20% of the land area and the building heights is not allowed to be higher than vegetation levels. Only 68% of a beach length can be utilised for guestrooms, 20% of each resort island beach is reserved for public use and 12% is classed as open space areas.

With such a fragile ecosystem, efficient waste management is vitally important and new resorts must install their own wastewater treatment plants, bottle crushers, incinerators and compactors. Sewerage disposal through soak-pits into the aquifer is no longer allowed. New resorts are also required to install desalination plants and this has substantially reduced the stress on ground water supplies.

The Maldives are seen by many to be the role model for sustainable tourism and it is such planning, strict environmental controls and policies that have ensured the Maldives retain their mystique.

When not in the resorts, most tourists spend time relaxing on private beaches, swimming, snorkeling, diving, fishing and boating. Sightseeing and visits to markets and local artisans in Male the capital are also popular.

So it would appear the Maldives, so to speak, is in a good place. It is managed efficiently, it is a role model for many countries, it has a thriving tourism business that works because of the policies and systems and processes put into place to protect the industry, it handles crises effectively and is probably in the top ten of most people’s ‘must go to destinations’ so you could be forgiven for thinking, “If it ain’t broke, why fix it?”

Thoyyib Mohamed, Minister of State for Tourism in the Maldives aims to “position the Maldives as the must-see destination of our time for all travelers.”

A recent press release goes on to state, “The (rebranding) initiative will focus on enhancing the positioning of the nation’s tourism product, strengthening its image in established key source markets while broadening its appeal to wider audiences and emerging niche markets.”

I’m not privy to just how many visitors the Maldives can take without breaking that fragile infrastructure and I don’t know what the targets are but I am fairly confident that broadening its appeal to wider audiences and niche markets may result in an increase in the number of arrivals. Even another 100,000 visitors, an increase of around 15% will put a tremendous strain on these beautiful islands and in addition to the added pressure on the environment and infrastructure these new arrivals will obviously bring, they may also cause social and cultural problems.

I would hazard a guess that the Maldives are known to most people who travel abroad for leisure. I also think it will be practically impossible to ‘enhance the image’ of what is for many an already perfectly enhanced image. And trying to position the country and creating awareness of the destination amongst those that don’t know the country will be a costly exercise that may do little more than waste valuable resources. Something no country can afford to do.

I recommend the Maldives focus on these 5 key areas

1) Retention. What does it need to do to get people to visit again?
2) Share of wallet. What does it need to do to get more out of visitors?
3) Instead of using outdated mass economy approaches like positioning, leverage the power of social media. There are numerous sites on Facebook about the Maldives but none seem to be managed.
4) If new markets are pursued, chose them carefully, only after extensive brand research. And go after them with a strategic plan that engages relevant communities in those countries and again, not via traditional media.
5) I just realised how good this point is so I have to keep it for a destination we’re working with, sorry!

Top tips for successful city branding

I know I’ve said this before and I am probably beginning to sound like a broken record but advertising agencies do advertising.

And advertising is a tactical initiative driven, on the whole by creativity. Using advertising across one or more channels is a series of tactical initiatives known as a campaign. It is not a brand strategy.

If you want to build a brand, you are not, unless you have extremely deep pockets and are very very lucky, going to do it with advertising alone. This is especially true in the destination branding sector. What is required is a comprehensive, integrated brand strategy that acts as the blueprint that drives multiple interanl and external initiatives, including the very important creative elements developed by advertising agencies and not the other way around.

Bill Baker, author of Destination Branding for Small Cities available here, has written a timely, concise and easy to read set of guidelines for any city or destination that is ready to develop a brand strategy.

The article is here dont_hire_painter-1

I strongly recommend any destination, and for that matter, any company read this article to understand what they need to do before wasting valuable resources on tactical initiatives that will only add to the noise.

Australia Unlimited. Genius or Garbage?

Someone sent me this link about the plans for the Australian government to use a new tagline to sell Australia Inc to the world.

I’m sure you guys have lots to say and I welcome your thoughts on the article. To get the ball rolling here are a couple of thought starters.

1) Australia Unlimited isn’t a brand, it is a tagline created by an advertising agency to be used in creative driven communications using one message to communicate with all stakeholders, irrespective of their requirements for value. The concept of selling ‘Australia to the world” is laughable as most of the world doesn’t care.

2) Here’s a clip from the article, “Shortlisted agencies were given a brief to ”come up with a brand that would promote Australia’s capabilities across a range of sectors from investments and exports to education, culture, sports and events”

How does “Australia Unlimited” do that? And how could any communications campaign appeal to such a diverse prospect base?

