A Cambodian tourism industry insider has criticised ongoing work to define separate “brand identities” for countries in the region as officials try to work together to distinguish the different benefits of visiting Asean countries.
Cambodia is being pronounced as the leading country for heritage tourism, Myanmar as the place to have the best local encounters, Laos as a country where you can take part in adventures by road, Vietnam as the home of luxury cruises and Thailand as the place to have a lively metropolitan and food experience.
However, Thourn Sinan, chairman of the Pacific Area Travel Association (PATA) Cambodia Chapter, said he disagreed with the typecasting of different countries, arguing that tourism could not be reduced into a series of consumer products.
Mr Sinan said officials are free to define brand identities for each country in the region if they want, but claimed the majority of travellers are interested in understanding more than one aspect of each country, from the local people, to politics, the economy and wider traditions, outside of the obvious culture and heritage attractions.
“We cannot divide up countries like this or give tourists the option of purchasing a particular tourism product. Tourists want to see how developed a country is, what the living standards of the people are like, and also how they relate to the host country’s culture, customs, politics and economy,” Mr Sinan said.
Lor Thoura, director of the department for marketing and promotion at the Ministry of Tourism, said the attempt to define brand identities is intended to play on the strengths of each country in the region.
Cambodia is famous for its cultural heritage, so the brand is “Kingdom of Wonders”, which will attract travellers who are interested in culture, he said.
“Those travellers who like culture and heritage will come to Cambodia,” Mr Thoura said.
He added that Thailand, for example, is branded “Amazing Thailand”, because of its recreation services available to tourists.
In order to make Cambodia a first choice destination, Mr Sinan said the country must improve its local and international connectivity, provide value for money for tourism services and products, and raise awareness of how to harness the tourist industry among local people.
“We cannot separate tourism into brand identities,” Mr Sinan said. “It is not possible because tourism is not a consumer product. Tourism is about feeling and imagination.”
Chhay Sivlin, president of the Cambodia Association of Travel Agents, argued that brand identities were just a way of grabbing the attention of tourists.
“Regional tourism authorities agree that Cambodia is rich in historical and cultural sites compared to other countries in the region, so that’s why we branded Cambodia as a cultural and historical country,” Ms Sivlin said.
“That doesn’t mean we don’t also have other tourism products to offer, such as our rivers, coastal areas and other natural resources.”