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Branding and Selling a Caribbean Nation

WASHINGTON, DC- Successful nation branding and promotion are critical to sustainable tourism and development, says Thomas Cromwell, president of East West Communications, a Washington DC agency that advises the Press and Information Department of the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO).

One of the world’s leading experts on branding, Cromwell will share his insights as a keynote speaker at Counterpart International’s 8th Caribbean Media Exchange on Sustainable Tourism (CMEx) to be held in San Juan, Puerto Rico from February 9-13, 2006.

The theme for the meeting will be “Sustainable Development: A Balancing Act” and participants will examine how they can motivate the most able people to engage in tourism development that creates wealth while revitalizing local culture and conserving the fragile environment.

Cromwell believes that nation branding can best serve destinations through differentiation, particularly at a time when countries are striving for global unity in terms of infrastructure and quality of life. “Countries need to take a critical look at themselves and ask: ‘Why should companies invest here or tourists come here, rather than go to other countries for investment and tourism?'”

Adding that branding goes beyond “a cute logo and tag line,” Cromwell sees a successful brand as part of a strategy for nations to compete better globally and reap the benefits at home. “[Branding can] position a nation so that it can achieve the maximum success in the world system, including garnering the maximum international recognition and clout, robust business relations with the world, and a healthy tourism industry. By doing this, a nation brings the maximum benefit to its people by giving them dignity, and by creating jobs and wealth.”

To achieve this, Cromwell notes, countries must first develop a cohesive brand before spending money on public relations and advertising; and governments must take a leading role in the branding effort to mobilize all the stakeholders, including NGOs and the business community. In this way, countries can take ownership of their brands, instead of allowing others to determine a brand for them, through biased media reports, for example.

But as the Caribbean continues to focus on sustainable tourism, Cromwell cautions against depending too heavily on a tourism brand in an age of global terrorism and a region susceptible to natural disasters, especially hurricanes. Citing the examples of Indonesia and Egypt, where recent terrorist attacks have targeted tourist hotspots, he says countries branded mainly as tourism destinations are highly vulnerable. “For both of them, tourism was the only positive image they projected to the world. Neither had invested in a broader brand that supported industry, investment and trade… this is a risky approach.”

To avoid this pitfall for the Caribbean and other regions whose tourism products are “strictly sea, sun and sand,” Cromwell supports a holistic approach – a national brand identity that supports tourism as part of an umbrella brand, or metabrand, a term his company has coined. In instances where government action on developing a broad brand for the nation is lacking, Cromwell encourages the tourism sector to take the lead in creating a metabrand. “[The tourism sector] includes much of what makes up a nation, including infrastructure, government and private services, the environment and there is a good argument for a tourism brand to embrace those elements.”

In the end, buy-in from various sides is needed before a brand can be successfully disseminated. “The brand must be adopted internally first, then domestically, meaning throughout the nation, by all stakeholders. Only then can it be effectively promoted internationally.”

CMEx is an interactive workshop that allows journalists from the Caribbean, North America and Europe to interact with representatives of the hospitality sector and government and discuss tourism policies aimed at improving the lives of Caribbean people.

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