3) Here’s another quote from the article, “John Moore, director of brand development of the Global Brands Group, the agency that has been co-ordinating the new Sydney brand, likes the line. ”It takes it beyond tourism and poses the question of what is unlimited about Australia, to which there can be many answers. I think it will work really well as a connecting device with all those different areas [of trade and business].”

Excuse me? How does it do that? I want to set up a mining company in Australia, what can you do for me? That’s the only question I want to pose.

This is another iniative, involving 2 stakeholders, Tourism Australia and Austrade, who should be working together but in fact appear almost to be competing with each other!

Nation Branding and Social Media

A key element of a successful nation branding initiative depends on how well your audience absorbs, understands, adopts and redistributes the message based on their requirements for value. Back in the day this was done at a coffee shop, sundry store, mosque, church, football club or where ever else consumers congregated. Today those same people are increasingly likely to hang out in communities online. Facebook is the most popular home for many communities and it and other forms of Social Media need to be part of any strategic nation branding initiative.

But the Social Media rules are very different to the traditional media rules. And although many nations, organisations and government institutions or destinations believe they understand the new rules, the output of many of them would suggest otherwise. And this is detrimental to the long term success of the nation brand. Social Media channels or tools may not survive as long as many traditional media channels, but Social Media is here to stay.

One country that seems to be doing Social Media right, is the US. The importance of Social Media, and in particular Facebook during Obama’s presidential election campaign is now the stuff of legend. Key to the successes of the campaigns was that campaign personnel asked people what was important to them and then fed that information back to the main office where local service projects were implemented as quickly as possible. Many of of those vote winning projects continue today.

At one stage, in November 2008, Obama had 2,155,244 friends on Facebook, McCain had 578,651 and George W. Bush had none! Little wonder then who won.

The US has since expanded its use of Social Media to the international arena and the increasing importance of Social Media channels is reflected in the Facebook efforts of the US embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia. The Embassy has invested significant resources into Social Media just as the use of Social Media in the country takes off – the number of active Facebook users in the world’s most populous Muslim country has grown from 2,325,840 in March 2009 to 20,775,320 in March 2010, an increase of 793%!

As the US Embassy in Jakarta has ramped up its presence on Facebook, its fan base has ballooned from 35,000 followers to 131,000 in little more than a month! This in a country not known for its love of the US. But the US embassy understands that this is not a soap box to try and hard sell or influence Indonesians with US policies and attitudes.

As a result, the tone of the Facebook site is light and cheerful. One recent post on the homepage related to Indonesia Batik, has received over 795 comments and more than 2,300 thumbs up. Most of the posts receive 100+ comments and significant numbers of thumbs up. Batik is err a common thread throughout the site and most of the postings are related to American life and culture, and in particular sport, music and popular green initiatives. Other initiatives include Blogger workshops.

Tourism, primarily destinations in the United States are also featured, including a rather ambitious and possibly poorly targetted attempt by Nebraska to attract Indonesians to the Great Plains state. Despite the remoteness of the destination, the video has received over 50 mainly positive comments. Other states using the site to market themselves include Tennessee and Ohio.

The US Embassy markets the site via advertising on local sites such as this one

Social Media and, in this particular case, Facebook is undoubtedly an excellent channel for nations to build their brands by engaging with consumers and offering value to those consumers based on the needs of those consumers, whilst understanding the environment. The USA, certainly in Indonesia seems to know this better than most.

Thanks to unspun for the inspiration for this story

Branding states requires integrated strategic initiatives

I believe that traditional brand communications driven by traditional processes such as creativity, placement, repetition, positioning are being dragged, kicking and screaming, to the branding graveyard. Brand communications, as a numbers game of releases distributed, ads run, awards won and so on, that focussed on outputs, not outcomes, are finished.

But this doesn’t mean that there isn’t a place for superbly executed advertising, as part of a integrated, organisational driven, consumer influenced brand strategy.

When the Sussex Safer Roads Partnership launched a strategic initiative that has at its centre, a campaign developed to remind individuals that wearing seat belts is important, the county realised that repeating well executed advertising on TV was going to be expensive and unlikely to reduce the number of road accidents in the county. However, the ads are good and were viewed over a million times in two weeks. My personal favourite is here

But the ads are only part of the story. The initiative also includes Operation Crackdown, a residents driven initiative developed with the residents of the area in mind. Essentially, the initiative calls on Sussex residents to contribute to the safety of their communities by reporting instances of anti-social/dangerous driving.

