This article was downloaded by: [184.108.40.206]On: 12 December 2011, At: 18:18Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registered office:Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK Asia Pacific Journal of Tourism Research Publication details, including instructions for authors and subscription information: http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/rapt20 Towards a Mekong Tourism Brand a b Peter Semone & Metin Kozak a Lao National Institute of Tourism and Hospitality, Vientiane, Lao Peoples Democratic Republic b Mugla University, Mugla, Turkey Available online: 08 Dec 2011To cite this article: Peter Semone & Metin Kozak (2011): Towards a Mekong Tourism Brand, Asia PacificJournal of Tourism Research, DOI:10.1080/10941665.2011.635663To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10941665.2011.635663PLEASE SCROLL DOWN FOR ARTICLEFull terms and conditions of use: http://www.tandfonline.com/page/terms-and-conditionsThis article may be used for research, teaching, and private study purposes. Any substantialor systematic reproduction, redistribution, reselling, loan, sub-licensing, systematic supply, ordistribution in any form to anyone is expressly forbidden.The publisher does not give any warranty express or implied or make any representation that thecontents will be complete or accurate or up to date. The accuracy of any instructions, formulae,and drug doses should be independently verified with primary sources. The publisher shall notbe liable for any loss, actions, claims, proceedings, demand, or costs or damages whatsoever orhowsoever caused arising directly or indirectly in connection with or arising out of the use of thismaterial.
Asia Paciﬁc Journal of Tourism Research, iFirst article, 2011 Towards a Mekong Tourism Brand Peter Semone1 and Metin Kozak2∗ 1 Lao National Institute of Tourism and Hospitality, Vientiane, Lao People’s Democratic Republic 2Downloaded by [220.127.116.11] at 18:18 12 December 2011 Mugla University, Mugla, Turkey In early 2008, the Bangkok-based Mekong Tourism Ofﬁce (MTO) led a noteworthy regional tourism brand development exercise, the objective of which was to create a more recognizable identity for the Greater Mekong Subregion’s (GMS) burgeoning hos- pitality and tourism industry. This paper provides a synopsis of the stakeholder-inclusive approach taken by the MTO to develop a tourism logo and slogan for the GMS. The branding exercise was part of a larger marketing plan for the subregion and applied a very practical methodology. In total, the Mekong Tourism brand development was con- ducted in ﬁve phases, each of which is described in this paper along with any relevant and pertinent lessons learned. The paper ends with a summary of implications for the practical implementation of the study ﬁndings. Key words: destination marketing, destination branding, stakeholder approach, case study Introduction grams can be hugely signiﬁcant, particularly to developing economies. With tourists The United Nations World Tourism Organiz- around the world spending an average of ation (UNWTO) forecast that well over one US$2.7 billion a day, it is no wonder that the billion international annual tourists would competition among destinations is ﬁerce. spend almost one trillion US dollars annually With thousands of tourism destinations trying in over 100 countries around the world in the to attract potential visitors with their golden 2010s. When all of the direct and indirect econ- beaches, exotic cultures, snow-covered moun- omic and social beneﬁts of tourism are con- tains and smiling people, it is difﬁcult for a sidered, its contribution to a nation’s foreign place to stand out from the rest; and with the exchange earnings, employment, poverty alle- emergence of 24/7 cable television, social viation initiatives and social inclusion pro- media and an information-hungry public, ∗ Email: M.Kozak@superonline.com ISSN 1094-1665 print/ISSN 1741-6507 online/11/000001– 20 # 2011 Asia Paciﬁc Tourism Association http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10941665.2011.635663
2 Peter Semone and Metin Kozak getting the international travelers’ attention is tative of broad stakeholder input, resulted no easy feat. For any destination marketer, from the online survey. The second survey tourism entrepreneur or public policymaker, was conducted at a Bangkok SKAL Club the difﬁculty is in ﬁnding a way to stand out meeting. SKAL is an international grouping from the competition. In today’s competitive of travel professionals. The 46 SKAL tourism marketplace, identifying and capitaliz- members present at the meeting, all of ing on “destination differentiators” is the key whom were engaged in one way or another to success. with Mekong Tourism, indicated a clear pre- In early 2008, an exercise in tourism brand ference among the two options. development was undertaken by the Mekong 4. Final reﬁnement of the logo was under- Tourism Ofﬁce (MTO). The objective