After the burial of Colonel Gaddafi this week – the symbolic end of his 42 year rule, I asked myself: “What countries will emerge from the Arab Spring and succeed in increasing tourism revenue streams and securing foreign investment?” I wondered where Iraq’s place would be within the context of the re-shaping that’s occurring in the Arab world? What I was sure about was that from a nation brand positioning point of view, safety and stability are pre-requisites to success.
In a very short period of time, numerous long-standing nation brands, their symbols, leaders and oppressive values have been booted out by their own citizens. The search for new, unified national identities and renewed values in largely tribal nations is on. Mammoth tasks. For Libya this is a new challenge, for Iraq, not so.
A coherent and unified national identity is vital for the economic success of these nations – for the long-term wellbeing of their people, not to mention regional and global political and economic stability. Crucially, it communicates stability and safety – which by default opens the floodgates to foreign investment and tourism. Apart from those with humongous appetites for risk – who wants to live, invest, work and holiday in unstable regions? Is this not what’s held Iraq back? Regardless of the improved situation on the ground the perception that Iraq is not particularly safe hasn’t changed much. Whether it has or not in reality – I don’t know, I’m talking about pure perception here.
Yes, Iraq’s turbulent history is unique, as are some of its domestic challenges, but its aims going forward mirror those of Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Tunisia and Jordan – to increase tourism (or put a new destination on the map) and foreign investment. Tourism is big business, attributing between 1 – 80% of national GDP’s worldwide, hence every government in the world wanting a sizeable piece of the pie.
Recent international news has been littered with images and sound bites about the enormous amount of construction underway (albeit stalled during the 8 month-long revolution) in Libya. The perception is that Libya wants progress and wants it fast – as do all the others.
There is already talk of aggressive campaigns as each nation seeks to position itself as the next big thing in tourism and boost GDP. There’s a race on, a race to re-shape and re-position the aforementioned nation brands. Who will unite for the greater national good? Which governments will seize the opportunities available to them? Who will not or cannot?
Changing perceptions is what nation branding does – and the closer the perception is to the reality the better. Nobody knows who will succeed on the new world tourism front yet, but something worth considering is the appetite size of those in the race.
Iraq isn’t the only nation in the region that’s re-positioning itself now – the competition is on the rise. Come on brand Iraq – take note!
The Brand Foundation is a Dubai-based branding agency that specialises in the real estate sector. http://www.thebrandfoundation.net
This blog was first published in Iraq Business News.