Friday, November 6th, 2009

While Australia remains the country that most people have on their wish list to visit; the Obama effect has seen the United States earn the coveted top spot for the first time in the fifth annual FutureBrand Country Brand Index (CBI).

Rising from the third spot in 2008, the USA beat Canada, host to the 2010 Winter Olympics, which held on to the second spot ; Australia falling to number three, with New Zealand hot on its heels in fourth position. Other countries making the top 10 of the global 2009 FutureBrand CBI study include France, Italy and Japan.

Brand Australia, which has taken the premium spot in the FutureBrand CBI for the last three years, has held its own, remaining on the top three podium against the heavy weight USA and Canada, and in the top three ranking in categories including; families, outdoor activities and sport, to the country people most want to live in and extend a business trip.

The Aussie contingent has ridden on the waves of the highly successful marketing campaign; Queensland’s ‘Best Job in the World’ and international exposure of Baz Luhrmann’s ‘Australia’; but the economic downturn has seen many embracing ‘value travel’ and holidaying closer to home.

“After three years in the number one position, a remarkable achievement by any measure, this new development was just a matter of time. The measurable decline of some key attributes, combined with the revitalisation of Brand USA, has resulted in the effect on Australia’s ranking. It highlights the importance of keeping a country brand fresh, relevant and engaging – no small challenge in a highly competitive international marketplace.” said Tim Riches, CEO FutureBrand Singapore and Growth Officer, Asia-Pacific.

The FutureBrand CBI is a comprehensive study of approximately 3,000 international business and leisure travelers from nine countries. More than a conventional research study, it ranks countries in terms of their brand strength, and identifies emerging global trends in the world’s fastest growing economic sector – travel and tourism, which accounted for over US$944 billion (over one trillion Australian dollars) in international tourism receipts in 2008

2009 CBI Top Country Brands

1. United States

2. Canada

3. Australia

4. New Zealand

5. France

6. Italy

7. Japan

8. United Kingdom

9. Germany

10. Spain

This year’s index, conducted by FutureBrand, a leading global brand consultancy, in conjunction with public relations firm Weber Shandwick’s Global Travel & Lifestyle Practice, includes rankings and trends, themes in nation building and marketing issues, as well as more in-depth analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of the Top 10 country brands and a look at the “Next 10,” those top country brands ranking 11-20.

Additionally, research was expanded to cover 102 country brands, which allowed a breakdown of regional rankings to be included. Other new topics include: the political and economic sides of country branding; discrepancies between perception and reality of a country brand; and “A New Focus on Value,” which speaks to one of the chief motivators in travel and tourism this year.

“This is the fifth year we have been able to continue to innovate around country brand thinking, methodology and findings. This category remains one with tremendous potential not only for tourism but investment, trade and policy. Even with the global economic circumstances facing many nations, the need to maximize opportunity and present a cohesive identity is critical,” said Rina Plapler, senior executive director, FutureBrand.

"The days of countries marketing themselves with travel posters are over. Wise governments harness, propel and amplify their country as a brand, given it also encompasses culture, exports retail, real estate and of course tax revenue. The popular phrase says ‘tourism is too big to fail,’ but if no one is paying attention or if it is undervalued or taken for granted, the competition will benefit,” said Rene A. Mack, president, Weber Shandwick Travel & Lifestyle Practice.

This year’s FutureBrand CBI also touches on a variety of topics relevant to travelers and tourism professionals including: how small nations can compete with much larger countries; the different ways destinations can communicate value; and the year’s best and worst country brand marketing. Other notable topics focus on the use of social media in country branding and how icons, national companies and sports drive the development of country brand image.

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Country Brand Index

The 2009 Country Brand Index reports a number of emerging trends in travel and tourism that include:

• Value-Oriented Mindset – The global economic downturn has led consumers to think about travel from a financial standpoint and make decisions accordingly. The concept of value, as defined by more for less, continues to flourish in this environment. Whatever type of vacation travelers are able to afford, whether this be basic or luxury accommodations, consumers expect a bargain. Consumers are thinking like financial analysts in choosing destinations and properties that are undervalued and booking trips that allow them to maintain the style they were accustomed to in boom times.