was to taken based on the phase 3 outcomes. It create a more recognizable tourism identity was thereafter presented to the GMS for the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS). Tourism Working Group (GMS-TWG),Downloaded by [18.104.22.168] at 18:18 12 December 2011 This paper provides a synopsis of the consulta- which eventually adopted the resultant tive approach that was taken to develop a logo and slogan as representative of the tourism brand through a stakeholder input ofﬁcial brand of Mekong Tourism. process. The branding exercise was part of a 5. Modiﬁcation of the slogan was rec- larger marketing plan for the subregion, por- ommended by the GMS-TWG after nearly tions of which are included in this paper and a year in the travel and tourism market- which describe in considerable detail the place. The GMS-TWG endorsed a more context of the branding exercise. comprehensive and descriptive slogan to The ﬁve phases to the MTO brand develop- include the words “six countries . . . one ment approach can be summarized as follows. river”. 1. Identity of a commonly agreed upon “desti- This paper provides a detailed description of nation theme” and “core messages” that each of the above-mentioned phases and the the Mekong Tourism brand should com- lessons learned. The paper begins with a municate and convey. During this phase section that presents an overview of the initial conceptual ideas both in terms of a current literature on how to develop a path for logo design and a supporting slogan were destination branding. It continues by describing developed. This was done through exten- the institutional role of regional destination sive interactive focus group discussions marketing organizations such as the MTO, and the engagement of a graphic artist. which will provide the reader with the necessary During this phase, the choice of logos/ context to understand how and why the brand- slogans was narrowed to four. ing exercise was undertaken. The paper ends 2. Administration of an online survey in which with a summary of implications for the practical participants were asked to rank their visual implementation of the study ﬁndings. preferences of the four options developed in phase 1. Survey participants were also asked to provide relevant comments. Literature Review 3. Administration of a second survey, following further reﬁnement of the logo/slogan options Over the last decade, branding has become an presented in phase 2. Two options, represen- increasingly popular marketing tool because of
Towards a Mekong Tourism Brand 3 a changing business environment marked by According to Gnoth (2007), branding a increasing competition and consolidation of destination means offering place values for corporations. In the tourism industry, both the tourist consumption. Ritchie and Ritchie (1998, accommodation and restaurant sectors have p. 103) deﬁne a destination brand to be “a successfully applied the branding concept to name, symbol, logo, word mark or other build unique identities and differentiate them- graphic that both identiﬁes and differentiates selves from their competitors. Hilton, Sheraton, the destination; furthermore, it conveys the Club Med and McDonald’s are some of the promise of a memorable travel experience that examples of accommodation and food service is uniquely associated with the destination; it brands successfully implemented on the also serves to consolidate and reinforce the recol- national and international arena. Realizing the lection of pleasurable memories of the destina- beneﬁts of branding in acquiring a competitive tion experience”. In fact, marketing of many edge in both domestic and international travel destinations does not begin from a zero baseDownloaded by [22.214.171.124] at 18:18 12 December 2011 marketplaces (Dwyer & Chulwon, 2003; (Hankinson, 2004). Pechlaner, Raich, and Heath & Wall, 1992; Kozak & Baloglu, Zehrer (2007) explain reasonable brand manage- 2011), many destinations have also been ment as contributing extensively to a desti- trying to adopt branding strategies that are nation’s success or failure and ensuring an used in product and service industries. effective use of resources actively to maintain The basic assumption is that geographic and reinforce unique values of the products as locations – much like products and people – signiﬁed by the brand. Morgan, Pritchard, and can also be branded. Thus, the literature Pride (2005) propose that a successful destina- describes destination branding at the general tion branding initiative should comprise trust, country level (Kozak & Baloglu, 2011) and quality and lifestyle connotations that consumers in some cases particular countries such as can associate with them. Place branding there- Britain (Hall, 2004), New Zealand (Morgan, fore inevitably becomes a coordinated process Pritchard, & Piggott, 2003) or Denmark rather than a managed activity (Hankinson, (Ooi, 2004). Meanwhile, others focus on 2004). branding