A debate over ASEAN tourism brand differentiation.

OK, everyone knows brands should differentiate themselves from each other to carve out their own space and, hopefully, compete favorably with their competitors. Except that assumes they will compete on characteristics they can “own” and that will attract their customers.

HOWEVER, in a recent Khmer Times article a respected Cambodian tourism industry insider has criticized ongoing efforts to define separate “brand identities” for countries in the region, as officials try to work together to distinguish the different benefits of visiting ASEAN countries.

Thourn Sinan, chairman of the Pacific Area Travel Association (PATA) Cambodia Chapter, said he disagreed with the typecasting of different countries, arguing that tourism could not be reduced to a series of consumer products.

Here’s how Thourn Sinan sees the individual countries’ “typecasting”:

  1. Cambodia is being promoted as the leading country for heritage tourism;
  2. Myanmar as the place to have the best local encounters;
  3. Laos as a country where you can take part in adventures by road;
  4. Vietnam as the home of luxury cruises;
  5. Thailand as the place to have a lively metropolitan and food experience.

Mr. Sinan said officials are free to define brand identities for each country in the region if they want, but claimed the majority of travelers are interested in understanding more than one aspect of each country, from the local people, to politics, the economy and wider traditions, outside of the obvious culture and heritage attractions.

“We cannot divide up countries like this or give tourists the option of purchasing a particular tourism product. Tourists want to see how developed a country is, what the living standards of the people are like, and also how they relate to the host country’s culture, customs, politics and economy,” Mr Sinan said.

And here is an alternative view from Lor Thoura, Director of the Marketing and Promotion Department at the Ministry of Cambodia Tourism:

He said the attempt to define brand identities is intended to play on the strengths of each country in the region.

Cambodia is famous for its cultural heritage, so the brand is “Kingdom of Wonders”, which will attract travelers who are interested in culture, he said.

“Those travelers who like culture and heritage will come to Cambodia,” Mr Thoura said.

He added that Thailand, for example, is branded “Amazing Thailand”, because of its recreation services available to tourists.

“We cannot separate tourism into brand identities,” Mr Sinan said. “It is not possible because tourism is not a consumer product. Tourism is about feeling and imagination.”

Chhay Sivlin, president of the Cambodia Association of Travel Agents, argued that brand identities were just a way of grabbing the attention of tourists.

“Regional tourism authorities agree that Cambodia is rich in historical and cultural sites compared to other countries in the region, so that’s why we branded Cambodia as a cultural and historical country,” Ms. Sivlin said.

“That doesn’t mean we don’t also have other tourism products to offer, such as our rivers, coastal areas and other natural resources.”

            So just where does this debate take us? 

I don’t know what the right answer is, but it does seem that the parties involved could use a little better information (via effective market  research?) to select what really makes their countries DIFFERENT  from their neighbors and ATTRACTIVE  to tourists. Other than that, if Mr. Sinan’s view of Vietnam’s and Laos’ branding is correct (as focused on”luxury cruises” and “adventures by road”), those countries might want to get some new thinking to guide their tourism marketing efforts.

To see the original article, just follow this link : http://www.khmertimeskh.com/news/39538/tourism-branding–falls-short-/