These initiatives are part of an integrated strategy that also includes educating businesses by offering companies a complete managers’ safety pack of handbook, driver information and posters to display in public areas. There are also opportunities for businesses to apply for specialist help to devise their own occupational road risk strategy, or to have existing safety initiatives examined by the Sussex Safer Roads Partnership.

There are also other campaigns that focus on children. Schools across the county participate in a quiz. Cyclists, horse riders and pedestrians are also targetted via multiple channels.

Operation Crackdown received 1,608 speed complaints from across Sussex, between March 2009 and March 2010. Extensive data will be collected and analysed on an ongoing basis and used to improve the strategy.

Destination Branding: Branding Regions, States & Cities

It’s estimated that there are more than 100,000 locations in Asia actively seeking to attract business, industry and tourists. As a result, it is increasingly important that locations seeking development, investment and visitors must have a structured, long-term approach for attracting visibility, investment and arrivals.

This conference brings together experts in the field of destination branding. Professionals who have been involved in the process of developing brands for regions, states and cities in Europe, USA and Asia.

The invaluable experience these respected practitioners bring to Asia will provide government servants and others responsible for driving investment into their regions, states and cities with the core elements and specific knowledge and tools required to build strong brands by matching attributes of their states and cities to the requirements for value of investors, businesses and businessmen as well as visitors, both domestic and international.

This ground breaking conference will also include examples of how other destinations have successfully branded themselves and attracted Foreign Direct Investment and visitors.

Venue: TBD Kuala Lumpur, MALAYSIA
Dates: Sunday March 27th 2011, 1900 – 2100. Cocktail Party & registration
Monday March 28th 2011, 0830 – 1700.
Tuesday March 28th 2011, 08:30 – 1700.

Confirmed speakers:
Keith Dinnie – author ‘Nation Branding – Concepts, Issues, Practice’
Bill Baker – author ‘Destination Branding for Small Cities’
Robert Govers – author ‘Place Branding’
Hamitabh Kant – author ‘Branding India – An Incredible Journey’
Dr Jim Hamill – leading expert ‘Destination Marketing in a Web 2.0 environment’
Courtney Fingar – editor FDI magazine

Should destinations brace themselves for a brutal summer?

Grant Thornton has published a report that forecasts 373,000 visitors to the Football World Cup in South Africa in June. That’s a drop of 110,000 from original forecasts.

The big question is, are fans waiting to the last minute to book tickets or is this a sign of the recession? Certainly political tensions in the country may be causing fans to wait and see before making a decision on a significant financial commitment. After all it’s not just the match tickets. Fans also have to take into account the cost of flights, accommodation and internal travel which can be significant distances. Grant Thornton predicts fans will have to fork out US$4,000 each. For a family of four, that’s US$16,000 for a summer holiday in a recession! Hard to justify.

But I believe that the poor ticket sales are a result of the global economic situation. And if I am right, destinations in South East Asia could be heading for a brutal summer.

I think that free spending Europeans will forego an international holiday and instead invest in a large LCD or Plasma TV and stay at home to watch the World Cup. If they do go away, it will be either for a short domestic holiday or somewhere in Europe. I expect Eastern Europe to benefit.

If I am right, what should destinations do to soften the blow?

Well the first thing is to curtail one-size-fits-all mass market TV advertising communicating the usual white sandy beaches, tropical blue skies and azure seas. There is simply no differentiation from other destinations. Consider this comment from Qualitative research carried out by FusionBrand in the United States earlier this month,

“Watching the basketball today and an ad came on for a destination with some really nice water/resort images. It was Malaysia. But is (sic) struck me that the line Truely Asia gave me the feeling that they were trying very hard to say, “us too”. It gave me the feeling of them saying “we’re just like the other (good things) in Asia”. But the images in the ad could have been in the Carribean.”

How confusing is that?

There is no time to build a communications strategy for 2010. If it hasn’t already been done, and at least 2 countries in South East Asia don’t have a plan for 2010, it is too late. But there is still time to develop an integrated tactical approach to activity based not geographic based marketing.

Thirdly, embrace social media, NOW. Start to engage prospects and those who have visited via social media. Redistribute resources, train staff and create teams to build relationships with consumers via Facebook, Twitter, Travelocity, Tripadvisor and others. Forget about the old global buys on CNN and the BBC. Creating awareness via mass marketing wastes valuable resources and anyway, consumers aren’t listening. Reinvest that money in engaging consumers.