nations (Fan, 2006) or states such Every city has its own name, which can be as Oregon (Curtis, 2001) and even regions used as an analog to a brand for products such as Central and Eastern Europe (Hall, and services. Next, branding strategies take 1999), Western Australia (Crockett & into account direct and indirect competitors, Wood, 1999), the Alps (Pechlaner, Raich, & incorporating positioning strategies. Also, the Zehrer, 2007), Pays Cathare (Woods & assessment of city branding includes evalu- Deegan, 2003) and Alto Minho (Edwards, ations of marketing activities such as advertis- Fernandes, Fox, & Vaughan, 2003). ing effectiveness, positioning analysis, Additional empirical evidence suggests the competitive performance analysis and market branding of countryside such as Surrey Hills segmentation. Consumers are bombarded (Nininen, Hosany, & Ekinci, 2007) or even with choices that are easily substitutable rural destinations (Cai, 2002). There are also because more and more cities try to attract several examples of research on city branding visitors to gain economic beneﬁts. Most issues (Merrilees, Miller, Herington, & places emphasize attributes of attractiveness Smith, 2007; Phillips & Schoﬁeld, 2007; such as friendly people, beautiful scenery or Trueman, Klemm, & Giroud, 2004). nice facilities, which no longer help potential
4 Peter Semone and Metin Kozak visitors distinguish and choose among ing. The existence of both private and public competing cities. Therefore, it is crucial for sectors and different managerial approaches countries or cities as tourism destinations of also complicate the process of branding. varying sizes, regardless of their size, to differ- The creation of partnerships in destination entiate themselves from others by fostering branding can also improve the funding their “unique” identity or personality, based process and increase the availability of on their core values (Kozak & Baloglu, ﬁnances for marketing and promotion pur- 2011; Ritchie & Crouch, 2003). poses. However, it is important to conclude On the other hand, branding major cities that “a successful brand campaign leading to could be relatively more effective and efﬁcient increased yields for local businesses does not than branding other cities within a country, translate into increased revenue of DMOs ceteris paribus. Major cities are usually the [destination marketing organizations]” (Pike, places that attract the highest proportion of 2005, p. 181). The idea of partnerships inDownloaded by [126.96.36.199] at 18:18 12 December 2011 domestic or international tourists visiting a order to improve branding has been developed country (e.g. London, Istanbul, Paris, in Western Australia through the establish- New York), particularly in the context of ment of advisory councils in order to support business tourism. It is well known that Paris marketing (Crockett & Wood, 1999). is a major factor in drawing millions of tour- Success of branding depends on the under- ists to France. Generally speaking, major standing by government of marketing con- cities in Europe are usually the capital cities cepts. Henderson (2007, p. 269) discusses the and have a higher rate of recognition owing success of branding and tourism in Singapore to their association with politics and the result- through good conceptual planning and ﬁnan- ing high visibility in the media. Though not the cial support. This has enabled Singapore to capital of Turkey, Istanbul, as a major urban achieve a competitive position and to gain destination, is revealed as a highly recognized new businesses and events (Henderson, city of Turkey. Jensen and Korneliussen 2007). An orchestra playing synchronized (2002) contend that particular places or cities music together serves as a strong metaphor in a country, such as London, Paris, Rome for successful destination branding; where all and Istanbul, can act as “halos” or partners play in unison the melody outlined “summary constructs” for the whole country. in the marketing strategy of a destination. Additional approaches such as co-branding and creation of partnerships in tourism desti- nations are recommended by academics (Cai, Mekong Tourism Ofﬁce Institutional 2002; Prideaux & Cooper, 2002; Telfer, Review 2001) because without common vision and synchronization of branding and marketing This section of the paper describes the MTO processes the implementation of branding is and its standing as the leading subregional not easy or effective. The idea of a strong tourism institution for the six Mekong brand umbrella and the coordination of activi- countries. The MTO was formed in January ties under the same brand concept (logo, 2006 as the coordinating institution for the slogan, brand identity, mission, vision, implementation of the GMS tourism develop- values, etc.) are crucial in brand extension ment and marketing agenda as outlined in and developing the idea of cooperative brand- the GMS Tourism Sector Strategy (TSS).
