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Is the haze putting brand Singapore under threat?

Every year, the Grand Prix brings about global tourists from all corners of the world. A recent data by global travel search engine Skyscanner showed that Japan, Taiwan, Thailand and Hong Kong emerged as the top five F1 fanatics based on a compounded annual growth rate in flight search data from 2012 to 2015.

The Grand Prix weekend is the time that Singapore is dressed to its finest in a bid to promote the nation through not only event-based marketing but also word of mouth. This year though, the situation is drastically different as the nation sits under a thick blanket of smog and dark clouds.

While Oliver Chong, STB’s executive director for communications told the local newspaper The Straits Times that it would be “premature to determine the extent of the impact of the haze at this juncture”. It is still no doubt that the haze is in fact dealing a fresh blow to the tourism industry in Singapore which in recent years has been struggling. One simply has to look out the window to see what is usually one of the glitziest festivals and hyped up tourism seasons for Singapore, is currently covered in “50 shades of grey”, quite literally.

Just yesterday, the management from GP released a statement saying that based on the current PSI levels, there are no plans to “amend the published racing and entertainment programme” as the haze situation is highly changeable not only from day to day, but from hour to hour.

While this might be true, it is worth wondering if the sunny Singapore’s brand image is under threat as tourists pour in to the city. Has the image of bustling nightlife, myriad of cultures under clear skies on tourism marketing collaterals been dramatically distorted?

Joseph Baladi, managing partner at BrandAsian was sympathetic to the plight of STB saying that the issue lies outside the scope of the tourism body. He added the haze has almost become an annual event for those living in the region and the fact that those living in the country expect it to happen is the biggest factor that will impact the brand Singapore image.

“But unlike the F1, if the pollution onslaught continues unchecked, Singapore will soon lose its pristine ‘clean and safe’ brand association with consequences on a huge scale that would – by comparison – reduce the damage experienced by the Grand Prix to a mere footnote. Clean isn’t just in reference to the streets and safe isn’t just crime – its about the overall heath,” said Baladi.

Baladi also added that the brand Singapore image is also built on aspect such as attracting big business to set up locally, attracting families to stay and retaining and attracting talent. If the problem persists, Singapore will lose its charm and will go down the route of Hong Kong. With no actual resources, Singapore’s pristine reputation is all it has.

Graham Hitchmough, South & Southeast Asia CEO of the Brand Union was a little more positive on the matter saying, that amid the glaring lights, popping flashbulbs, grit, petrol fumes and 130 decibels of roaring engines and Bon Jovi’s greatest hits, it’s likely that the haze – if it’s still here at all – will hardly be noticed.

He poignantly pointed out that rather than sweep Singapore’s “guilty secret” under the carpet at one of the greatest shows, it would be wise to use the annual three days under the global gaze to bring the “perennial issue of haze more firmly under the spotlight, or bring a lasting solution closer.”

“In that sense it will probably be an opportunity missed rather than just a PR catastrophe averted,” he added.

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