Asian cities of the future?

Michael Alan Hamlin

Posted on January 20, 2008

Is this survey for real?

Respondents in a recent Asia-wide survey named three Philippine cities among the top 10 “Asian Cities of the Future.” Not surprisingly, Cebu City (8) is one. Now for the surprise: it is outranked by one notch by Quezon City (7). Another somewhat surprising result, at least to some: Davao City rounds out the top 10. Only China had more cities in the top 10 future cities than the Philippines, and that includes Hong Kong.

The survey was conducted by Invest Asia Pacific, a division of Asia Biz Strategy, a Singapore-based consultancy that assists Asian governments and FORTUNE 500 companies alike. According to the firm’s website, Asia Biz Strategy helps Asian governments attract foreign direct investment (FDI), and it maintains two websites, and of course to promote its clients.

Asia Biz Strategy claims its work with FORTUNE 500 companies has generated a US$2 billion investment portfolio. Its advisory work include the usual array of services: market research, feasibility studies, customer and competitive intelligence, strategic market entry, business development, and partner evaluation. It also leverages the two websites to showcase business clients.

The claims are impressive, but the first-generation look-and-feel of its websites must leave visitors wondering why a company that can attract $2 billion in FORTUNE 500 investment can’t afford to develop more attractive, engaging, and interactive websites. Or, doesn’t understand the importance of presenting a world-class interface when presenting awards purporting to recognize Asia’s best and most promising cities ( wasn’t even accessible while I was drafting this column.)

But let’s not let that detract us from celebrating a too rare acknowledgement of the prominence – and future prominence – of three Philippine cities. Cebu regularly receives international accolades for its proactive marketing communications, which have generated and now sustain a strong, positive place brand image within Asia. And in recent years brand Cebu has begun to resonate outside the region as well. That’s not the case for any other Philippine city.

That’s not to say that other cities don’t deserve recognition. Examples of well-managed cities are increasingly commonplace in the Philippines, although they are sadly outnumbered. What these places haven’t done, it seems, is to communicate their accomplishments effectively. If the results of the Asian Cities of the Future survey are to be taken at face value, they suggest that Quezon City and Davao City have not only made progress, but that they are making sure others know.

In the survey, Quezon City and Cebu City came in ahead of Guangzhou, China in the main Asian Cities of the Future category. Two other mainland Chinese cities, Dalian and Shijiazhuang, ranked five and six, respectively. Hong Kong, China was number one, and Singapore number two. Taipei City was number three, and Melbourne, Australia ranked number four. Surprisingly, Shanghai, China, did not make it to the top 10. Nor did it make it to the top 10 in any of the subcategories. And neither did Makati City in the Philippines, nor Ho Chi Minh City or Hanoi City in Vietnam. No Malaysia city is represented.

The Philippine cities didn’t fare as well when it came to the Best Economic Potential. Only Quezon City made that list. None of the cities appeared in the Best Infrastructure subcategory, unsurprisingly, or Most Business Friendly subcategory either. But Cebu was number two in the Best Development and Promotion subcategory, and all three cities made the Most Cost Effective subcategory best ten.

Davao City and Quezon City placed five and six, respectively, in the Best Human Resources subcategory, which makes sense given their large student populations. And Cebu ranked number seven and Quezon City number 10 in the Best Quality of Life subcategory. I’m not sure how Quezon City made that list, frankly, or why Hong Kong, Tokyo, and Taipei are on it either. These Asian cities are crowded, expensive, and highly polluted (Quezon City is merely crowded, polluted, and chaotic.).

All in all, the Philippines is well represented in the survey. But naturally, there is a caveat, and that is the credibility of the survey. The survey website, after all, exists according to Asia Biz Strategy to promote its clients. Since the methodology underlying the survey, or even a description of respondents, isn’t provided, it’s impossible to determine if Asia Biz Strategy clients benefited from some unfair advantage.

And that’s too bad. Because Philippine cities need all the accolades they can get. Of course, they should also deserve them.

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