Fourth, don’t ignore the traditional web. Make sure your website is as contempory as possible. If you are sitting back thinking, why do we need to change or improve our website again, we updated it two years ago, the Internet is fluid. Destinations need to be seen as dynamic. Singapore is on its third design (and best so far) in two years.

Develop a plan for your digital tactics and don’t forget basic web marketing tools like SEO and SEM.

Call emergency meetings with all stakeholders – representatives of the mayor’s office from all key cities, transportation companies, travel agents, tour operators, shopping malls, hotels and so on. Identify what each has to offer and work with them to develop an integrated holistic plan to leverage their attributes and match those attributes to the requirements of target markets.

2010 is going to be a bumpy ride for cities, states and other destinations. This is an emergency and it calls for emergency measures.

Otherwise the 30% drop in arrivals in South Africa will be duplicated around South East Asia. And without the attraction of a World Cup, they could be magnified, causing many destinations to have a brutal summer.

Your communications are critical.

Malaysia getting ready to be major player in world’s largest service sector industry

One of the most interesting elements of the New Economic model (NEM) announced by the Malaysian Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Najib Razak was related to tourism.

I quote directly from his speech, “…the tourism sector has not been exploited to its potential. More can be done to attract new markets from Europe and the Americas to complement the markets from the United Kingdom and Asia.

We have some of the oldest forests in the world, rich with flora and fauna and diving experiences acclaimed to be unforgettable. Malaysia can lead in providing environmentally sustainable eco-tourism adventures that are much sought after by the advanced markets.

We should aim to provide services which will attract high-end tourists who seek exclusiveness and high value services. We must also be creative as we consider new areas of tourism. From medical tourism — a high-potential growth sector — to eco-tourism, luxury market tourism and visitors related to our growth as a regional education hub. Malaysia’s tourism future is bright if we have the vision and creativity to support its diverse growth potential.”

World’s largest service sector industry
As the PM said, Malaysia has long neglected the business of tourism, despite the fact that it is, according to the World Bank, the fastest developing industry in the world. Moreover, according to the World Tourism Organisation, 2006 (the last year before the sub prime crisis) was a record for world tourism with 842 million tourists visiting other countries, up 4.5% over the previous year. Tourism is now the World’s largest service sector industry.

Furthermore, according to the World Tourism And Travel Council (WTTC), 12% of exports, 9.3% of international investments, 8.3% of the world’s places of work and 3.6% of world internal gross product account for a share of tourism and its relevant sub industries.

Using the satellite accounting approach, which attempts to calculate the extent to which other economic sectors contribute to and benefit from tourism and passenger traffic, the WTTC also estimates that the travel and tourism industry in 2008 was valued at approximately US$5.9 trillion or 9.9% of global GDP.

Tourism is also a popular industry with governments because it impacts every level of society from the sundry shop owner who sells a tourist a bottle of water and a map to the car hire company, locally owned hotel and airline.

With hundreds of miles of pristine coastline, breathtaking islands and the oldest rain forest in the world, Malaysia should have a better developed tourism industry and it will be interesting to see what incentives the government offers investors and developers to encourage them to invest in the infrastructure and products needed to move Malaysia up the value chain in this beneficial industry.

49 million visitors by 2020
I managed to get my eyes on a copy of a report preparred by a respected international consultancy and commissioned by the government to provide data for the NEM. Unfortunately one of the key recommendations was to increase the number of arrivals to Malaysia to 49 million by 2020.

It has been a common thread in announcements made in Malaysia that volume is key and we need to be attracting hordes of foreigners to Malaysia to consider our tourism business a success. But this advice is poorly thought out. One example, imagine the impact of 49 million tourists, many of them blue collar Europeans who consider it their God given right to walk around without a shirt on (men) or only in a bikini (women) and quite often with a beer in their hands, on a place like Kuala Terengganu or Kota Bahru.

What we need to do is move away from this volume is best approach and look more at a value is best strategy that aims to attract smaller numbers of higher value visitors. This will also help with the infrastructure and talent issue as we do not have the people available to staff the 500 or 600 room hotels required to support 49 million visitors.

Breathtakingly beautiful island
One of the best natural destinations in Malaysia is Redang Island in the South China Sea. This breathtakingly beautiful island has slowly had it’s natural attractions such as the coral destroyed by boats dragging anchors, careless swimmers and greedy fishermen.

