Monday, October 31, 2011

How to run a tourism campaign

I made this at Langkawi's Craft Center yesterday!

I’ve been to a lot of islands by now, but for some reason, I really like Langkawi for its beautiful scenery, warm people and great infrastructure. It’s very much like a Philippine island, in one sense, because it’s got simple villages and a quiet life. But at the same time, Langkawi is home to some of the most beautiful resorts in this part of the world.

The Datai, the Andaman and the Four Seasons Langkawi are the best resorts on the island and also among the best in the world, but among these three my favorite is the Datai for its seamless and unfussy but ultra-luxurious commune with nature. I'll be writing more about my interesting stay here at the Datai in my next blog entries. But for now, let me just say that these three resorts plus the fantastic views as seen from a boat as you cruise around the islands, are what makes Langkawi special. Malaysia is way ahead of the Philippines in terms of tourism infrastructure.


If you’ve been reading this blog, you’ll know that I journeyed all the way to Langkawi to attend a fancy dinner for the next Queen of Malaysia, hosted by the vivacious and energetic Tourism Minister, Dr. Ng Yen Yen. She is the most tireless person I have ever met, and boy, is Malaysia just so lucky to have her as the country’s #1 salesperson and visionary. I'm not kidding when I say she is tireless either.

That's me with the next Queen of Malaysia.
I can't print a larger or clearer photo
as this is not an official photo for publication.

We finished dinner at about 2 am and still she wanted us -- me and a couple of ladies from Jakarta, including the wife of the US Ambassador to Jakarta, the wife of the Malaysian Ambassador to Jakarta, and the owner of Indonesian Tatler -- to join her for a chat at her villa on the other side of the island. Basically she wanted to know directly from us exactly what high-end tourists from the Philippines and Indonesia would find attractive about Malaysia, so that more of this segment would visit Malaysia.

This was at 2 AM! I simply had to beg off due to fatigue. But if only more government officials worked this hard and so sincerely, all over the world and especially in the Philippines.


With such an energetic lady at the helm of tourism, no wonder Malaysia is pulling in tourism figures of 24 million to 26 million annually. And at the dinner, Dr. Ng Yen Yen publicly proclaimed that her personal goal by 2020 was 35 million tourists annually. Impressively ambitious, but with her at the helm, I have no doubt they'll reach their figures.


It’s under her direction that Malaysia has launched some amazing travel campaigns worldwide that have been so successful that almost everyone who's seen the videos can remember the images and sing the jingle in part.

At the dinner for the Queen in Langkawi, I sat through a fantastic promotional video on Malaysia produced by Tourism Malaysia. In fact, the guy in charge of undertaking the actual production was sitting next to me, and on November 7 they’re having a new version of this video launched officially in London.

Watching this video, I felt with no uncertainty that if I were Malaysian, I would certainly be bursting with national pride over this video and Tourism Malaysia’s incredibly successful campaigns. You watch one of their videos, and you immediately are made to feel an interest in their culture, country and way of life. I'm so sure that many people were encouraged to plan a visit to Malaysia after seeing one of Tourism Malaysia's compelling Malaysia, Truly Asia advertisements.

The program for the dinner with the Queen
featured songs and dances from all over Malaysia


Tears also almost welled up in my eyes, as I wondered why on earth cannot the Philippines come up – and come up really quickly – with an equally wonderful video. Talent certainly isn't an issue, although perhaps a real knowledge of the target market -- who exactly are we aiming to attract with our campaigns -- is. But this is an issue and a Marketing 101 lesson for any campaign -- whether it's a government or a business.


This brought to mind a conversation I had over dinner about three nights ago with Malaysian’s Ambassador to Jakarta and his wife, over dinner. We were all dressed in fancy outfits and cruising Putrajaya lake in a yacht with dinner catered by the Shangri-la.

And, by the way, what a beautiful sight the Malaysian government has created in its government center of Putrajaya at night. It's no secret that new government centers the world over are boring places because there's usually nothing else but government buildings; but even this Malaysia has managed to transform into something lovely, especially at night.

While cruising on Putrajaya Lake, admiring the lights worthy of a grand sound and light show, the Malaysian Ambassador to Jakarta and I were discussing why Tourism Malaysia’s campaigns have been so successful. Here are the reasons in a nutshell:


There is unity and continuity of message. The campaigns don’t stop and start and stop again just because there’s a new person at the helm. This goes way beyond the big boss. This is also why everyone can mouth the Malaysian tourism slogan -- because they're good to begin with, and they've been going on for years now. In our case, how can anyone remember campaign slogans that keep changing?


The Malaysian government takes international tourism arrivals to Malaysia very seriously, so a lot of government effort is placed on attracting tourists to Malaysia and having then return or stay there. They have a big budget for their tourism campaigns and this isn't spent on things like focus groups (although they probably had to at the very beginning) but more on actual campaigns that make their way to media all over the world -- and via them, to potential tourists all over the world.

I’m one of their target markets, in a way, because I’m seriously considering joining the Malaysia, My Second Home program, which is a program for foreigners that will allow them to live in Malaysia either part-time or full-time in the future. Why? I see a future in a country that knows its priorities and works hard to get these done.


The tourism campaigns are effective. They’re not made for the local audience but for the international audience so they're in English, they use a very catchy song that almost everyone in Asia can now sing the refrain of ("Malaysia, Truly Asia"), and they use foreigners in the videos.

The Malaysian Ambassador to Jakarta explained the reason for using foreigners in their promotional videos to me: "We heavily promote our culture. But for leisure campaigns enticing foreigners to come and enjoy our beaches and forests, of course we can put Malaysians having fun in our videos. But if you're a foreigner, why would you care if there are a bunch of Malaysians enjoying themselves? You want to see other foreigners having fun because this is something you can identify with. So we make sure to create promotional images that foreigners can understand and identify with." It certainly made sense.

So it's not just about harping on and on about how great Malaysian golf courses and beaches are; the campaigns show images of foreigners enjoying themselves. Of course. If foreigners see other foreigners on a Malaysian beach, then they might be able to also imagine themselves in a similar situation. It's all about marketing and packaging, and Malaysia has certainly done an impressive job with this.


They're also now going after upmarket tourists because these are the ones who bring in real dollars -- and you won't believe to what detail Tourism Malaysia quantifies tourism as a business and as a boost to their economy. It's really impressive how they quantify their achievements in terms of dollars spent by tourists per day, per week or per month. They know exactly where they stand and what they need to do to push these figures further.

One way is by creating more events and opportunities that will attract the higher-end tourists -- and right now, these include organizing events like international art festivals and also rolling back the taxes on luxury goods so that people who might have fly to Dubai or Hong Kong to shop will now have the option of shopping for tax-free luxury goods in Kuala Lumpur as well. But more on this success story later.

Good night from paradise.

Travelife Magazine's
Oct-Nov 2011 Issue


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