Towards a Mekong Tourism Brand 5 The stated institutional mission of the MTO is: to develop and promote the Mekong as a single desti- nation, offering a diversity of good quality and high- yielding subregional products that help to distribute the beneﬁts of tourism more widely; add to the tourism development efforts of each GMS country; and contribute primarily to poverty reduction, gender equality and empowerment of women, and sustainable development, while minimizing any adverse impacts. (www.mekongtourism.org).Downloaded by [188.8.131.52] at 18:18 12 December 2011 Prior to the establishment of the MTO, the Agency for Mekong Tourism Activities (AMTA) was charged with orchestrating subre- Figure 1. Initial Version of Logo for Mekong. gional marketing. AMTA, which was headquar- tered at the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT), was discontinued in late 2005 and the above-average-spending visitors rather than responsibility of GMS subregional tourism mar- high yield (MTO, 2008). In the context of keting was assumed by the MTO. At the time, the overall marketing strategies for the subre- there was only a marketing-focused agenda gion to 2015, the key marketing objectives to linked to AMTA and development-related 2010 as set out in the TSS Action Plan are issues were relegated to the GMS-TWG, the to: develop and strengthen the subregional Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the Paciﬁc institutional capacity to market the subregion Asia Travel Association (PATA). Throughout as a single destination; enhance subregional this early period, the logo shown in Figure 1 product development and product quality; was used to brand both the collaborative frame- and enhance the promotion of the subregion work of the GMS-TWG members as well as des- as a single destination (ADB, 2005). tination Mekong. The thinking behind this rather In recognition of resource limitations and abstract logo was to show a river ﬂowing through capacity constraints when the MTO was six countries, each depicted by a face. launched in 2006, a modest step-by-step The marketing mission statement of the approach to implementing the marketing MTO is to increase the number of high yield program was proposed in the TSS Action subregional travellers (ADB, 2005), whereby Plan (ADB, 2005). These steps included: high yield is deﬁned as someone who stays for 10+ days and/or has per diem expendi- 1. Launch a modest campaign to present a tures of US$100+ per day and subregional tra- uniﬁed Mekong tourism branding through veler is deﬁned as any person who visits two a consistently updated web page presence, or more GMS countries during any single collateral development engaging the ser- visit to the subregion. The marketing plan vices of a professional PR/advertising slightly modiﬁed the marketing mission by group, arranging travel trade familiariz- deﬁning the focus market as long-stay and ation tours, presenting “The Mekong” at
6 Peter Semone and Metin Kozak regional trade shows and rebranding ating budget, the MTO had a marketing AMTA as the Mekong Tourism Ofﬁce. budget of US$25,000, which comprised 2. Organize interactions with core interest residual AMTA marketing funds that were groups of the private sector (e.g. investors, transferred to the Mekong Tourism Coordi- ground tour operators, tour operators of nating Ofﬁce (MTCO) in 2006. This market- generating markets, infrastructure develo- ing money was earmarked to be spent in 2008 pers, etc.) to engage them in dialogue, on enhancing the Mekong Tourism brand, the present views of the potentials of Mekong MTO website and supporting collateral, tourism and seek support for the program public relations activities and trade show as partners. attendance. 3. Energize and stage a relaunch of “Mekong Tourism” as the universal thematic tourism focus of the GMS with supporting collat- Going Forward with the MTO MarketingDownloaded by [184.108.40.206] at 18:18 12 December 2011 eral and strategies, including private Agenda sector-driven initiatives. The limited marketing budget of the MTO dic- At the time of the writing of the MTO Mar- tated that in the short term the subregion did keting Plan in November 2007, the above- not have the luxury of the massive spending stated marketing steps (as prescribed in the power enjoyed by many competitive desti- TSS) had been implemented either partially nations to draw visitors to the subregion. or not at all and signiﬁcant marketing efforts Any marketing project undertaken by the were required (MTO, 2008). MTO in the short term needed to be highly focused and aimed at developing a strong mar- keting framework. In order to attract private MTO Finances sector support for its marketing programs, the MTO had to revitalize its institutional Since its inception in 2006, the operational credibility, which was viewed as “weak” at costs of the MTO have been underwritten best by key stakeholders. by an annual contribution of US$15,000 by A Private Sector Advisory Group (PSAG) each of the member governments (Cambodia, comprising senior executives of regional China, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and private sector organizations was formed to Vietnam). At the close of 2007, the MTO provide advice and direction to the MTO’s account held an operating surplus of some marketing program. During a 31 October US$40,000. In addition to US$90,000 in 2007 meeting of the Advisory Group, annual operational funding, Thailand’s Min- members expressed concern that the MTO’s istry of Tourism and Sports provided ofﬁce reputation had been seriously diminished as a space (including utility costs). From August result of inactivity and lack of continuity. It 2007, the French government seconded a was unanimously agreed that if the MTO senior-level tourism expert to coordinate and were ever to receive ﬁnancial support from oversee implementation of the 28 develop- the private sector as prescribed in the TSS ment projects identiﬁed in the GMS Tourism Marketing Strategy it would need to establish Sector Strategy, which are part of the MTO its relevance and authority as the “lead mar- development agenda. In addition to the oper- keting organization for cooperative GMS
