History is about to be made on the island of Sentosa in Singapore, as the world watches with eagerness the activities leading up to the US-North Korea summit set to happen tomorrow.
Along with US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, an army of global journalists and media have descended on the nation giving Singapore a spotlight on the world stage. The SG$20 million event, said Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, would be footed by Singapore, multiple media reported.
According to Oliver Chong, executive director of communications and marketing capability at the Singapore Tourism Board: “As with all high-profile visits, it places Singapore on the map for international audiences and showcases Singapore as an ideal destination, especially for business and meetings.”
And rightly so. Social chatter analysed by Digimind internationally found the location of the summit saw 36% share of voice, which spotlights Singapore as a choice for the location, with some focus given to Sentosa as well, coming second to discussions (60%) on negotiations (that is, what terms would potentially be discussed during the summit).
On home turf, the location of the summit was the top discussed topic online in Singapore (55%). This was followed by the actual negotiations (40%), showing Singaporeans’ fixation that the historical summit would be taking place in their homeland.
Meanwhile, data from Meltwater found Singapore as one of the top social trending themes surrounding the summit. The top sources of social media chatter came from Twitter, followed by forums, Facebook, YouTube, comments and blogs. Social sentiment was largely neutral (73%), followed by negative (24%) and positive (4%).
[gallery link="file" ids="224437,224435,224436"]
A chance to show off the city
Speaking to Marketing on the impact the historic event will have on Singapore, Graham Hitchmough, regional chief operations officer at The Bonsey Design Partnership, says it is clear that all eyes are on Singapore. As such, a very real opportunity exists in the coming days to further develop the perception and reputation of Singapore on the world stage.
Moreover, given the fact the Singapore Tourism Board has requested buildings in the central business district to switch on their lights in the coming days, “to help create a stunning visual spectacle of the Singapore skyline” for those watching around the world, is a clear sign it is an opportunity to show off Singapore as an advanced and attractive city state that effortlessly blends hi-tech and high finance with tropical beauty.
Hitchmough likens this to the same way the images of the F1 night race have beamed an ultra-modern Singapore into the homes of millions who would otherwise have struggled to point out Singapore on a map.
However, rather than being the platform for future development of Singapore as a global destination, this summit is more significant as a validation of Singapore’s international development strategy to date, he explained.
“Clearly, there was a good amount of political and geographic expediency in choosing Singapore as the location for the summit. But it has also provided a perfect opportunity to demonstrate some of the core tenets of ‘Brand Singapore’ such as modernity, cleanliness, efficiency, order and Asian internationalism.”
What will make the event a real success in terms of international perception and reputation, said Hitchmough, is “if we could use this platform to move beyond these more functional attributes to give a greater sense of Singapore’s underlying culture and personality”.
Much of the international media in the run-up to the summit has been disappointingly superficial in its assessment of Singapore’s role in the proceedings.
“If we continue to focus more on spectacle than substance, that is unlikely to change once the cameras are packed up and the delegations have departed,” he added.
Will there be long-term benefits?
Beyond the global photo opportunity, a successfully hosted summit, with all of its attendant logistical, security and media demands will further boost Singapore’s reputation as a leading destination for major international events, the MICE industry and business in general, he said. However, for general tourism, the impact is likely to be less clear.
“Key venues involved will potentially receive a short-term boost from those curious to associate themselves with two such prominent and controversial world leaders, and Sentosa might get a new lease of life as a credible business destination. But I would question how much their fleeting presence will genuinely impact tourism and travel decision in the longer term,” he said.
Joining him on his view, Nick Foley, president of Southeast Asia Pacific and Japan at Landor, added that given the event will be widely reported, and as long as there are no security incidents, it will drive positive awareness for Singapore – although most of the focus will be on Trump and Kim Jong-un.
Quite simply, Singapore is merely the backdrop to one of the most unusual international gatherings since the end of the Cold War.
However, in the longer term, the summit will not have any great bearing on the island nation, Foley explained.
“Unlike the grand prix, this is a one-off event and the focus is on the celebrities flying in from North Korea and the US, respectively, as opposed to the event itself. The grand prix is a regular feature of the F1 fixture and it stands out because it is a street circuit and is held under lights. Singapore always looks good as a result of it,” he said.
Luke Lim, CEO of Louken Group, however, held a different view, and said the summit’s impact on brand Singapore would be significant and provide excellent long-term benefits.
“This will allow Singapore to increase its recognition as a platform for world peace, known for its safety, security and global status. Not only will this win the respect from other world leaders, but also win trust and open more trade opportunities for the nation,” he said.
Marketing the venues
Lim added that to leverage on the event and bolster its profile on the global stage, organisations such as Sentosa and Singapore Tourism Board can run campaigns about Singapore. This includes showcasing subjects which people may not know about Singapore or deep-diving into why and how Singapore remains politically neutral.
Other education initiatives such as outlining the rise of Singapore can also be explored to boost the country’s awareness in the eyes of other countries around the globe. This can be done through social media.
Landor’s Foley, however, said the choice of Sentosa Island itself was rather odd “given it promotes itself as ‘The state of fun’”.
“Holding the event on Sentosa feels off-brand for a summit of this significance. The imagery of theme parks, monorails, shipping containers and casinos may create confusion for those watching the event from afar. It is not indicative of how the world perceives Singapore,” he said.
To say it is an unusual choice for two leaders to discuss the denuclearisation of the Korea peninsula is an understatement. Such a topic would never be deemed ‘fun’.