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Tourism in Troubled Times: How Nation Brands Are Faring

by Xiaoyan Zhao and Asli Erenoglu

With the troubled economies of so many nations making headlines, it has become even more essential to monitor and manage the reputations of countries that rely heavily on tourism. Have images of pickets and poverty convinced consumers that some nations are no longer beautiful or peaceful? Do people suspect that the nightlife and vibrancy of the world’s cultural meccas have been diminished?

The Anholt-GfK Roper Nation Brands IndexSM (NBI) has been tracking attitudes toward the world’s key countries since 2008, and details from the latest Tourism Index are indeed telling. Compared to 2011, most high-ranking countries lost ground in the 2012 index; in fact, of the top-25, only four did not experience a drop in travel appeal.

The Tourism dimension of the NBISM consists of four questions that measure several concepts indicating the strength of a country’s brand as a destination:

* Would like to visit the country if money were no object

* Perceives the country as rich in natural beauty

* Perceives the country as rich in historic buildings and monuments

* Believes the country has a vibrant city life and urban attractions

So did those countries that have endured highly publicized economic and political troubles suffer declines in their tourism appeal? The results were surprisingly mixed. The U.S., for example, managed to increase its score marginally, holding its strong position at 3rd, despite its slow recovery from a crippling recession. Notably, the Brazilians and the French show an increased desire to visit the US, and the Swedes are more impressed with the US’s natural beauty compared to 2011.

By contrast, Egypt suffered one of the largest overall drops in the Tourism Index – not unexpected, given the country’s recent history of political upheaval and violence. South Africans, in particular, gave Egypt a severe downgrade in the latest scores, with Argentina and Canada also turning more negative in their view of the country. (The NBI research reflects opinions collected in 20 countries about the world’s top 50 nations.)

Wracked by strikes and debt, Spain has fallen from 4th a year ago to 5th now – a dropoff driven largely by declines in the “desire to visit” and “natural beauty” areas. Yet Greece, which also suffers from well-publicized economic troubles, made a forceful entrance into the Tourism Index, ranking 6th in its first year. Not surprisingly, Greece’s strongest assets are “historic buildings” and “natural beauty”, with a top-10 position in both areas.

Outside of the top-25, the nations’ reputations are a bit more stable.  Only six of the bottom-25 nations have seen a decrease exceeding a quarter of a point, versus 20 of the top-25.  Kenya, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have seen a small increase in appeal.  The UAE, an overall upwardly mobile nation registering the highest NBISM gain this year of all 50 nations, sees its least significant gain on Tourism compared to gains on the other indices (all five greater than 0.25 points).

In the end, consumers make complex judgments about the tourism appeal of key nations; but the factors that drive their decisions can be identified and tracked through careful research. Seeing the why behind a rise or fall in status gives individual countries the information they need to fine-tune – or completely transform – their branding strategies.

Xiaoyan Zhao is Senior Vice President, Corporate Consulting, in the Public Affairs and Corporate Communications division of GfK. She can be reached at

Asli Erenoglu is Research Director in the Public Affairs and Corporate Communications division of GfK. She can be reached at  

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