Promoting Asian Cities

Asian countries have different reasons for promoting their particular cities, but mostly it is centered on economics. From tourism growth (that results to improved work and business opportunities for locals) to growth in the business sector with the entry of business process outsourcing, Asian cities wanted to be equally popular with other older cities from the west so that they can lure in tourist and visitors and at the same time establish a certain personality (i.e. fashion capital, gambling capital, auto racing capital, etc). They can only achieve that if it is made possible by the effects of effective promotion of its cities.

But the business of promoting Asian cities is not just merely stacked on one side of the economics, since other aspects of the economics, like how to maintain the sufficient number of required labor force present in the city to make it function and productive, depend on the attitude of the people upon a city that invites them to come over. Surely, migrants who are skilled and just as desperate would risk everything to land a job in a western city like in UK or in the US if the prospects in the neighboring Asian cities are not so good. But with the creation of a vibrant, lively and liveable Asian cities which is attractive as it is stable, migrants can opt to migrate in a country situated not very far from their country of origin; it is as if they are just working in the same country but in a far city; they can come home anytime they wish and the travel and the costs is not as pricey as a two way ticket from Europe or America.

Cities use the marketing and promoting of itself to people around the world so that they can lure in professionals, skilled workers and business entities that might be willing to invest in this particular city and add to the source of income of the place. This is particularly true to Asian cities who in the past had problems with brain-drain, low number of skilled and competent workers and low population. By making themselves more attractive compared to other Asian cities, these particular cities managed to improve their stock of workers who contributed in making the city more productive, as well as more diverse.

“Another important area of anxiety around globalization was how to generate enough educated, knowledge, management and technology professionals to fulfil the demands of the new global economy in Singapore. This led to a policy to import so-called ‘foreign talents’ from overseas, which in turn led to the need to make such people palatable to the Singaporean public…The policy of attracting ‘talents,’ especially from other Asian countries, to Singapore was first spelt out in The Next Lap policy vision statement. It was part of the government’s strategy to offset the problem of migrant outflows, recurring labour shortages and the declining fertility rate” (Velayutham, 2007, p. 127).

Another reason why cities as promoting themselves as very nice places to be in is to stabilize the traffic of local population, particularly to exert effort so that locals would opt to stay rather than go outside of the country and find work elsewhere, in the process contributing what he or she possess as a talent and skill to another country and not to his/her own city and his/her own country. Take for example Singapore which promoted the city as a very good and fun place to live in. Local leaders admit that one of the motivations is to contribute in the raising of the socially accepted feeling and notion that the local city is just as good as the rest of the cities in Asia and around the world. Velayutham (2007) wrote about how the “assumption here is that if Singapore is transformed into a ‘cosmopolitan’ place then Singaporeans are less likely to want to emigrate” (Velayutham, 2007, p. 127).

How Asian governments have been promoting their cities – From the time Asian cities became cognizant of the positive impact that promoting the city to the world can bring to the local economy in the long term basis, efforts to find which among the possible course of action is feasible were undertaken, and one of the earliest approach was tourism. Asian cities focus on the characteristic of each particular country being exotic and different from the western countries. Soon, tourism was re-shaped into more particular tools, like eco-tourism, sports tourism and business tourism, attracting particular target markets that they hope can bring in money and at the same time contribute in the increase of the popularity of the city in international travel guide lists, showing that tourism, indeed, is a “political phenomenon” (Richter p2).

From tourism, some shifted to business to promote Asian cities (Rogerson, Visser 2006, p. 2). Some key cities like those in countries fluent in English like Philippines and India used this characteristic to be the target place for business ventures like outsourced customer care assistance and other business processes. Although this does not translate in the entry of tourist (save for the business executive who flew in to visit the operation of the local BPO teams), they proved to be an important addition in the growing source of income for the city.

Cities also resort to the use of mass media to promote their cities. The efforts are varied, from the traditional ad placements in television, radio, newspaper and in the internet, to the more straight-up hard selling efforts. Take for example the effort of Tokyo in the movie “Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift” – here, the city was able to tell the world an important snippet of the everyday Tokyo life. It could use its subculture, like drifting, street racing, auto mechanics, and the fashion and the music that goes along with it to lure in more tourists in the city and to establish Tokyo as a fun Asian city where everything is hardcore – from the gadgets to the girls to the auto sports scene. Other cities are opening up and allowing media outfits from television and the movies to shoot scenes in and around the city (i.e. see action movies like Entrapment, Tomb Raider and James Bond movies), hoping that this helps the government in promoting the city.