Towards a Mekong Tourism Brand 7 tourism” (MTO, 2008). It was furthermore expressed by the private sector that in order to be realistic, any ﬁnancial contributions to the MTO’s marketing activities must provide clear and tangible returns on investment. Figure 2. An Example of a Logo for Africa. Comparable Regional Tourism Organizations lines and ground operators, and those who In light of the footprints of a benchmarking service the market throughout the world, tour exercise for tourist destinations (Kozak, and web-based operators, travel agents, rep- 2002, 2004; Kozak & Baloglu, 2011), many resentation companies, tourist boards and allDownloaded by [220.127.116.11] at 18:18 12 December 2011 stakeholders have suggested that there are sectors of the media. The prime role of the lessons to be learned from understanding association is to channel information and how comparable regional tourism organiz- breaking news to its wide membership ations market their respective subregions. An through its sophisticated web distribution Internet search using key words such as email service “ATTAK”. National tourist “tourism association”, “regional tourism mar- boards, the media, the British Foreign Ofﬁce keting organization” and “regional tourism and the membership itself use this distribution cooperation” produced links to a number of facility to keep the industry informed. comparable tourism organizations similar to Response time is fast and information is the MTO. As a result of this desk research, quickly distributed. ATTAK enables members methods of marketing collaboration were throughout Africa and the UK to keep abreast identiﬁed. Additionally, approaches to logos of the rapidly changing affairs of tourism. and slogans in support of the regional brand Meanwhile, the ATTA logo and slogan were reviewed. In total, six regional tourism (Figure 2) were viewed as being strong in pro- organizations were identiﬁed as being similar viding a sense of location and dimension of to the GMS tourism endeavor. They are the African continent as well as clearly stating described in the following subsections. the organizational objectives of the associ- ation. The logo seems to provide a strong insti- tutional branding position for ATTA. The African Travel and Tourism However, it does not appear to be directed at Association the end user traveller. The African Travel and Tourism Association (ATTA) creates a hub for the positive develop- The Baltic Sea Tourism Commission ment of travel and tourism in Africa. With over 350 members, it is Europe’s largest trade The Baltic Sea Tourism Commission (BTC) is association promoting Africa. Membership a networking marketing association with the covers all sections of the tourism industry. aim of promoting tourism to the Baltic Sea They are drawn from those who supply the region in North America, Asia and Spain. product, including hotels, lodges, camps, air- The main activities of the BTC include: press
8 Peter Semone and Metin Kozak and trade familiarization trips, an annual Greater Tumen Initiative (Joint Tourism tourism conference, participation in tourism- Promotion) related projects, advocacy of the tourism industry among political decision-makers, Tumen River Region Development Area, com- cooperation with other Baltic Sea organiz- prising China, North Korea, the Russian Fed- ations and the provision of tourism eration and Mongolia, offers cultural and information. The BTC logo is unremarkable natural heritage, and historic and wildlife- in terms of any branding for either the insti- based tourism products, targeting mainly tution or the Baltic tourism region. North East Asian and European markets that seek soft and hard adventure experiences in this once secluded area. The United Nations Development Program and the Tumen The European Quartet Program supported a familiarization tour ofDownloaded by [18.104.22.168] at 18:18 12 December 2011 the Tumen Region for selected tour operators The European Quartet is a group of central and travel journalists in October – November European countries including the Czech 1999. The participants from China, South Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia. Korea and European countries assessed the The organization has an annual budget of tourist attractions, facilities and services of E200,000 – 400,000, which is funded by the area. They also had meetings with local member governments and, to a lesser degree, tourism ofﬁcials and inbound tour operators the private sector. Activities include: mainten- and travel agents to generate ideas about ance of a common website, www.european- multi-destination tours in the region. The quartet.com; a multi-language promotional project included publication of a promotional brochure (Chinese, Japanese and English); brochure for the Tumen Region entitled The statistical information press releases and Tumen River Area – New Horizons in photo library; a common promotional video; Travel, which has been translated into road shows to key markets; marketing work- Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Russian and shops; and special interest promotions. The widely distributed to local tourism agencies, logo is shown in Figure 3. tour operators and travel journalists. The project has been successful at increasing awareness of the Tumen Region’s tourism resources in key markets, and has been helpful in terms of development of tourism products in the area. The project has been complemented by Tumen Program partici- pation in a number of international tourism fairs in Asia, which are good opportunities to draw international attention to the attractions of the Tumen Region as a tourist destination (total budget of US$70,000). There appears to be no concise branding in the form of a Figure 3. An Example of a Logo for Central logo or slogan for this initiative. European Countries.
