Branded events boost tourism in Asia

Michael Alan Hamlin

Posted on February 18, 2012

Speaking last week at the inauguration of a 35-meter high, 8,500 square meter hanger designed and built to provide maintenance services for the world’s largest commercial airliner, the Airbus A380, Philippine President Benigno S. Aquino III spoke of a vision for his country. “Perhaps in the future, a great Philippine nation can have those A380s not only for maintenance, but to fly in tourists, investors and balikbayans, contributing to the creation of a society where working hard and following the rules get you to your most treasured goals,” he said.

“That’s terrific,” I thought to myself when I first heard of the president’s remarks. Working hard and following the rules—especially when everyone else does too—can make an incredible difference in an emerging economy. The Philippines has been trying for more than half a century to re-emerge as an Asian powerhouse, and much of the reason is because so few people work hard to follow the rules.

But working hard and following the rules are not enough to rapidly alleviate the poverty that half of all Filipinos live through daily. It’s not enough to reduce reliance on hardworking overseas Filipino workers to keep the consumer-driven economy above water. It’s not enough to generate significant levels of foreign investment at par with other emerging economies such as Indonesia, Thailand, and Vietnam. To do those things, the Philippines must also work “smart.”

To illustrate the difference working smart makes, consider high-value tourism into two regional economies that are popular destinations for business and other travelers with money to burn, Hong Kong and Singapore. Both of these countries have airports that are among the best in the world. Infrastructure is modern and efficient. The entertainment industry is well developed, luxurious, and vibrant. But even with all these attributes, these destinations need a reason for people to visit. They need reasons that distinguish them from each other.

Last week, some of my team at the office asked if they could have last Monday off. They’re a hard-working, responsible bunch, so I agreed. But I was curious and asked what they planned to do. I was surprised—and impressed—when they told me they would be in Singapore over the weekend to attend the Judas Priest Epitaph show. It turns out that the concert is just one event in an extraordinary list of things to do in Singapore last weekend.

The Philippines also has a reasonable number of international artists visit its shores to perform at its monopoly—for a short time longer—concert venue. The difference between Singapore and the Philippines is that Singapore’s events are designed to attract large numbers of people from around the region to Singapore. Singapore itself, for all its wealth, is just too small to support the full, world-class calendar of entertainment events that are produced there annually.

Here in the Philippines, the handful of big-name artist performances is for the almost exclusive consumption of Filipinos. The variety of entertainment opportunities provided in Singapore is also remarkable. This week, for example, the annual Singapore Airshow takes place. It’s the largest in Asia, and attracts many different kinds of visitors: investors, aircraft manufacturers, aircraft buyers, media, and well-heeled tourists. Organizers boast that about US$10 billion in deals are made during the show.

Next month in Hong Kong, the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union, HSBC, and Cathay Pacific Airlines will put on the Hong Kong Sevens, which was first organized in 1976. Many observers consider the Hong Kong Sevens one of the most—if not the most—exciting, best-organized rugby tournaments in the world.  This year, 24 national representative teams will play. They include 16 core teams and eight invited teams.

The Philippine Volcanoes are among the teams invited to participate this year, coming off a second-place finish after Japan in the Borneo Sevens last year. The Hong Kong Sevens takes place in the 40,000-seat Hong Kong Stadium and fans of the 24 teams spend the several days the tournament takes place watching the games, interacting with the players, and eating, shopping, and staying in expensive hotel rooms. The economic benefits are enormous.

The events in Singapore and Hong Kong are inspired by the private sector, but seriously supported by their governments, which recognize the value of events and the high-value tourists they attract. There are a number of ways to realize Mr. Aquino’s dream of A380s flying in millions of investors and tourists to the Philippines. But one of the most important reasons—as Singapore, Thailand and other countries have demonstrated—is compelling events, whether they are music performances, sports tournaments, or business conferences.

Leveraging the benefits of international events held in the Philippines is a no brainer. If Singapore and Hong Kong can create successful international events, so can the Philippines. After all, it’s more fun in the Philippines.

(Michael Alan Hamlin is the managing director of TeamAsia and a Manila-based author. His latest book is High Visibility: Transforming Your Personal and Professional Brand. Write him at mahamlin@teamasia.com and follow him on TwitterFacebook and LinkedIn. Copyright © 2011 Michael Alan Hamlin. All Rights Reserved.)

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