One of the ways on how Asian government have been promoting its key cities is through destination branding. Here, efforts are made by the government so that the city names actually become similar to ‘brands’ which the people will recall. And effect, every time the people is thinking of a place to go, they will always refer to and revert to these cities as an effect of destination branding. In destination branding, key cities attach their names to certain destination specialities – for example, a city that thrives on casinos and other high end gambling will make efforts for destination branding by making the people know that the best site for high end gambling is this particular city (similar to the strategy made by Las Vegas). Most of the cities focus on eco-tourism for their approach to destination branding. In the Philippines, Puerto Princesa City in the province of Palawan markets itself as a place where there is a variety of places to go to, targeting nature-tripping individuals who would like to enjoy clean, white sand beaches, boat trips leading to underground river, pristine sea-life which is ideal for snorkelling or diving, and a busting night life to go along with it, enabling the creation of a “niche” for the city in regional tourism (Gray, 2008, p. 369).

Some cities in Asia use art, creativity and effective marketing to be able to promote the city to what the government wants the world to see it. Take for example the case of Bangkok – perhaps tired of the formula of luring tourists by showing them remnants of past and present culture and hinging their efforts using old, religious and cultural art which is abundant as well in other Asian cities, Bangkok aimed at branding itself a little differently and the goal was to have people come in the city for a particular reason – art and fashion. Through this, the city will be promoted as a hub of something particular, in the hope that this effort will create human traffic and movement that features the movement – the coming, staying and working – of art and fashion-centered individual in the region to Thailand, particularly in Bangkok. Yusuf and Nabeshima (2007) wrote, “Recognizing that a late starter must try harder and telescope the stages of development, the Thai government and the monarchy are highly supportive – the king’s granddaughter is a fashion designer herself and her collection opened the Bangkok Fashion Week for 2005. They put great store by Thailand’s rich cultural and craft traditions. The Bangkok Fashion City marketing initiative, with the backing of both government agencies and the private sector, aims to unite all fashion-related industry (such as textile, leatherwear and jewellery) and is promoting, coordinating, and developing Bangkok’s image as the creative capital of Asia” (Yusuf  and Nabeshima, 2007, p. 216).

International sporting events are also an important way to popularize, promote and market an Asian city. Now that mass media and marketing usually comes along with major sporting events, these events are now utilized as well in promoting the city. Take for example China – once the Olympics unfolds the cities where the Games will be played will surely get the much needed boost in marketing and promotion, something that they may never have had if it was not for the Olympics.

The rigors of promoting to the globalized audience and market – By now, it is already clear that the reasons for promoting the country are focused on attracting tourists and improving cash flow of local and foreign currency inside the city and government pipeline through considerable dependence on the output generated by the effect of being promoted as an important destination by people travelling the world. It may be about eco-tourism, or it can be about visiting a place known for high fashion or stable business landscape. The visit can be about fun or about business or both – and that is the outlook of most Asian cities now, balancing work and fun when they promote key cities. Equally important to discuss is the fact that despite the fact that almost every Asian city is now in this particular act (the promotion of its cities to the world and global audience), it is still a very difficult process. Take for example the case of Singapore. In the first salvo of Singapore in promoting itself to the world to invite foreigners to visit the country, it was very particular with making the country clean and bright and dandy so that visitors will have a positive impression and appraisal of the country. But what they did not expect was for it to backfire on them; soon, the visitors’ description of Singapore is that it is as much a clean country as it is a boring country. It is very systematized and orderly that it became dull. As Velayutham (2007) wrote, “Post-independent Singapore has always been an anomaly in the eyes of the Western scholars, commentators, and travel writers. Its economic success, stable government, social and urban planning and management are highly regarded…At the same time, it is also a place often referred to as a simulation, a hyperspace of high capitalist accumulation and high consumption culture” (Velayutham, 2007, p. 126), even noting in the rest of the article how some travel writers “remark that Singapore is an authoritarian, sterile, boring, too clean, orderly and sanitized city. It lacks the exotic charm, unruliness, and mysticism found in other Asian cities (Velayutham, 2007, p. 126).”

