Country Tourism Branding: Manny Pacquiao versus David Rudisha

Published on 30th November 2010

David Rudisha                           Photo courtesy
According to recent press reports, the President of the Philippines has fallen back on an alternative to the country’s latest tourism promotion campaign which has raised much furore over its alleged plagiarism with that of the Polish tourism poster and some pornographic website. The criticism levelled against the country’s latest tourism slogan, ‘Pilpinas Kay Ganda’ [So Beautiful Philippines] has seen the President intervene and suggest that local hero, the best pound-for-pound-boxer, who equally dubs as a Congressman representing Sarangani, Manny Pacquiao, to project the promotional image for the country under his administration.

The President takes into cognisance that the boxer is considered a national hero with the country virtually coming to a standstill whenever he fights. Moreover, his rags-to-riches story is the perfect billing worthy of admiration and emulation given that is it is a perfect portrayal of the abilities of the Philippine nation as a whole. The President is quoted to say that “that is how the story of the Philippines will be told; from having totally nothing, we will show how beautiful and how rich the country is and that we will really move towards our goals.” In this suggested approach, Pacquiao’s imagine will be sought as an inspiration to epitomise the Filipinos ideals of honesty and hard work.

The State’s intervention in the Department of Tourism’s new promotional campaign comes in the wake of the country struggling to shake off its image as an unsafe destination after a botched police rescue of Hong Kong tourists held hostage in a bus hijacked by a dismissed police officer in August that left eight of them dead, including the hostage taker. The new President has indeed indicated that tourism was one of his administration’s priority programs to create jobs and to attract needed investments. This in a country that attracts only 3 million tourists per year compared to neighbouring Malaysia and Thailand that receive an average of 14 million. The politics attached to personalities is common in the Philippines as seen in the attempt to introduce a new tourism promotional campaign different from that of the previous administration whose catch phrase ‘WOW Philippines’ was regarded by many stakeholders as ‘catchy’ and appropriate.

For Kenya on the other hand, the ‘Magical country,’ aims towards receiving 1 million tourists in the year. Reports indicate that tourist arrivals grew by 30.8% combining both sea and air. The latest reported trends indicate that a total of 952,481 tourists visited the country for either business or holiday compared to 729,000 in 2008. Between January-August, 2010 tourists’ arrival was estimated to be 701,691 which is 14% increase from the 611,674 realized in 2009. Tourism generated Sh62.4 billion in 2009, an indication that the country is clawing back to its position as a favourite destination in the world with the industry posted an 18.5% cent increase on the previous year's earnings of Sh52.7 billion on the backdrop of the post-election violence in early 2008. This increase is according to the Kenya Tourist Board attributed to aggressive marketing as well as continued re-assurance missions in both the source markets and emerging ones.

United Kingdom led the pack in arrivals followed by the USA, Italy, Germany and France. Regionally, South Africans formed a majority of visitors coming to Kenya. New markets like India and China also saw their numbers improve. On the purpose of visits, a number of tourists still come to Kenya specifically for holiday at 51%. This is followed distantly with business tourism accounting for 17.7%. To attract the needed million target, an aggressive media campaigned dubbed ‘Jambo’ is currently airing in many international television stations coupled with participation in various international expos such as the World Travel Market (WTM), traditionally held in London every November and the International Tourism Bourse (ITB) in Berlin, Germany. While marketing efforts in emerging markets have been stepped up, the traditional sources still remain central to Kenya.

Manny Pacquiao     Photo courtesy
Travel experts contend that sports tourism is the sleeping giant of the global travel and tourism industry. Worth an estimated US$600 billion dollars, which is not regarded a niche market but rather a significant part of the global market. It is acknowledged that the latest destination to join the wave of sports tourism is Kenya. After being rocked by one of its worst spells in history, the tourism industry is struggling back to its feet courtesy of high profile visits by celebrities. Top track, tennis, motoring, basketball, soccer and even Hollywood stars have visited Kenya mostly on charity missions, and of late the rare publicity accorded by the royal engagement of Prince William to Kate Middleton bearing on the Princes’ proposal for marriage while on holiday in Kenya.