• Attitudes Towards Travel Planning – With the plethora of last-minute travel bargains and new internet tools allowing for instant bargain bookings, there is a growing divide between those favoring impromptu trips and others prone to careful organization and advanced planning to account for more meaningful and structured travel experiences. This being true, the study also finds that even in the downturn, must-do travel—whether attending a milestone event like a wedding or taking an event-driven trip like attending the Super Bowl to support a local team—still persists. Additionally, semi-permanent and open road trips are also aspects of the travel landscape that are expanding as technology permits passengers to plan on the go and hotels largely have vacancies and thus the ability to accommodate travelers at the last minute.

• The Mystery of Authenticity – The importance of authenticity is well-known — but the differing attitudes toward and different definitions of the idea mean that there is some discrepancy on why some destinations are thriving and other travel experiences are reinventing the concept. Below are four trends emerging from this larger conversation:
o Synthetic Destinations – Destinations conscious of “classic” places of the past—like Paris, Rome and London—are desperate for a piece of this tourism business and are subsequently planning and buying their ways onto the map by upgrading infrastructure and building attractions to build the number of foreign visitors and investors. Examples of new synthetic destinations include United Arab Emirates’ man-made islands and Qatar’s Museum of Islamic Arts.
o Fauxthentic Travel – Travelers looking for authentic experiences yet would prefer not to put in the leg work and expense are turning to “faux authentic” hotels and tours for a simulated experience replicating the originals. Some travel to the Mayan Temple at Atlantis Paradise Island, Bahamas and take gondola rides at The Venetian Las Vegas to have “real” experiences from afar, while others pretend to rough it in luxury “tents” at places like the Molori Safari Lodge in South Africa while guides give them a real taste of the destination.
o Tomorrow’s Hidden Jewels – For those constantly seeking out the next destination untouched by tourism, an authentic travel experience is an off-the-beaten path adventure. Destinations such as Croatia and Thailand used to top the list of uncharted spots, but the study predicts Azerbaijan, Ghana and the Balkans will be next to hit adventure seekers’ radars.
o Cradles of Civilization – Though many of the world’s most historic places are currently immersed in civil unrest, making them unsafe for most visitors, this study predicts an upsurge in visitors to these cradles of civilization as the zones become safer. Examples are the Fertile Crescent in Iraq, the Indus Valley in Pakistan and the ancient kingdoms of Mali and Songhai in modern-day Mali and Niger.

• Rising Stars
CBI also identified the United Arab Emirates (UAE), China, and Vietnam, respectively, as the top three “rising stars” – those likely to become major tourist destinations in the next five years. Also making the list this year are Croatia, South Africa, and India.

Study Methodology
FutureBrand has developed a three-tiered system for examining and ranking country brands. The Country Brand Index incorporates global quantitative research, expert opinions, and relevant secondary sources for statistics that link brand equity to assets, growth and expansion. The result is a unique evaluation system that provides the basis of our rankings and insights about the complexities and dynamics of country brands. The 2009 survey tracks the perceptions of approximately 3,000 international business and leisure travelers from nine countries—the US, the UK, China, Australia, Japan, Brazil, UAE, Germany and Russia. Participants were screened to include frequent international travelers (who travel internationally more than once a year) between the ages of 21 and 65, with a balanced split between men and women. Respondent perceptions of 102 country brands were quantified through questions about behavior around destination selection; country associations across an array of 29 image attributes; and overall awareness, familiarity, past visits, intent to visit, and willingness to recommend destinations to others. Survey results were aggregated and weighted in proportion to regional volume of travel consumption. This was done in order to minimize potential bias around preferred locations from respondents from regions that may have been over-represented in the sample. Our 2009 expert panel consists of 47 travel, tourism and hospitality professionals who are not associated with one specific destination.
Nicole Pacetta, Weber Shandwick
P: 02 9994 4396




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