The mistake of Singapore was that it stopped becoming an Asian city, and for foreigners whose idea of a trip in this side of the world is to see the real Asia alongside its charm and mysticism, Singapore made a costly mistake by transforming itself as a photocopy of a western world from which much of the first world citizens are trying to get a break from. The author was really pushing for the point that Velayutham even required the verbatim input of another writer to help in the stressing of the point about how Singapore transformed into a total ho-hum hub, even quoting Gary Walsh who said that “How can one be polite about this? Singapore can be pretty dull- for an Asian city it can seem strikingly un-Asian and sterile, although the government is trying to bring back some of the colour drained away by zealous redevelopment and sanitisation of raffish places like old Bugis Street. The very things that make it attractive to many – such as the neatness and orderliness – make it anathema to true Asiaphiles. You can’t chew gum, spit or jaywalk for fear of substantial fines which are probably no great loss” (Velayutham, 2007, p. 126).

Obviously, Singapore failed to make a very good assessment of its target audience and how they really wanted to “see” Singapore, in the process developing Singapore in a way that the process gave Singapore a personality that most travellers are not too excited about. The failure to read the target audience when marketing an Asian country is just one of the many different mistakes that a government risks making, but this does not deter them from exerting effort since they know how much money they can earn in return for the success of the city as an active international hub where tourists, business individuals and adventure lovers gather and commune year-long.

Indeed, Singapore gave it another go, making sure that the government did not make any of the previous mistakes, and the target visitors seemed to have responded a little better compared to the initial efforts of the government. “The idea of transforming Singapore into a global city has thus been accompanied by a substantive repositioning of Singapore as a culturally vibrant ‘cosmopolitan’ city (Velayutham, 2007, p. 126).”

Conclusion – What the world is seeing today is the active jostling of Asian cities to earn spots as among the must-see and must-visited cities in the world, enabling them to be placed alongside European and American cities which were already popular because of particular characteristics. Asian cities are making the most out of everything they can use – eco-tourism, rest and recreation, business hub, technological site, fashion and couture haven, city of the arts, sports, gambling and even below the line enticements like prostitution or sex tourism (Ng, 2008, p. 183), drugs and the presence of a powerful subculture. They popularized tourist destinations like natural terrestrial and aquatic destinations, from mountains to seas, lakes, waterfalls and everything in between where tourist can hike, dive, swim, surf and if possible still do business at the same time while resting in a place far from the toxicity of mega-cities where the only thing that matters is work.

If they do not have these beautiful natural features, they build tall building for businesses and other establishments and structures for amusement, pushing the limit of the human tolerance for fear and fun so that there is something new to try, a good reason to visit the city and popularize the city to the global market. A very good example of this is the creation of Dubai’s The Burj-Al-Arab, considered as the “tallest hotel in the world and the only 7-star hotel” (Dubaicity.com, 2008). This represents the efforts of each of the different locations in Asia to stand out from the rest of Asia and be known, and places like Dubai used landmarks so that they can attract people to go and pay a visit or put a beautifying feature in what was before a feature-less landscape of sand and common buildings. This also shows the extent to which a particular city would go to just to do something that will help its popularity among the cities around the world. In fact, the official website of the city of Dubai pointed out that the structure was not made to focus on income-generation but to “become a major landmark in Dubai” (Dubaicity.com, 2008).

Cities were looking for the best way to promote, market and present itself to the world to attract tourist that generates money traffic, but sometimes the direct result or other existing factors are not making the overall strategy work and reach fruition because of other more important problems that the city and the country is facing that needs to be addressed. Take for example the case of Kuala Lumpur and Malaysia – as what Nicolette de Sausmarez (2004) wrote, “Malaysia has been promoting itself as a shopping haven and there have been initiatives such as the thrice-yearly Mega Sale Carnival that aimed to attract both domestic and regional visitors. The government also imposed a moratorium on the building of 4- and 5-star hotels in Kuala Lumpur and the Kang Valley because of overcapacity resulting from the sharp fall in regional business traffic” (De Sausmarez, 2004, p. 225). Hall and Page (2004) added that “Malaysia does not have the similar appeal to the entertainment city of Bangkok or the shopping cities of Singapore and Hong Kong. As with Singapore, Malaysia often sells itself as a multi-ethnic country with cultural diversity (Hall and Page, 2004, p. 151).” Intensive studies were done and models have been made to see which type of approach suits best for what particular Asian city, but despite all of the effort, the reality is that not every Asian city hits the jackpot and the gold out of the pan; some end up with nothing but mud in their hands, and so they dig deep again hoping to find a gem that will change the future of their city and affect every aspect of the social life that global tourism and globalizing has the power to influence.