ASEAN pop culture takes off

BANGKOK, 16 August 2019: ASEAN countries have been portrayed in pop culture through many famous Hollywood films for decades.

Back in the 1970s, The Man with the Golden Gun (1974) features the exotic Phang Nga Bay branding the iconic limestone cliff as ‘James Bond Island’ in a travel brochure even until today.

In the 1980s, Hollywood portrayed scenarios of Vietnam War in movies as Platoon (1986) and Good Morning Vietnam (1988).  Though these movies were filmed in the Philippines and Thailand rather than Vietnam, the stories they told stuck and created awareness with audiences that ultimately generated a demand for travel.

In the early 2000s, Danny Boyle’s film of the Alex Garland novel, The Beach (2000), appealed to tourists who flocked to Maya Bay since its on-screen debut. Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001) that featured the ancient Cambodian temple, Angkor Wat, adding more reason for tourists to visit the heritage site.

Pop-culture tourism is defined as the act of travelling to locations featured in famous literature, film, music, or other forms of media.  Although the concept remains the same these days, there are more elements to add to the context due to the change of traveller behaviours.

Travelling is no longer about being there or taking photos of famous places, but social and experiential elements are top of the agenda. A few years back, TV or online programmes highlighted the experiences of influencers such as Luke Nguyen’s Vietnam or Anthony Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown”: Hanoi. They inspired many visitors to experience Vietnamese cuisine or to taste Bún chả at the place where Anthony Bourdain shared the dish with President Barack Obama.

When social media turns online users into a ‘micro’ influencer, sets of practices recognized as ‘distinctive experience’ dominate in the digital content.

Having a social media as a mainstream channel, travel, now, become a pop culture itself.

Montri Boonyasat, a co-founder of ThaiRun website, wrote in the TAT Review Magazine published in 2016 that extreme sports such as a trail run have transformed from a sub-culture to a pop-culture. One famous motto behind the popularity of extreme sports is ‘YOLO’ or ‘You Only Live Once.’ Many marketers nowadays are using the line to trigger consumers to experience their products or services.

As part of the YOLO trend, Montri suggested key factors driving the new-gen to travel, ‘go out there,’ and take part in activities such as extreme sports are varied.

Take your pick

Social Sport: An event that creates a network of like-minded people on offline and online platforms.

Identity and Style: It helps to create a persona or defines character usually through an outfit or equipment.

Meaningful:  An event that fulfils needs which are beyond a physical factor or health but a higher value such as the achievement over complicated challenges.

Take Me to Somewhere: An activity that occurs in a distinct setting such as a natural stadium illustrating a green forest as a photo backdrop. It delivers a message that reflects an inner drive that people need to escape.

ASEAN cities produce a perfect background for many new pop-culture experiences.

For example, major adventure races are listed in international calendars. They are Vietnam’s Mountain Marathon held in Hoang Liem National Park; Pasuran Bromo Marathon in Indonesia; Ultra-Trail Chiang Rai in Thailand, or Langkawi Iron Man and Borneo Ultra Trail Marathon in Malaysia.

Gastronomy is another top ‘pop-culture’ well suited in ASEAN cities. The Michelin Guide highlights culinary wealth to attract gourmet fans who seek to experience the creations of top chefs. The guidebook currently showcases restaurants in Singapore, Bangkok, Phuket and Phang Nga, while Chiang Mai will be added in the upcoming 2020 edition.

In the music sphere, fans can travel to fulfil their dreams, meet and greet their favourite pop stars at music events or ‘exclusive’ concerts in Southeast Asia.

Bangkok is one of the capital cities that welcomes international concerts. At a major venue such as the Impact Exhibition Centre in Thailand, up to 64 concerts had taken place on-site last year, of which 38 involved international artists. For those who prefer to observe the local lifestyle through the café culture, there are more than 8,025 coffee shops to choose from in Thailand. Many of them highlight ‘speciality coffee’ where coffee lovers can enjoy unique flavours and special brewing techniques along with the sense of satisfaction they are contributing to the cause of fair trade through a coffee.