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(File pix) Tourists celebrating Ponggal in Brickfields, Kuala Lumpur. Pix by Asman Ibrahim

THE world of tourism has changed. We are living in a world that is increasingly cluttered with communications; countries of all sizes, including Asean, find themselves competing for tourists against a superfluity of choices.

In such an overcrowded and competitive environment, the creation of a “destination brand” has emerged as a country’s most valuable asset in setting itself apart from competitors.

While Malaysia’s yearly campaigns are the same, with interjections of “Visit Malaysia Year” in between, other countries have moved on to identifying their strongest and most appealing assets to woo tourists. They build stories around the assets and run them consistently across all marketing communications.

When the “Visit Malaysia 2020” campaign logo was launched earlier this year, many criticised it from the design standpoint. I wonder what was the thinking process behind it.

When Datuk Mohamaddin Ketapi, the newly-appointed Tourism, Arts and Culture Minister, announced that the logo would be replaced and that the ministry might organise a competition to select the best design, many in the tourism industry were relieved.

Yes, it needs to be replaced, but as a brand and communications practitioner, I feel that to create an effective logo, one needs to understand the strategy and objectives for such a purpose.

In 2011, the Malaysia Tourism Transformation Plan (MTTP) announced that its objective was to attract 36 million tourists and earn RM168 billion in tourism receipts by 2020.

In March of the same year, the Malaysia Tourism Promotion Board (Tourism Malaysia) launched its Integrated Promotional Plan (IPP) 2018-2020 as part of the strategy to “further promote Malaysia’s extensive tourism offerings and boost tourist arrivals and receipts”.

The year 2020 was designated as yet another “Visit Malaysia Year”.

What was supposed to be a septennial event when VMY was first launched in 1990, the succeeding ones — in 1994, 2014 and 2017—were done rather inconsistently.

Some argue that they were a tactical measure to plug the dwindling arrival numbers, but such strategy is not sustainable in the long term, and the figures over the years were proof.

In the last five years, we have consistently failed to achieve arrival targets: 25.73 million vs the target of 26.8 million in 2013 and 27.43 million vs 28 million in 2014.

Between 2015 and 2017, the same thing happened—we set the target higher than the previous year despite not meeting any of the targets for that year — at 25.72 million vs 29.4 million (2015); 26.75 million vs 30.5 million (2016); and, 25.9 million vs 31 million last year.

For 2018, the target is 33.1 million, a four per cent from last year’s target, but a massive 22.6 per cent jump from last year’s actual arrivals. Just by looking at the numbers, it will be quite difficult to meet the target.

What is more worrying is that the tourist arrivals for our Asean neighbours have been growing year on year. From 2014–2017, Singapore recorded between 15.09 million and 17.42 million tourists. The same steady and continuous growth could also be seen in Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand.

The steady and consistent growths of Asean countries are all attributed to the development and continuous use of their respective destination brand.

Singapore’s spike in 2017 is attributed to its newly-launched “Passion Made Possible” brand.

When Indonesia launched its “Wonderful Indonesia”, not only did its international arrivals grow, so did domestic tourism. The same growth could be seen in the Philippines, with its brand “It’s more fun in the Philippines”. Thailand’s “Amazing Thailand”, which was launched in 1997,has been the foundation of all its tourism campaigns ever since. When it was refreshed for the 2016 campaign, it grew exponentially.

I am of the opinion that the problem is not the lack in the marketing of the various tourism campaigns — we have always been aggressive in this area, but the execution.

Ironically, besides Thailand, we were one of the first to have what has now become a destination brand. Albeit, initially it was created as a promotional campaign in 1999. But over the years, “Malaysia, Truly Asia” has become synonymous with Malaysian tourism in the minds of the target audience. But of late, the brand has been relegated to nothing but an end jingle in all contents and inconsistently used over the years.

Tourism Malaysia has to reexamine how it sets its targets — continuously failing short requires an introspection of strategies and plans, and more importantly, the people behind it.

Beyond arrival targets, Tourism Malaysia needs to move with the times — how it markets and promotes the country as a tourist destination. It starts with being courageous enough to admit the shortfalls, learn from them and do better.

Tourism Malaysia also needs to rethink the Industry Partner Programme (IPP) 2008-2020 as most of the strategies are no longer feasible. More importantly, Tourism Malaysia should refresh the “Malaysia, Truly Asia” brand and make it the heart of all future campaigns and communications.

Ibrahim Ivan Omar heads Brand Strategy at The In/Out Movement, an ensemble of thinkers, creatives and perfectionists who believe in doing right things right

[email protected]

Twitter @ckliio9

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