Tuesday, 20 July 1999 - Nuku 'Alofa, Tonga
An address to the Tongan Tourism Industry. Tonga has retained it’s uniqueness and vibrancy in an era when many small nations are swamped by the influences of global culture. However, it must be careful to develop tourism in a way that celebrates all that is wonderful and unique, and does not encourage a Tongan experience to become just another holiday.
I love the idea of the Kingdom of Tonga. A unique, proud and independent nation, the only Monarchy left in the Pacific. It has never been colonised. It is bound together by an inspiring Christian faith and a strong church. And it produces incredible rugby players! That’s an amazing tribute to the qualities of independence and community of the Tongan people. It’s “Tongamazing!”
Tonga, however, is economically and socially vulnerable. Tonga’s proud history of independence could be easily threatened.
The Kingdom of Tonga is economically poor compared to the rest of the world and dependant on foreign aid.
The Kingdom of Tonga has only 100,000 people with a proud and unique culture. Like any small nation, influences from outside will change the Tongan way-of-life. Tongans will continue to return home after living overseas with new ideas and new ways. That is positive. But Tongans must be careful that you don’t encourage the kind of influences that could destroy what you love about your culture very quickly.
Making money and achieving economic prosperity is the only way the Kingdom of Tonga can ensure that it has an independent future. Money brings choices. Developing a strong Tongan economy will mean less Tongans will have to go overseas, more Tongans will have jobs to come home to.
Tourism is the Tongan Economy
Tourism is the industry of the next millennium. The global tourism market is growing massively – it is set to become the world’s biggest industry. Tourism offers high margins. Tourism doesn’t require massive investment for big increases in short term returns.
World Tourism Organisation figures state that:
- In 1998 there were 625 million tourists
- By 2010 there will be one billion
- By 2020 there will be 1.6 billion
Tonga has great potential to grow its share of that market. Tonga (population 100,000) currently gets around 27,000 visitors a year. That’s far fewer than Fiji gets (population 180,000, tourists 350,000).
Tonga’s global market share is about 0.004 % – 4 thousandths of a percent!
Increasing it by a hundredth of a percent would give 60,000 additional visitors. If they all spent $1000 that’s an additional $60 million – almost the size of Tonga’s external debt, roughly a quarter of your GDP.
The World is searching for Tonga
The Kingdom of Tonga is the kind of place that the booming tourism market is looking for. World Tourism Organisation predicts that most growth in tourism will go to destinations that offer innovative, natural experiences. The hottest destinations will be those that offer a sense of discovery and adventure.
That’s the essence of the Tonga experience – mystery, allure, genuine contact with the unique people of a remote south seas tropical paradise. The romance of Captain Cook’s “Friendly Islands”. The intrigue of the mutiny on the Bounty.
That’s great news. Lack of development, your remote position on the globe and the natural qualities of the Tongan people are your greatest assets. If you market it right, you can charge a premium for it.
Build your Runway to the Future
You can’t ignore tourism. The global market is growing exponentially, and is looking for destinations like the Kingdom of Tonga. More tourists will come to Tonga regardless, and there will be more tourist development here.
Tourism development can have a downside. Uncontrolled development has been bad for traditional cultures in places like Thailand.
You have a choice:
- Unplanned development with the potential for destroying what’s uniquely Tongan, or
- Development on your own terms.
Make sure the tourists you get will bring you the best financial return and respect what’s important to Tongans. Make sure that tourism supports and enhances the Tongan way of life.
You must create a dream of what the future looks like for Tonga and a roadmap to take you there. If you want to control your own future, to retain what is special and unique about Tonga, you must make some basic choices, and set some fundamental targets right now.
If you don’t, then chance will rule your future. You will get positive ideas and developments, but also negative developments that impact badly on your society.
Choices and targets – these are the kinds of questions you must answer:
How important do you want tourism to be in your economy?
How many visitors you want each year?
What kind of people do you want to come? Families? Christians? Young people? Rich retired people?
What you want people to do when they come here? What kind of activities – do you want them to eat in restaurants in Nukualofa? Or do diving, fishing and sailing away from where most Tongans live?
How much revenue you want? How much money do you want each tourist to spend (do you want a few tourists spending a lot? A lot of tourists spending a little? Or a lot of tourists spending a lot?)
How long do you want them to stay in Tonga?
Which countries do you want them to come from?
Where you want them to go in Tonga?
Once you’ve made your choices, set goals. Create gameplans with definite and achievable steps to get you there.
That means making sure you can provide the facilities required by the kind of tourists you want, and then getting out into the global marketplace and telling your story of Tonga to the people you want to come here.
Tonga has the brains to do it. Tongans are highly educated and extremely smart people.
Smart Tongans are doing well all over the world. Make sensible development of the tourism industry a national mission and give them an amazing reason to come back home.