Towards a Mekong Tourism Brand 9 Figure 4. An Example of a Logo and Slogan for the South Paciﬁc. The South Paciﬁc Tourism Organization Tourism Vancouver Island The South Paciﬁc Tourism Organization Tourism Vancouver Island is a destination (SPTO) is the mandated intergovernmental marketing organization whose vision is “To organization for the tourism industry in the Position the Vancouver Island Region as a South Paciﬁc. In the early 1980s, an informal Premier Destination”. The organization is aDownloaded by [22.214.171.124] at 18:18 12 December 2011 association of South Paciﬁc national tourism not-for-proﬁt association representing the organizations was formed, which sub- tourism stakeholders within the Vancouver sequently became the SPTO. The SPTO is an Island region, which includes all the islands organization with a membership that substan- located between Vancouver Island and the tially represents both the public and private mainland coast and also includes coastal sectors. Current full government member areas of the mainland coast between Moses countries include The Cook Islands, Fiji, and Bute Inlets. Tourism Vancouver Island is French Polynesia, Kiribati, New Caledonia, one of six regional DMOs in British Columbia Niue, Papua New Guinea, People’s Republic that are contracted by the Tourism British of China, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Columbia to deliver marketing initiatives on Tuvalu and Vanuatu. Private sector members behalf of the region. As part of this contract include over 200 of the major tourism oper- each region administers the Tourism Partner ators in the region. The SPTO’s mission state- Program for their respective region. Through ment is: “to be an internationally dynamic and the Tourism Partner Program, Tourism Van- leading tourism organization in the develop- couver Island is able to offer tourism stake- ment of public and private sector tourism holders within the region the opportunity to businesses in the South Paciﬁc”. Key market- participate in marketing initiatives at greatly ing activities of the SPTO include: regional reduced costs. In partnership with tourism sta- branding; overseas representation; travel keholders and Tourism British Columbia, show/road show coordination and facili- Tourism Vancouver Island coordinates over tation; regional collateral material; regional US$1.5 million in advertising and promotional tourism magazine; website development and campaigns targeted at driving tourism business promotion; Internet marketing; lead gener- to the Vancouver Island region. The associ- ation; tourism products database; and Internet ation is governed by a board of directors that and marketing training/consulting. Mean- is made up of industry professionals from while, the SPTO logo and slogan are clearly various parts of the Vancouver Island region. focused on branding the organization and The marketing committee meets regularly to the website rather than the South Paciﬁc evaluate and recommend strategies and (Figure 4). tactics that are focused on reaching the vision
10 Peter Semone and Metin Kozak of the association. The branding of Vancouver In the case of the MTO, the previously men- Island is part of the overall British Columbia tioned Mekong Tourism logo appears to be logo and slogan of “Super, Natural”. trying to position both the institution and the The above subregional groupings as well region. However, owing to the highly esoteric as other individual competing destinations’ nature of the logo, it arguably does neither positioning concepts range over: landscape, well. In the highly competitive global destina- sightseeing and urban tourism based on shop- tion branding environment, it is unlikely that ping and nightlife of Hong Kong, Macau, the average consumer would have an appreci- Zuhai and Canton in the Pearl River Delta; ation or understanding of the Mekong, or the soft and hard adventure and Buddhist culture fact that it is comprised of six nations. This in the Asia Subregional Economic Coop- reasserts the need for a destination brand eration (SASEC); relaxation and fun in tropi- that is more explicit, understandable and cal island resorts of the South Paciﬁc and effective in its promotion of the MekongDownloaded by [126.96.36.199] at 18:18 12 December 2011 Caribbean; hard and soft adventure in the tourism region. Tumen River Area; and wildlife tourism in the Southern African Development Commu- nity (SADC). In Association of Southeast Case Study: The Mekong Tourism Asian Nations, Malaysia positions itself as a Branding Exercise microcosm of Asia (Malaysia – Truly Asia), whereas Singapore positions itself as an This section describes how the MTO has urban tourism destination and gateway to developed a subregional tourism brand for Asia (Uniquely Singapore). Within the broad the coordinated marketing efforts of Cambo- positioning framework among potential com- dia, China (Guangxi and Yunnan Provinces), peting regional destinations for its markets, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam the GMS is distinctive in its ownership of the (Figure 5). The evolution of the brand (and Mekong River and its rich array of ethnic supporting slogan) took place over a 2-year peoples and cultures. What is clear from period. The logo and slogan described in seeing what comparable organizations are phase 5 is the one the MTO is currently auth- doing in terms of marketing activities is that orized by the GMS-TWG to use for all subre- any MTO marketing plan must include the gional marketing programs. consideration of several core channels, includ- ing: trade marketing, consumer marketing, market research and intelligence, media and public relations, global branding and Internet Phase 1: Deﬁning Destination Attributes marketing. and Initial Logo/Slogan Designs As for branding logos and slogans of the various comparative regional tourism organiz- This phase entailed identifying Mekong ations, most appear to be more focused on the tourism attributes, developing supporting positioning of the respective institution rather descriptive words, and establishing an initial than on the subregion being represented. The slogan and logo. This phase lasted approxi- exception to this is the European Quartet, mately 2 months and involved a lead consult- which has a brand that emphasizes the market- ant as well as a focus group of 10 ing of destinations more than institutions. representatives of the public and private
Towards a Mekong Tourism Brand 11Downloaded by [188.8.131.52] at 18:18 12 December 2011 Figure 5. Map of Greater Mekong Subregion.
