There are political and natural factors that influence even the best country brands, which is why some countries doing their best to promote tourism are still seeing little economic impact.
What’s the first thing you think of when someone mentions a trip to Spain? Japan? Canada?
The reason images of long siestas by the sea are drummed up at the mention of Spain or thoughts of skydiving and mountain biking are tied to New Zealand is due to both a nation’s culture and the very intentional branding efforts of a destination’s tourism agency.
Ranking countries’ brands
Bloom Consulting, a Madrid-based consulting firm specializing in country branding, releases an annual report that ranks 193 countries on the economic performance of their tourism industries and how well they’ve developed their brand strategies.
The methodology factors in hard and soft data in an effort to show the correlation between tourism receipts and effective branding. The four key factors considered are as follows:
- economic performance measured in tourism receipts over the past five years,
- how unique a country’s brand strategy is and how actively it reflects what the country has to offer to tourists
- how many people visit the website of the country’s official tourism agency
- social media performance as measured by engagement and followers on Twitter and Facebook
Each country is ranked by economic performance (numerical ranking) and given a grade on its branding strategy. AAA represents a very strong brand, one that is accurate when considering tourism demand and has a strong impact on the tourism industry. The impact and relevancy of country branding decreases with each letter drop until D, representing a poor branding strategy.
Countries with top tourism receipts
The United States outperformed all other countries in terms of the money earned in the tourism industry. It’s CBS rating of AA reflects a ‘strong’ tourism branding strategy, boosted by Brand USA’s marketing efforts in 2012.
Asia was the strongest performing region with eight countries finishing in the top 25. China came in at number four, although it could be argued that it’s outbound tourism is more powerful than inbound rates.
Macau takes the eighth spot, and this was the first year that it was evaluated as an individual country. It’s successful branding strategy and location has helped the Asian island eclipse Las Vegas as the gaming capital of the world.
Europe held a relatively strong grasp at the top of the list despite being mired in an economic recession throughout the year. Twelve European countries placed in the top 25, the most notable being Spain taking the number two spot for tourism receipts, alongside the strongest possible rating for its brand strategy.
The United Arab Emirates had the biggest turnaround in 2012 coming in at spot 29, 16 spots higher than its 2011 position.
Film tourism’s tremendous impact
“The U.S. is such a fantastic tourism destination because of movies. Everyone knows the American culture and understands the American culture because of Hollywood. The U.S. is what it is, very much thanks to the movies,” explains Bloom Consulting CEO José Filipe Torres.
Film tourism is growing around the world and although the U.S. may have capitalized on it, destinations from Rome to Barcelona are also benefitting from these movie-inspired vacations.
“Woody Allen is using the brand of cities in his movies. The cities are paying him to do so. He’s starting to recognize that he’s a tourist guide.”
Using social media to share a brand
Social media represents a tremendous opportunity for countries looking to brand themselves internationally, even on a small budget.
One example: an old woman in Borjanos, Spain attempted to “restore” a 19th century church painting and ended up ruining the entire work. The image became viral, spread across social media, was written up about in newspapers around the world, and subsequently put the small village of Borjanos on the world map.
“This wasn’t done on purpose,” says CEO. “It’s not about who has the most money, it’s about who has the best ideas.”
Photo credit: Country flags as brands. Steven Feather / Flickr