Tonga Wants Travellers not Tourists
The goal for Tonga must be to develop a tourism industry that enhances the best of Tonga and disrupts Tongan society as little as possible. That makes your most important choice and goal to decide who you want to come to Tonga.
You must target travellers, not tourists. People who want to make a discovery, not go on a holiday.
The difference was described by G.K. Chesterton: “Tourists see what they came to see; travellers see what there is.”
Tourists want a commoditised experience. They will come here and expect Tonga to be like Fiji or Tahiti or the Caribbean. They will compare the standard of Tongan hotels to Fijian and say that a Tongan holiday isn’t as good as a Fijian holiday.
Travellers want a unique experience. Tonga is perfect for them.
Tonga offers a range of totally unique experiences for travellers in the new millennium. Things like:
Watching the sunrise on the new day before anyone else in the world.
Spending time with a Tongan family in a homestay.
Going to a Tongan church service. Tubas, trombones, beautiful South Seas singing and a sermon on the temptations of the new millennium.
Diving on virgin coral reefs and in pristine waters with unbelievable visibility.
Game fishing in seas that haven’t been exhausted of fish.
Hump back whale watching up-close in clear tropical waters.
Yachting and sea kayaking in the remarkable Vava’u islands.
Visiting the amazing Ha’apai, soon to be the only World Heritage site in the Pacific.
Travellers will come to Tonga and see the genuine Tongan way of life. They will respect the role of the church in Tongan society. They will try and learn about Tongan customs, not try and impose their own values on Tongans.
Travellers encompass the whole value spectrum; from backpackers to millionaires. Tonga must provide the range of facilities that all of these groups need.
That means you need a range of investment levels. That’s great news for Tonga. It’s a strategy all Tongans can participate in.
Create Amazing, Unique Tongan Experiences
The top end of the traveller market want a unique luxury experience, and they will pay enormously for it. Build exclusive adventure lodges instead of anonymous international hotels – Treetops, not Sheratons.
Cater right down the cost continuum to low-price backpacker lodges that offer activities and run by families who provide a connection with the Tongan way of life.
Keep focusing on unique natural experiences (like those mentioned above). But everywhere you can, try and inject something uniquely Tongan into the experience.
For example, surfing is a massive global sport, Tonga is the place where the sun rises before anywhere on the earth, and it has world class surfing. Why not sell surfers on the idea of surfing at the first dawn on earth, the first waves of each new day? Surfing was invented in Polynesia. You could add the chance to try the traditional Polynesian surfing techniques. Tonga could become the centre for surfing pilgrimages to the future to experience the origins of the sport. That’s Tongamazing!
Your Story Must be Heard
The international marketplace for tourist destinations is crowded and noisy.
We live in the attention economy. Potential travellers in the most high value global markets like New Zealand, Australia, Japan, the USA and Europe are constantly bombarded with information and messages about travel destinations from TV, radio, print, the internet, faxes, telephone, billboards… too much information, all vying for our attention.
It’s the same for any business, in any industry. The most important goal of any business is cutting through the noise and connecting with consumers to deliver you message.
That’s what brands are all about. Brands are a set of ideas that people associate with a place or a person or a product. Tonga isn’t getting attention. It lacks a compelling brand.
You must create a brand for Tonga that connects with the emotions of the people you want to come here, and gives them a compelling reason to make plans to come here right now.
Fiji has done it very well. Fiji means a relaxing family holiday at a reasonably priced resort with great service.
At the moment Brand Tonga means:
Another poor, under-developed Pacific Island.
Unsophisticated society, behind the times.
Two star hotels.
Beaches, palm trees, sunshine.
Not geared up to provide a holiday as good as Fiji – fewer visitors, facilities not as good, service not as professional.
The uniqueness of Tonga doesn’t come through. The real story of Tonga just isn’t widely known – not even in New Zealand where people know a lot about Polynesia.
One absolutely massive part of the story that should be household facts is that Tonga is the first place in the world to see the new day. Maybe the Time Lords on the other side of the world have some disputes with the absoluteness of your claim. Don’t be deterred. Nobody can deny Nukualofa the title of first capital to see the sun.
That’s absolutely unique. It’s critical to your story. Great brands tell unique stories. They deliver positive, unique messages that connect with the emotions of their target audience.
Tonga must start telling it’s story through a compelling brand to the kind of people you want to come here and share your way of life.
Rewrite the Kingdom of Tonga Story
You must re-brand Tonga for the travellers of the world. They want a unique natural experience that gives them a sense of discovery.
The truth about Tonga is a unique, different, special and compelling story. It’s the last Polynesian Kingdom. It was never colonised. It retains its unique culture and way of life – it’s the last example of the “old” south seas. It’s energised by an inspiring Christian faith. The first place in the world to see the new day.
Make sure you include the aspects of Tongan culture that you want to preserve into your brand. If people come here to find them they will be less likely to destroy them.