But the concept of volume over value ruled and so little was done until recently when the Terengganu state government announced that it will no longer approve any applications for cheap Chalet style resorts as it wants to make Redang a destination for high net worth visitors. This is a a sensible move that will also help save the marine environment and attempt to prevent further environmental damage.

It is a sensible move that the state government, and hopefully the federal government will offer financial support, wants to upgrade this amazing destination. But the state government should also understand that it is not just about changing the names of the resorts, upgrading facilities, spending large sums on awareness advertising and increasing the rack rate by 300%. There will need to be a significant investment in the upgrading of the resorts and also supporting infrastructure.

Here are 5 other recommendations:

1) Carry out research with stakeholders, prospects, customers and others to determine the way forward.
2) Work with carriers and others to improve domestic and international connectivity.
3) Find the right partners. Malaysia doesn’t have a domestic 5 or 6 star hospitality company that is recognised globally. Work with a globally respected and recognised resort management company.
4) Redang is a small part of the potential of Terengganu. The state must develop and implement state destination brand masterplans. The brand masterplans must incorporate measureable and relevant promotional strategies that are not based on traditional marketing techniques but leverage the power of social media.
5) In line with federal initiatives, reduce costs of doing business and offer exciting incentives for investors, above and above usual free utilities for 5 years etc.

We’ve heard about incentives for the tourism industry before but the government has never really pushed them. I have a hunch that this new administration is different and that this is a small first step in a revolution that is long overdue.

Case study: Use research to form the foundations of a tourism brand strategy

A powerful country brand developed from a meticulously planned strategy that has at its heart the concept of providing specific value to specific identified segments and meticulously executed and measured can yield massive benefits for investment, domestic industries and culture.

And for most South East Asian countries, tourism will have a prominent role to play in their country brand strategies. And so it should be as most governments recognize the contribution of tourism to stimulating economic growth across all sectors of society.

It also helps that tourism is also considered to be the world’s largest industry with revenue of over US$500 billion. The World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) estimates International tourist arrivals for 2009 to be at 880 million. Although this was a 4% drop over the previous year, Asia and the pacific saw the first signs of recovery with positive growth in the last 2 quarters.

Going forward, the UNWTO expects international arrivals to reach 1.56 billion by 2020. Of these, almost 400 million are expected to head for Asia and the pacific.

But because of the tendency of politicians to seek a quick fix, most Asian tourism brand strategies look no further than creative advertising campaigns that look the same as many other destinations and are soon lost in the muddle of messages currently carpet bombing consumers.

One country in South East Asia has recognized the futility of this approach and commissioned us to develop a brand strategy based on trade and consumer requirements for value. Client confidentiality doesn’t allow me to reveal the country involved however I am able to share the methodology and some of the results and findings.

The project took just almost 2 years from appointment to implementation of the strategy however some urgent recommendations were implemented earlier.

The tourism office is tasked with marketing the country both domestically and internationally. Our focus was internationally. They were facing a number of challenges including:

1) The increased effectiveness of competitor marketing strategies. All regional competitors are investing heavily in tourism products and developing segment focused branding campaigns.

2) Growing ineffectiveness of mass marketing, especially generic print & TV advertising. Increasingly fragmented media and an increase in leisure time activities are making it harder to reach consumers via traditional channels.

3) The increase in the influence of the Internet on the destination decision-making process, especially the increased influence of peer-to-peer networks. Figures released by The Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) in November 2004 showed that 19% of holidaymakers booked their holiday online – six times more than in 2000. By 2008, this figure had grown to 67% (Online shopping survey). Only about 13% of those surveyed said they would use a travel agent. The Internet is also growing in importance as a communications medium through P2P networks with 34% of respondents to a Mintel survey choosing their destination on the basis of a face-to-face recommendation

4) Poor repeat visitor rates. Repeat visitors not only represent an increased return on the initial marketing investment but also tend to stay longer and spend more. Additionally, they represent a low-cost source of referrals and other word-of mouth advantages. Currently, the country has a below average number of repeat visitors compared to two main competitors which represents a threat to future growth.

5) Lack of awareness and knowledge of the country worldwide. What has been the impact of the country advertising? Has it been effective in improving the perception of the country? How much is it contributing to tourism in the country?

Our research showed that there were about 600,000 competing communities in Asia and more than 1,000 regional and national economic development agencies, all competing for visitors. This made it easy for even the most compelling messages to get lost amid all the destination claims.

We recommended to the client that in this cluttered environment, effective branding depends on data and knowledge about current and prospective visitors and not simply trendy creative campaigns featuring mass marketing tactics across all major channels.