12 Peter Semone and Metin Kozak Table 1 Core Themes used in Describing the Mekong Region Nature Community Culture Eco-(lodges, tourism, tours) Tourism Reigion Sustainable Village Heritage Green People Buddhism Verdant Market Animism Nature-based Local Native Diverse Rural tourism Tribal Agro tourism Home stays Huts Soft adventure Mekong RusticDownloaded by [184.108.40.206] at 18:18 12 December 2011 Water Pure Authentic Untainted Indigenous Real River Simple Fresh Note: Associated tourism-related activities: cycling, trekking canoeing, hiking, rafting, elephant treks, self-drive holidays, backpacking, cultural exploration and camping. sectors. A graphic design artist was also culture (Table 1). Ten focus group members engaged at this stage. were identiﬁed, which included a cross Initially, an overall evaluation of Mekong section of both public and private sector stake- Tourism was conducted by one of the holder representatives. In informal ad hoc authors of this paper, as lead consultant, in meetings with focus group participants, the collaboration with various tourism industry three core elements were evaluated for their public and private sector stakeholders. It was individual suitability and merit. The focus clear from the outset that the objective of the group participants were also asked to identify exercise was to create a brand with a support- activities that they strongly associated with the ing logo and slogan that would go beyond the Mekong, resulting in a list of core tourism existing Mekong Tourism logo in supporting activities. From this wealth of words produced consumer awareness building and marketing. by the focus group members, an initial slogan It was agreed by the GMS-TWG that the exist- was developed by the lead consultant: ing brand was overly focused on promoting “Explore Asia’s Last Frontier: the Mekong”. the MTO as an institution rather than the Following the above-described exercise of Mekong as a tourism destination. building a brand foundation, a graphic artist Through content analysis, and review of was commissioned to develop visual themes grey literature from the Asian Development that supported both the destination attributes Bank and other institutions (both private and identiﬁed and the aforementioned initial public sector) by the lead consultant, core slogan. themes used in describing Mekong tourism This initial phase of the branding process were identiﬁed. Three core elements emerged resulted in 15 treatments of the logo and sup- immediately, namely: nature, community and porting slogan, as shown in Figure 6.
Towards a Mekong Tourism Brand 13Downloaded by [220.127.116.11] at 18:18 12 December 2011 Figure 6. List of Logos Included in the Branding Colour online, B/W in print Exercise.
14 Peter Semone and Metin Kozak Phase 2: Stakeholder Consultation provide any relevant comments. The email cir- cular that was sent by the lead consultant in This phase entailed review of the initial logo early March 2008 appears in Appendix 1 of and slogan designs developed in phase 1 by this paper. The online survey was conducted original focus group members as well as a over a 2-week period and resulted in 120 broader stakeholder audience through an responses (a 60% response rate), many of online survey. Various treatments developed which included detailed comments. in phase 1 were ﬁrst individually reviewed and The online survey results identiﬁed logo discussed with the 10 focus group members. option C as the most preferred, with options As a result of these consultations the lead A and B a close second (see Appendix 2). consultant was able to narrow the 15 logos to Perhaps more important than the ranking of a shortlist of four, as shown in Figure 7. preferences was the variety of comments pro- Subsequent to this phase of consultation vided, which were incorporated into aDownloaded by [18.104.22.168] at 18:18 12 December 2011 with the focus group members, an online second round of logo and slogan development. survey was administered using the open A particularly valuable comment was “why source software Lime Survey (http://www. not start off with your strongest brand asset: limesurvey.org). The lead consultant circulated MEKONG and say Explore the MEKONG, an email to 200 individuals directly involved in Asia’s last Frontier”. This, along with other Mekong tourism asking them to participate in comments, instigated the thinking that fewer the online survey and to rank from 1 to 4 words may be more powerful in conveying (“1” indicating “most favorite” and “4” indi- the Mekong Tourism brand and more easily cating “least favorite”) the four logos and remembered by consumers. This resulted in Figure 7. A Shortlist of Four Logos.