That means turning the negative perceptions into unique positive propositions:
Not: Tonga But: The Kingdom of Tonga
Not: Lacking facilities But: Unexploited
Not: Behind the times But: A family centred, Christian community
Not: Inaccessible But: An exotic remote location
Not: Sparsely populated But: Unexplored
Not: Unsophisticated But: Genuinely friendly and happy people
Not: Holiday But: Discovery
Not: Poor island nation But: The last Polynesian paradise
Make sure your imaging is consistent and excellent quality. Emphasise great graphic design, and beautiful high quality photos. Feature your people – fine, upstanding, friendly, athletic, handsome, proud people. Make sure you have a consistent colour palate – take your inspiration from Tonga’s natural beauty – the deep aqua blue of coral seas, gold and white of your sand, the green of your lush vegetation.
Share the Dream Every Way You Can
You have limited money to spend on marketing. Everyone has this problem. You must find ways of making limited dollars work as hard as possible.
Make sure that the new Brand, Tongamazing is communicated consistently by everyone – that all of the brochures for every resort communicate Tongamazing.
The Internet is your greatest ally. It’s totally global, low cost, easy to do something of absolute top quality. When the world looks through the Internet window into Tonga, make sure they see only what you want them to – a totally Tongamazing experience – exotic, alluring images of beautiful, welcoming people, and incredible scenery that paints a picture of the last Polynesian paradise. Tonga should be getting an absolutely amazing, cutting edge website together urgently.
Use people to communicate Tongamazing. The ultimate communication has always been mouth to mouth. Find networks of people overseas to spread the message and build the brand.
Use overseas Tongans to spread the word. Communicate to all of them about the exciting new re-branding of Tonga as the last Polynesian paradise waiting to be discovered. Tell them that the country wants them to help get travellers who respect Tongan culture to come here. Overseas Tongans love Tonga, and now they have a reason to tell their non-Tongan friends about what is so great about the place.
Use famous Tongans to help spread the message
In New Zealand: Jonah, Isitolo Maka, Pita Alatini, Charles Reichelmann. Use Tongan artists, writers.
His Majesty the King and the other members of the Royal Family are fantastic marketing assets with global recognition and respect. Maximise opportunities for them to communicate the uniqueness of Tonga. Perhaps they would consent to being the centre of promotions in overseas markets.
The yachting fraternity are already ambassadors for Tonga. Maintain connections with them.
Surfers are a big global group always looking for new waves and new cultures to experience. They aren’t all wild. There’s a huge global Christian surfer movement. Get articles published in their magazines. Encourage people to make documentaries about surfing Tonga.
The film industry communicates to millions of others. International film crews already come here to film occasionally. Encourage more of this. International films and TV programmes communicate with millions of people all around the world. The images they present of unspoilt and uncrowded Tongan locations are fantastic marketing vehicles for Tonga.
Think about other, untapped networks. Rugby – Tongan rugby players are world famous. Rugby has strong communities and networks all over the world.
The Rugby World Cup is approaching. This is a huge opportunity where Tonga will be on the world stage. Tonga should have their amazing new website up and ready for the world cup, and you should put the web-address on the uniform of your players. That way when Tonga beats Italy on October 10 and England on October 15, the Italians and the English will have some place to go and find out just what is so amazing about this country of 100,000 people that means it beats countries of over 50 million people.
Churches are another network with huge potential. Tonga is deeply committed to the Christian faith – tap global Christian networks with the message about the place of Christianity in the Tongan way of life. The last Christian Kingdom in the South Pacific. To a Christian in America or Europe that sounds like heaven on earth!
What next? KR’s Six Point Plan for Tonga Tourism:
Tonga has a unique opportunity to control its future and tourism is key to that. Here’s my five point plan for Tonga to develop tourism, make itself a prosperous nation and retain what is so wonderful about your country:
1. Dream your future now. Decide what is really important to Tonga. What you want to safeguard. Make your choices the central part of your plans.
2. Write your own story. Develop a set of messages that define the Tonga experience and differentiate Tonga from the rest of the Pacific, and from the rest of the world. Decide what the central aspects of your culture you want to emphasise, celebrate and protect and make them the central part of your brand.
3. Embrace travellers, not tourists. They will come to see whatever it is you decide to offer them. Tourists will come and be upset if they don’t find Club Med.
4. Be Tongamazing! Amaze, enrapture and inspire the travellers of the world. Concentrate on delivering the unique experiences travellers are looking for. Don’t get fall into the tourist trap of trying to emulate Fiji. If what you deliver is unique, it won’t be judged by other countries’ standards.
5. Reach out to the world in surprising ways. Make sure every communication about Tonga to the world tells the same Tongamazing story. Build networks of communicators in the markets you want to tap. Get an amazing new website up and advertise the web address on your players at the Rugby World Cup.
6. Inspire every Tongan with the dream. Make developing a sensible, uniquely Tongan tourism industry a national mission. Harness the energy of every Tongan in Tonga and overseas. Together you can do anything!