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City scope: amazed and confused

Jason Gagliardi in Bangkok

 

As it spares little expense in telling the entire planet, Hong Kong is Asia's World City. So how come Bangkok gets all the tourists?

Every year MasterCard compiles the Global Destination Cities Index forecast, based on anticipated visitor numbers and their anticipated spend. And for 2013, the Thai capital is its hot tip, beating London, Paris, New York, Hong Kong and Singapore into top spot, the first Asian city to occupy that pinnacle.

According to the credit-card giant's seers, Bangkok will clock up 15.98 million arrivals this year - representing growth of 9.8 per cent on last year's figures. London comes a close second, with 15.96 million visitors.

Hong Kong comes in at No9 - despite spending far more on branding itself than Bangkok, which also happens to be Unesco's World Book Capital for 2013 and benefits from being in "Amazing Thailand", which "Always Amazes you", as the slogan currently has it.

And to further wound Hong Kong's pride, it is listed as one of the top five "feeder" cities - along with Singapore, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur and Seoul - from which most visitors to Bangkok come. The mainland provides the largest number of arrivals - almost three million - with many perhaps keen to see where their nation's highest grossing film, Lost in Thailand, was shot.

Bill Barnett, a Phuket-based Asian hospitality expert and head of consultancy C9 Hotelworks, says Bangkok's rise is concurrent with the "global surge" of Asia.

"East is the new West," he says, adding that "the allure of Bangkok goes well beyond the destination; it's all about a meteoric rise in airlift.

"After the global financial crisis a dynamic travel shift changed the market. Asian travellers take short trips but travel much more frequently; unlike Europeans or Americans … people here jump on planes for a weekend or just an overnighter."

As for Hong Kong, Barnett says it has been marginalised by Shanghai and is also perceived as being too closely linked to the mainland. By contrast, Thailand offers "a little bit of everything on the menu".

But Asia's City of Angels is not for resting on its laurels, with Sansern Ngaorungsi of the Tourism Authority of Thailand leading a drive to focus on social media, youth markets and niche sectors such as golf and honeymooning. The overall strategy is referred to as DISCO: digital marketing, image building, sustainability, crystallisation and crisis management, and organisation management.

To adapt MasterCard's own advertising mantra, then …

Asia's World City destination brand campaign: HK$400 million.

Victoria Harbour Symphony of Lights: HK$44 million.

Bangkok's destination bragging rights: priceless.

 

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