Moreover, choosing the most effective branding strategy depended on sound market & customer research to determine current attitudes and perceptions toward the country among travel agents, previous visitors to the country and those that had never visited the country.

By understanding the sources of those perceptions and attitudes, the client would be better able to evaluate current branding efforts, develop strategies to target high-impact segments with the most potential more effectively, drive internal education and other program development, leverage the emerging medium of Web 2.0, develop benchmarks to measure branding progress and ensure that resources were used cost-effectively.

The research could also be used to pinpoint, prioritise and drive online community-based branding. A core requirement as consumers spend more time in those communities.

Other key requirements included communicating knowledge of current branding and target market imperatives among personnel, as well as ensuring knowledge and data transfer.

After extensive discussions with the research division and others and to provide a 360-degree approach to understanding the brand, FusionBrand developed and conducted a multi-phase, six-month international research project that incorporated multiple research methodologies.

These methodologies included:

• 39 focus groups (FG) in thirteen locations in twelve countries comprised of 3 segments:
o Travel Agents
o Travelers who have visited the country in previous 3 years
o Travelers who have not visited the country but have traveled long haul in last 3 years
• Online surveys
o 12 countries
o Worldwide via client website
• Mystery shops in specific countries plus home country
• Internet CGM (consumer-generated media) monitoring & analysis
o 22 million blogs
o 60,000 usenet forums
o 6,000 discussion forums
o Plus podcasts, web sites etc.
• Internal brand audit in HQ and at tourism offices worldwide
o One-on-one, in-depth interviews with domestic & international staff
• External brand audit
o In depth interviews in specific countries
o 3 segments
o Tourist operators & agencies
o Media representatives
o Local tourism associations
• Communications audit (print)
o Brand analysis of print materials
o Comparative analysis of 11 regional competitor materials
o Framework for evaluation, scoring & future design developed
• Communications audit digital
o Own sites
o Brand evaluation based on Internet & customer relationship best practices
o Social Media initiatives

The countries were located in the following regions:

• Asia
• North America
• Europe
• Middle East
• Australia

The research project completely designed by FusionBrand was not only comprehensive, but innovative as well. For example, the Internet monitoring had yet to be accomplished by any destination, while the digital communications audit looked at what is necessary to advance into the emerging era of Internet 2.0.

Output was comprehensive and extensive and included:

• Recording and analysis of relevant input in complete reports
• County-by-country reports concerning perceptions and experiences with the country, including key influencers on travel destination selection
• Brand workshops for client personnel incorporating research results to ensure a corporate-wide understanding of the country brand strategy
• Analysis of Internet and marketing collateral relevance and effectiveness in segment-based branding
• Review of social media initiatives
• Quantitative benchmarks concerning experiences, perceptions, influencers and preferences of target segments
• Detailed insights concerning five key target segments identified in conjunction with the client

Each report not only included the findings from the research, but also prioritised recommendations for addressing the issues raised by the research.

Over 300 actionable recommendations
More than 300 actionable recommendations were made. These recommendations were incorporated into a comprehensive, segment-based brand plan that was developed over six months. The brand plan had a strong emphasis on the internet and social marketing and included strategic planning for marketing, advertising, both online and traditional, public relations, direct marketing, web and other programmes and outlined goals, messages, target markets, measurements, activities, timelines, responsibilities and budgets.

The benefits include consistent messaging and images among target markets, synergy among multiple programs, and elimination of uncoordinated activities that were wasting resources. Crucially, the brand plan also provides tools to evaluate program results.

In addition, in conjunction with representatives in country, country specific brand plans were developed. The Country Brand Plans are primarily focused on specific marketing activities within those countries. These activities include, but are not limited to, PR, local trade shows, agent recruitment and communications, cultural events, advertising, segment specific publications, promotional events, etc.

Although the brand strategy was for 2009, urgent recommendations such as consolidation and improvements to web sites and the appointment of regional PR companies were implemented immediately.

A key element of branding is consistency and yet, during the communications audit, the lack of consistency was evident. A strong recommendation was made for a corporate identity brand manual to be developed immediately. The manual was conceptualized and completed by FusionBrand in 4 months, during the writing of the 2009 brand plan.

Throughout the research and planning process, workshops were designed and presented to client personnel to keep them abreast of the process and educate them.

The project has been deemed a success with many targets met ahead of or on schedule. Furthermore significant savings have been made in a number of areas such as a reduction in collateral printing and a move to print on demand. Finally the destination has appeared on more than one ‘must visit’ destination for 2010 for the first time in its history.