Towards a Mekong Tourism Brand 15 the shortening of the slogan to simply with mid- to high-level management represent- “Explore Mekong”. ing travel agents, tour operators and hoteliers. Phase 3: Reﬁnement and Additional Phase 4: Consensus by the GMS Tourism Stakeholder Engagement Working Group (The MTO Board) This phase, which lasted 1 month, required the This phase, which lasted 1 month, entailed pre- re-engagement of the graphic designer and paring and delivering a compelling presen- another round of broad stakeholder consul- tation to the six country representatives for tation. With a shortened slogan and a myriad ﬁnal endorsement by the GMS-TWG or of comments on usage of colors and themes, Board of Directors, all of whom are public the graphic artist was asked to develop a new sector civil servants. In May 2008, the ﬁnalDownloaded by [22.214.171.124] at 18:18 12 December 2011 version of the brand that incorporated this version of the logo was presented to the common wisdom. This reaped two new treat- GMS-TWG by the lead consultant, and with ments, which were presented and voted on at a some ﬁnal ﬁne-tuning by the graphic designer, Bangkok SKAL club luncheon. In total, 46 responsive to Board-level comments, the people voted on the two options, with the fol- logo/slogan shown in Figure 9 was eventually lowing results (see Figure 8). Four people adopted as the Mekong Tourism brand. It abstained from voting, indicating that they was used for all consumer marketing activities did not like either of the options. Based on of the Mekong Tourism Ofﬁce on its consumer the SKAL luncheon survey and additional website, www.exploremekong.org, from June comments collected during individual inter- 2008 onward. views, the logo was reﬁned further in an attempt to incorporate as many constructive Phase 5: Adjustments to the Slogan Text observations as possible. The proﬁle of the Bangkok SKAL members is industry-focused This unanticipated phase, which occurred a year later, led to the adjustment of the Figure 8. Votes for the Two Shortlisted Logos. Figure 9. The Logo Recommended.
16 Peter Semone and Metin Kozak slogan. In mid-2009, the GMS-TWG at the heavily on the goodwill of key industry stake- behest of the Mekong Tourism Ofﬁce sec- holders to share their opinions and time. retariat determined that additional descriptive words in the slogan would help enhance consumer awareness and understanding of Conclusion and Implications Mekong tourism. At their annual meeting, the MTO Board voted unanimously to adjust Part and parcel of being competitive in the the slogan to read “Explore Mekong Six international tourism arena is the need for a Countries . . . One River”. This additional geo- recognizable destination brand. Branding is graphic description was seen as an enhance- typically done at the national level as a single ment to the brand, which would potentially destination; however, increasingly often an improve the effectiveness of the Mekong agglomeration of destinations will attempt to tourism brand in attracting consumer atten- attract visitors to a region, of either a singleDownloaded by [126.96.36.199] at 18:18 12 December 2011 tion. The resultant logo/slogan is shown in country or a group of countries. Developing Figure 10. Since 2009, this has been the ofﬁcial logos and slogans that underpin destination logo and slogan of the Mekong Tourism sub- brands in marketing and promotion cam- regional marketing effort. paigns can be a costly and complicated exer- Interestingly, it is noted that this entire cise. The verbal and graphic artistic nature of brand development exercise was respectful of logos and slogans makes liking or disliking the limited ﬁnancial resources of the MTO them subject to personal opinion and tastes. and the steps recorded in this paper were com- It is therefore almost impossible to develop a pleted with a budget of less than US$2,500, logo and slogan that will be agreeable to every- making this a low-cost approach that is one. This should be accepted as fact from the easily replicable for even the most ﬁnancially onset of any branding or rebranding process. cash-strapped of destination marketing Therefore, as suggested in the literature organizations. Of course, the approach relied (Crockett & Wood, 1999; Fyall & Garrod, 2005; Morgan & Pritchard, 1998; Morgan et al., 2003), encouraging stakeholder partici- pation is a critical success factor for any branding exercise, e.g. the stage of developing and practical use of brands. The study ﬁndings are valuable for suggesting several implications in speciﬁc refer- ence to the case of tourism authorities in Mekong. In addition to heeding the advice of the PSAG, the MTO has had to abide carefully by the following marketing guidelines, which were incorporated in the Marketing Action Plan: (1) to maximize the potential of the Inter- net as an effective marketing tool and source of comprehensive visitor information; (2) to Figure 10. Revised Version of the Logo facilitate coordinated joint marketing and pro- Recommended. motional activities with all stakeholders and
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