Local tourism stakeholders say celebrities have been a core part of the drive that has seen the industry emerge from the doldrums to register an impressive Sh36.6 billion (US$490 000) in the first nine months of 2009. One of the most publicised visits was that of Jamaican super sprinter Usain Bolt who was accompanied by former Olympic and world 110 hurdles record holder Colin Jackson. Bolt made the tour symbolic by adopting the world's fastest animal, a cheetah. But his visit was just the climax of a spell that has seen other global icons tour the country since June 2008. It started with the tour of England and West Ham FC goalkeeper Robert Green, who spent his holiday in Kenya and Tanzania and helped raise more than Sh2.3 million for the African Medical and Research Foundation (Amref). In the same month, Inter Milan and Cameroon top striker Samuel Eto'o visited Kenya on a charity mission. Then came American tennis superstar Serena Williams, on a three-day charity tour, opening a secondary school named after her in Matooni, followed by Renault Formula One driver Fernando Alonso who celebrated his New Year Holiday in Malindi with his family.

After motoring, a team comprising retired Brazilian football internationals — among them world cup winners — toured Kenya on a charity mission. The 16-member team was led by former Bayern Munich star Paulo Sergio, ex-Barcelona superstar Giovanni Silva, defender Ze Carlos and midfielder Ailton dos Santos.

These visits, according to the chairman of the Kenya Tourist Board, Jake Grieves-Cook, have given Kenya a massive boost in a critical period. In the end, the key to Kenya's success was taking sports tourism to the next level, by adding causal branding and converting visiting sports stars to brand advocates for destination Kenya.

Given Africa's massive potential for promoting social causes, Kenya's success formula is possibly the most pertinent opportunity for continental destinations that wish to shift the global 2010 spotlight to their very own doorstep. This leaves the question: where are the local Kenyan stars in the branding Kenya picture? This brings to mind athletic sensation, 800 meters world record holder, David Rudisha.  The acclaims of Rudisha are summed by the IAAF who report that the athlete had over one “electrifying week” ascended to the throne of 800 metres after twice breaking the World record to crown a memorable 2010 season, in which he proved his credentials as the new star of middle distance running. Nicknamed ‘Pride of Africa,’ Rudisha lived up to his moniker by becoming the first African to hold the world record over the distance after shattering a 13-year-old record held by Dane Wilson Kipketer. No mean feat indeed. So why has the ilk of Kenya’s athletes not been utilized as the destination image of the country? In this regard, lets me spur Pacquiao versus Rudisha.

According to a press release by the Director of Communication at Brand Kenya Board, country branding is not just about advertising wildlife, but is also the character of the people, clean streets, reliable power supply, good roads, ease of registering a business, security and the like. These are according to the Director, the intrinsic values that will build a strong Kenyan brand. The Director acknowledges that one of the Board’s strategic objectives is to promote Kenya’s "soft capital" such as sports, music, culture, and cuisine as part of the drive to make the country an attractive place to work, live and invest in. The Board which was established in 2008, has recognised the value of these great ambassadors for Brand Kenya and is working to develop an engagement strategy that will harness the work they are doing for Kenya’s image.

Interestingly enough, the Kenya Tourism Board is using an alcoholic drink to market the country at its current expo in Europe. Aptly named Dawa (Kiswahili for medicine), the concoction is reportedly growing in popularity in recent overseas tourism exhibitions, drawing huge crowds to the Kenya Tourism Board (KTB) stand, all eager to take a sip. This promotion is, according to KTB, the spanking new tool being used to market Kenya abroad, and could well be the wonder drug for the fragile but important sector. The priorities seem so distant; alcohol over heroes; no wonder we are labelled a ‘drinking nation’. This is so vain when compared to the Philippines attempt to portray its boxing legend as the country’s epitome of success achieved through honesty and hard work.

Rudisha’s story is not a far cry from that of Pacquiao. A case of ‘like father, like son,’ Rudisha got the athletics buzz from his famous parent who showed him his Olympic medal when he was younger to spur him to great things. In Berlin, Rudisha cruised to the semis, winning his heat in 1:47.83. But in a brutal semi-final, Rudisha was boxed in heat three, finishing third (1:45.40) and thus missing out on a place in the final. Failure to make the final would turn out to be a motivational tool and he is unbeaten over the distance since then. Rudisha says he draws encouragement from great athletes such as Konchellah, Japheth Kimutai and Yiampoy. His coach believes that the athlete is driven by being very level headed and always willing to learn. Rudisha’s quest to succeed amid adversaries and tribulations while drawing inspiration from mentors and being level headed is what should drive the country’s image. This is the poster image I would prefer to see over ‘Dawa’ at the Magical Kenya stands. Rudisha’s exploits, and other acclaimed heroes and heroines in Kenya, is what in addition makes the country ‘Magical.’

By Satwinder Rehal

De La Salle College of Saint Benilde
Manila, The Philippines

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